Friday, March 03, 2006

Bush Shining on India

As President Bush is now leaving India, he can look back on a visit that might well in the future be seen as one of the most important of his presidency, as well as on a visit to a country where he is significantly less unpopular than in most other places.

The centre-piece of the visit was undoubtedly the deal on cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology. Last minute, it was possible to bring the US and the Indian perspectives together.

What exactly the US can give India in the form of civilian nuclear technology I don't really know. They haven't been ordering any new nuclear power plants since the early 1970's, and the foremost name in US civilian nuclear technology - Westinghouse - is a British-owned company now being sold to Mitsubishi och Japan.

I guess key is that India will now have secure access to US deliveries of nuclear fuel for its reactors. This was previously prevented by it not having signed the NPT.

In terms of modern civilian nuclear technology, it wouldn't surprise me if France is ahead of the United States.

But this is besides the point, which really was the overcoming of the profound burden for the relationship that the Indian success in developing their own nuclear weapons outside all the international frameworks was. They refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty, barred any international inspections and managed to hide all of their preparations for their first test so well that US intelligence was genuinely surprised.

Sanctions followed, and relations went very sour.

But this no longer works. The modern India is a nation that sees its powers as growing, while the United States is aware of the limits of its powers every day. And with Asia rising, there is a need to have a relationship with all its rising powers.

In a more general way, there is little doubt that the Indians were truly flattered by the praise heaped on them by the President as he spoke about a new era of cooperation between the world's largest and the world's most powerful democracy.

They see themselves as lifted up on a higher level in the new world that is now emerging.

And they are right in that assessment.