Musings on a Presidential Visit

As the President’s visit draws nearer, the delicate dance being played out by both sides is fascinating to watch. While the American side would prefer the Tango, the hosts have decided that a carefully choreographed (with emphasis on choreographed) ballet is the way to go.  The managers of the visit seemed to have decided to err on the side of caution when drawing up the Presidential itinerary, major considerations being his way with words, what he symbolizes in his persona, and the volatility of the inter-governmental relationships in the region. So, out went the President’s visit to Chabad House on security grounds. Out also went the President’s visit to Wagah border where he would presumably have made a speech on the lines of Ronald Reagan’s 1997 entreaty to President Gorbachov at the Brandenberg Gate which brought the Berlin Wall crashing down.  Whether a speech would have had any result other than further burnish his Nobel Peace prize can only now exist in the realms of speculation.

As is the norm during such State visits, both sides draw up wish lists and there then ensues some hard bargaining with lots of give and take.  This worked when such visits were few and far between.  Whilst summit level diplomacy worked well in case of the U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Deal (that has proved to be a flash in the pan), Prime Minister Singh’s State visit to Washington  in November last yielded very little by way of substance.  The increased frequency of these visits has meant that the list of issues that are yet to find closure for various reasons, from a totalisation agreement, to defense agreements is growing, even as new issues such as the legislation on H1-B visa and outsourcing are bringing new irritants into the relationship. The parlous state of the U.S. economy plus the fact that a Democrat administration is in power would mean that these new issues will also go into the intractable issues column on that list.

Reading between the lines, the Americans seem to have made it clear that discussion on issues that would impact American jobs is a no-go area.  The American argument seems to be that when the going was good, we welcomed thousands of Indians to the United States and provided them with jobs; and now it’s your turn to help us out by buying our goods and services in a big way. This argument is of course somewhat fallacious since the United States was responding to the needs of its own economy, as it has always done, when it opened the gates for foreign workers.

If the United States is bent on improving trade relations, then on top of its agenda should be the removal of the constraints on trade and collaboration in high-technology items. That however, does not seem to be the case, with the U.S. still stopping short of completely removing these impediments. The nuclear deal notwithstanding, this is still a transactional relationship with strategic considerations very much playing second fiddle. As the Prime Minister’s successful visit to Japan amply testifies, a strategic relationship finds traction only when there is a clear and overwhelming desire on both sides to take that relationship forward. Of course, one advantage with the India-Japan Strategic Partnership is the absence of domestic spoilers. The Japanese Prime Minister has no need to turn Bangalore into a bogeyman for domestic audiences nor do sections of India polity look on Japan with suspicion.

Administration officials have been tom-tomming the fact that this is one of only two visits by an American President to India in the first two years of his first term in office. Well, the earlier one was by President Jimmy Carter, and we all know how that went. For those too young to recollect, it began with “the biggest crowds [Carter] had addressed as President” assembling at the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi on New Year’s Day of 1978 and ended with Carter (caught off mike) telling his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that “after we return, we must write a letter, very cold and blunt” to Prime Minister Morarji Desai. (This was in the context of Desai refusing to Carter’s request to open Indian nuclear facilities to international inspection.) The Indian authorities are no doubt hoping that the similarities between the two visits are confined to the positive.

U.S. and India need a grand Thorium Partnership

This memo is proposed for urgent consideration by President Barrack Obama on the course ahead in U.S.-India relations. Today, when machineries of both governments are whirring to engineer a big bang from the upcoming Obama-Singh summit in Delhi in November, it is recommended that top class horsepower must immediately be allocated to the cold calculus and implementation of a Thorium Partnership between the United States and India.

Thorium Partnership

A Thorium Partnership between the U.S. and India shall yield pioneering benefits and fast-track a technology path towards radical energy security of both countries, as well as for global needs. It is inflexion time in global search to get off fossil fuel dependency and to identify an alternative source that can deliver gigantic scale of energy generation. Thorium fuel is the answer.

Nuclear energy can be generated by using uranium or thorium as fuel in the reactors – however thus far it is only uranium that is being used worldwide, while the technology to exploit thorium as a fuel is many years away. Though there has been some research and development on thorium in a few countries, India is the only country which has invested major research into this technology, and today is a world leader.

Importantly, using thorium as fuel for generating nuclear energy is the only technology path that will hugely reduce the growing risk of nuclear waste management and proliferation – a renaissance of nuclear energy now looms all over the world and it will create large pools of nuclear waste with which no one knows what to do, including in security-risk prone countries. The problem of thorium based waste management will be initially about the same as it is at present.  However, when recycling and closed fuel cycle is implemented in terms of their full potential the thorium based waste will make the problem virtually disappear. This will bring a huge relief to both countries and to global community.

A Thorium Partnership with India will give the United States access to the resulting industrial grade technology, and assured supply of a benign and potent fuel (thorium) for its domestic needs for next hundreds of years from a stable, democratic country – India holds 30% of world reserves of thorium; while the partnership will help India to significantly accelerate its energy and food security. Also in the long term, world supplies of uranium are expected to last no more than 50 – 80 years by various estimates, and thereafter thorium fuel shall be the only route to generate nuclear energy.

