If evidence was needed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India, which ended today, demonstrated that the anything-goes days of the Bush administration are over for New Delhi.
Clinton, the highest-level American official to visit India since President Obama took office, had a clear agenda that included soliciting some cooperation in international global climate talks from the newly re-elected Congress Party leadership, and getting guarantees that the United States could monitor how sensitive military technology sold to the Indians will be used.
The United States had already put India on notice about Washington’s insistence that the Indian government, which started a South Asian arms race in 1974 by detonating a nuclear explosion, provoking Pakistan to follow suit, should finally sign the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with Pakistan and Israel. That message was delivered this spring in a speech at the United Nations by Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation. “Universal adherence to the NPT itself,” she said in discussing how nuclear safeguards needed upgrading, “also remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”
India has argued, with justification, that the NPT has turned into a treaty under which the five nuclear-weapons nations–the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia–allow themselves to keep their bombs and missiles while calling on others to forego development. Moreover, the United States has not pressed Israel on the issue before, and accepts Pakistan’s contention that it cannot sign the NPT until India does. North Korea, which did sign, has recently opted out.
The Bush administration, in a deal approved by Congress in 2008, allowed the sale of civilian nuclear energy and satellite technology to India, which leading arms experts said had, in effect, given Delhi a pass on adhering to major treaties and set back a half-century of international nuclear arms control work. Congress may give this a second look.
Meanwhile in Delhi over the weekend Clinton and India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, announced that the two countries had agreed to–but have not yet signed–an “end use” monitoring accord that would allow American inspections of projects employing US technologies. Details of that technology-safeguards agreement were not immediately announced by the State Department, which indicated that more talks on specifics would follow. India is currently on a buying spree for arms, aircraft and nuclear reactors. American companies are interested, but are unlikely to find the kind of support they got from President Bush if export rules need to be bent again.
On global warming, and specifically on a carbon emissions agreement that must be reached by the end of the year to supplant the Kyoto Protocol, Clinton miffed some Indian commentators (and presumably officials) by bringing with her Todd Stern, the administration’s special envoy on climate change. It was a signal that she meant business. India, soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and one of the world’s most prolific polluters, has set no firm targets on emissions.
In a public exchange on Sunday, Clinton was smacked down by India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, as they toured an environment-friendly office building near Delhi. He told her flatly that India would not accept internationally set emissions limits or targets. Furthermore, he said, India and other developing countries should not have to pay for cleaner air, since the rich countries caused the damage in the first place.
Earlier in Mumbai, Clinton had countered the same argument by saying that she hoped India wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the United States had made in the past. She added that antipoverty programs and environmental cleanup need not be mutually exclusive. Indian entrepreneurs know that India has the money and technology to act; only the political will and sense of global responsibility are missing.
Everywhere she went, Clinton, an adept politician, met a wider range of people than most traveling officials do. Industrialists in Mumbai were eager to discuss how they could share in energy and environmental technologies to their benefit and the country’s. It may have been the most positive conversation she had in India, apart from her visit with women running self-help projects for the poor. She has long been a promoter of aid for Indian women, who suffer wide social and economic discrimination.
At the end of her trip, as she moved to Thailand and its problems, the State Department did not have a lot of concrete progress to report. Its summary of the India visit was more a list of proposed working groups on important issues–a list of future “will-do’s.” India is tough. Clinton, an experienced traveler in India, knows that. The story of US-India relations could get very interesting over the next few years.