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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

U.S., India: Beginning of a new relationship

A visit to Honolulu last week by India's ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh, underscores the depth of the change in the relationship between the two countries in a relatively short time.

It was "no one's fault," as Mansingh put it, that India and the United States found themselves on opposing sides during the Cold War. But it was myopic policy-making that kept India far off Washington's radar screen after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Just as Washington began to tumble to India's importance, however, India became a nuclear power in 1998 despite American objections, and faced economic sanctions.

But India's heightened military stature made it more, not less, important from America's geopolitical perspective, and with remarkable speed, relations have warmed.

What brought Mansingh to Honolulu has a lot to do with the need to bridge a gap in the military-to-military relations between the two countries, he said. He was to visit Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Asia and — not coincidentally — the Indian Ocean, as well as other senior commanders.

Speculation has appeared in both Indian and American media about President Bush's plans for India. Observers were surprised at India's quick, mostly positive reaction to Bush's proposal for a ballistic missile defense when so many allies have opposed it.

Indian approval, Mansingh was quick to point out, is not for the missile defense per se. But India welcomed what accompanied the proposal, when Bush promised unilateral cuts in American nuclear forces, a reduction in their hair-trigger alert status, consultation with allies and friends on the missile defense and a prompt visit to Delhi by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Meanwhile, much remains to be learned about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's vision for the rest of the decade — and whether he will succeed in winning support for it.

But so far his ideas seem to present both good news and bad news. For instance, he has sensibly called for a shift in military emphasis from Europe to Asia, only to follow that with the suggestion that U.S. forces in Asia be pulled back and replaced by long-range, high-tech weaponry, which would be a disaster for American credibility in the region.

Similarly, some observers are afraid that warming American relations with India portend a dangerous idea — that of trying to play an "India card" against China much as Henry Kissinger played China against the Soviets.

Warming to India is a great idea and long overdue. But that should not, we'd suggest, include playing cynical Cold War power games in today's globalizing world.