India has a substantial technical lead in the development of thorium based nuclear power and has the only operating power plant based on thorium in the world.  However, it might still take another 15-20 years for India to reach mass implementation for power generation based on this technology. A strategic partnership with U.S. will cut this time to technology maturation in half or more and thus the benefits to India’s economic development will be immense.

While it doggedly continues on its R&D path to develop thorium based solutions, in order to fast track development of thorium based technologies India needs large scale research labs set in remote areas since the radioactivity levels in such labs are high. At present India does not have any such facilities – whereas the United States does have infrastructure where such experiments and trials can be carried out. Additionally, the U.S. has a huge problem of nuclear waste at its hands which is ticking like a time bomb – the partnership shall bring a solution to this dilemma also, since thorium based power plants will use this nuclear waste material to generate power.

Upon industrial grade readiness of thorium based reactors, the two countries can jointly export and market a complete bundled technology and fuel solution to other third countries – thereby reducing threats of nuclear proliferation, weaning global communities away from fossil fuel dependency, aiding rapid scaling of energy capacities, and alleviating dangers to climate change – and thus rendering a historic shift in global energy, geopolitics, and food security.

In long term, the scale of technology and economic benefits reaped by the U.S. and India from this partnership may rival the scope of what DARPA enabled in technology and economic benefits to the U.S. by sponsoring and fast tracking R&D of the Internet. This partnership shall help to create high technology and green energy jobs in the U.S. and India, and bring technology spillover benefits to various other sectors in domestic economies of both countries resulting from the fast track R&D initiative in a most complicated technology.

Thus, the partnership is not about money or scientific assistance to either party, but is primarily born out of recognition of core competencies, assets, and needs of each party. With an aggressive can-do attitude this partnership shall bring a true revolution for the energy, food, and geopolitical security needs of this century.
Towards such objective, it is therefore proposed that India and the United States immediately establish a partnership for research, development, commercial planning, strengthening the educational and human resource expertise and implementation of thorium based power plants and energy solutions in India and the United States, and third countries.

Various details of the partnership – the mechanism, the policy, the physics, the engineering, the IPR, and several such matters, and protection of sovereign interest will of course be fiercely negotiated and addressed by each country during discussions on this partnership, along with the scientific assessment of mutual roles. Ours is only to lob this road-map in the public sphere – and to push for an assessment of acute national, and mutual domestic and global interests.

On November 7, 8, or 9, 2010, in the Indian parliament when President Obama addresses over a billion Indians via their elected representatives, or when Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh hosts a joint press conference with President Obama, with a megaphone to the world that addresses the global six billion, both countries must announce this bold and visionary partnership.

US-India Strategic Partnership: Irritants Cast a Shadow

The U.S-India strategic partnership is moving on an upward trajectory, though not a predictably smooth one. In fact, after the euphoric “indispensable partners” phase of the second administration of President George W. Bush when the Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement was successfully concluded in July 2005, the pace of growth has slowed down.

Though President Bill Clinton had realised the potential of engaging India and had begun the process to get India out of the nuclear dog house, it was President Bush who made it a key foreign policy initiative. India was recognised as a state with nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), given an NSG waiver to import nuclear technology and fuel, and allowed to sign an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Additional Protocol only placed  India’s civilian nuclear reactors under international safeguards while keeping strategic facilities out of the scope of the safeguards. India was also permitted to reprocess uranium under safeguards for its pressurized heavy water reactors leading to the development of the three-stage thorium fuel cycle.

Under the Next Steps for Strategic Partnership and the Defence Framework Agreement of June 2005 signed under the Bush administration, the technology denial regime is being gradually eased and defense cooperation considerably enhanced. For both the countries, the growing partnership is a hedging strategy against Chinese hegemony in Asia and will prove to be mutually beneficial in case China implodes due to its internal contradictions.

Another crucial area of cooperation between India and the U.S. includes enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation. The CIA has not only given India substantial evidence about the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008, but also allowed Indian agencies to interrogate its key plotter David Coleman Headley. The sale of U.S. defense equipment to India has also gained momentum. Besides the P8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for Special Forces, C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift aircraft and the USS Trenton, an amphibious warfare ship, many other defense acquisitions are in the pipeline. India is likely to spend up to $ 100 billion on defense purchases over the next 10 years. However, India would like to move away from a buyer-seller relationship towards transfer of technology and joint development, joint production and joint marketing of latest weapons and technology.

In the midst of this flourishing defense relationship, India feels slighted at being left out of negotiations for the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan despite its obvious strategic stakes, and immense contribution to the development effort. The sale of conventional arms to Pakistan, including F-16 aircraft and 155mm artillery, ostensibly for counter-insurgency operations, also rankles with India as U.S. arms have emboldened Pakistan to launch both covert and overt military operations against India in the past.

While the End User Monitoring Agreement was signed recently, the U.S. would like to see early progress on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and the two technology and information safeguards agreements – the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA).

There is no doubt that the growing U.S.-India strategic partnership will define the contours of the geo-politics of the 21st century. However, expectations from president Obama’s forthcoming visit to India are rather low as he has so far not provided the type of leadership and impetus to the relationship that his predecessor had. At best, the two countries might sign a free trade agreement, which in itself will be a good step forward for bilateral trade.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)

Terrorism, Financial Collapse and China

Guest post by Manish Thakur

America stands at the crossroads of a number of critical security challenges, none of which can be tackled in isolation. Terrorism, a struggling economy and a resurgent China all require urgent focus. We do not have a choice in dealing with one problem to the exclusion of the others. It will take strong but “cool and collected” leadership over the coming years balancing and prioritizing between them if we are to secure the future. It will also take reinvigorated alliances and new partners, particularly outside of Europe, the traditional focus of most of our security efforts.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States has been in locked in a far-reaching struggle with jihadi terrorism, whether against the Taliban in Afghanistan or against insurgents following the invasion of Iraq. Our military and security services constantly guard against very real threats of further attacks, particularly from radicalized populations in failing countries such as Pakistan and Somalia, or among disaffected members of immigrant communities in Western Europe. But even as our troops fight abroad, the broader American society has not changed its bad habits of over-consumption at home.  Our ability to borrow cheap foreign money and spend it on cheap foreign goods has resulted in staggering debt, both at the household and at the national level, threatening the integrity of our entire financial system. If the collapse of the Twin Towers signaled an end to the post-Cold War peace dividend, the collapse of Lehman signaled an end to the post-War period of overwhelming American economic preeminence.

Between the fighting and the spending, we nearly miss the really big news of the decade: the remarkable return of China to its historical place as a world leader. Building on a global trading system underwritten by the U.S. military, and buoyed by an undervalued currency, Beijing has quietly amassed massive foreign exchange resources, and now looks to secure its economic rise with a growing military and expanding ties across the Persian Gulf, Africa, Central Asia and Latin America. It is not being alarmist to say that China’s sudden rise could be as destabilizing in the early decades of the 21st Century as Germany’s was at the start of the 20th Century. At best, a mercantile China will co-exist uncomfortably with the U.S. as a trading partner and sometimes rival. At worst, a militaristic China will seek to eject the U.S. altogether from Asia, undermine it in the Gulf, and fashion itself globally as an alternate form of government to liberal democracy.

We face a dangerous world where our “unipolar moment” to project power has truly passed and yet our challenges have multiplied. We must therefore reengage and expect more from our traditional allies even as we seek new ones, particularly those espousing or aspiring to liberal democratic ideals. Our NATO alliance, though vital, is no longer sufficient as America’s primary security alliance given that Europe punches below its weight in world affairs.  Our Middle Eastern alliances are critical in our efforts against jihadi terrorism but will always be compromised by the undemocratic nature of the governments behind them. Our Asian alliances grow ever more important but we need to urgently reengage with them, particularly as China replaces us as the number one trading partner for country after country in the region.

Beyond our traditional partners, we need to establish substantive ties with new countries that can further enhance our security. Among these, no country is more important than India. Its rapidly expanding economy makes it an inevitable player in world affairs. Its democratic polity makes it an enduring partner. Its concerns over the same issues of jihadi terror and an assertive China make it a natural ally.  I believe in this not simply because I am co-Chair of USINPAC’s National Security Committee or because I am an Indian-American. I believe in a meaningful U.S.-India partnership because of its inherent logic for both countries.  I look forward to commencing this National Security blog for USINPAC at this challenging time in our nation’s history, and I welcome your comments.

(Manish Thakur is co-Chair of USINPAC’s National Security Committee, with a focus on America’s strategic relationships, particularly with AfPak and China. All views expressed here are his personal opinions and do that reflect those of USINPAC.)

Did U.S. authorities know about Headley’s terrorist connections?

The U.S. federal authorities had been warned of David Coleman Headley’s links to Lashkar-e-Taiba by his wives on various occasions before the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, according to media reports today. The New York Times reports that about a year before the attacks, Headley’s Moroccan wife warned U.S. authorities in Pakistan about her husband’s intentions to attack. In 2005, his American wife had complained to authorities about her husband’s potential links with Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, these warnings did not lead to any arrests and Headley continued to make training and reconnaissance trip to Pakistan and India in preparation of the attacks.

An important point to note in David Headley’s relationship with the U.S. authorities is that he was a longtime informer in Pakistan for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Questions are being raised if this connection made U.S. authorities neglect complaints against him. Authorities however, maintained that the complaints by Headley’s wives were followed upon but did not reveal enough for any arrests to take place. Questions are also been raised in India about why India was not sufficiently informed about the matter, if the U.S. had prior information in the case.

During his interrogation by Indian authorities in Washington D.C, Headley revealed plans to attack various other cities including Delhi and the Prime Minister’s residence. He is also said to have revealed links between the ISI and the 26/11 attacks.

David Coleman Headley was arrested last year in Chicago with another co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana. He had pleaded guilty to planning the Mumbai attacks and entered into a plea bargain with U.S. authorities which prevent his extradition to any country.