The Asian balance of power


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ANY talk of a ‘balance of power’ usually raises howls of protest from many in India. The dismissal of the concept as reflecting outmoded thinking is fairly common in Indian political discourse. But as it strives to develop a new foreign policy after the Cold War, India is increasingly being forced to come to terms with the idea of balance of power.

The end of the Cold War in Europe and the ongoing integration of the European economies alongside attempts at greater political integration in the continent have given rise to a view that traditional concepts of security are no longer relevant. There is a powerful perception that the idea of the state and its sovereignty has been made irrelevant by processes that are taking place at both the global and local level.

Traditional security structures have, however, proved to be enduring even in Europe. Witness the persistence of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as the world’s most powerful military instrument. Witness also the clamour all over Central and Eastern Europe to become a part of this successful security umbrella. To be sure, NATO is trying to adapt itself to the new security challenges in the post Cold War world. But there is no fundamental change in the character of the alliance as an arrangement for collective self-defence among a group of like-minded states.

The traditional nature of the security dynamic in Asia is far more striking. Unlike in Europe, where the processes of integration have begun to chip away at the earlier notions of sovereignty, Asia is seeing the consolidation and rise of powerful nationalisms that are somewhat less amenable to integrative impulses arising from the economic imperative. Further, unlike in Europe there is no broad consensus in Asia that liberal democracy is the only acceptable form of governance.

In Western Europe the prolonged external conflict with the Soviet Union and the internal battle against communism had helped build a successful cooperative security framework under the leadership of the United States. This helped the European states to submerge their individual historic differences and mistrust of neighbours in the pursuit of broader collective interests. There was indeed deviation from the broad pattern even in Western Europe. France has often sought to define its own individual security personality, but without threatening the core collective strategic premises of the West.

During the Cold War, Asia did not witness a stable pattern of alliances. The dramatic shifts in China’s orientation, and to a lesser extent by others, in the last five decades prevented a freezing of the security dynamic in Asia. Without a common enemy and without an agreement on basic ideological premises, Asia has seen more instability in its security structures than Europe. Further, nascent nationalism has also made it difficult to overcome the deep historical animosities in Asia.



And finally, there is no single civilizational thread, as evident in Europe that can unite a core group of Asian nations to take charge of the broader security framework in the region. The civilizational unity allowed an external power, the United States, to play a domineering role in shaping the balance of power in Europe. But in Asia there is less than universal acceptance of the centrality of the U.S. role in Asian security and considerable scepticism about the depth of American commitment to involvement in Asia.

The extraordinary strength of the collective self-defence arrangements in Europe and the defeat of the sole adversary have facilitated thinking about broader notions of collective security and of transcending the nation state itself. By contrast, in Asia, the idea of collective security has long been seen with suspicion. And the question of looking beyond the state at alternative arrangements remains largely academic at this point of time. Asia was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the earlier era of globalization under a colonial framework. But in the current wave of globalization, Asian nations are no longer mere supplicants to their European masters. In the last few decades, the economic weight of Asia has significantly expanded. Collectively and individually, the Asian nations are now clamouring for a larger political role in the international political arena.



But many traditional sources of conflict remain, despite expanding economic integration and the broad range of cooperation among Asian states. The presence of assertive nationalisms, the unfinished agenda of national consolidation, significant territorial disputes, intense mutual distrust based on historical antagonisms, and internal conflicts that could draw in external powers, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the presence of failing states – all suggest that the conflict potential is high in Asia.

Given the absence of a framework for collective security, states in the region will rely on such traditional means as expanding national military strength, accretion of strength through alliance relationships and attempts to balance the perceived hegemonic powers. The creation of a stable balance of power in Asia to contain instabilities in the region is essential should the Asian nations want to sustain rising levels of prosperity and expand their position in the international system.

Since the end of the Cold War, Asia is facing up to the reality of an overwhelming U.S. preponderance in the international system. The critical characteristic of the new balance of power in Asia is that the United States strides like a colossus over the rest of the world. The history of international relations in the last three centuries has never seen such a massive imbalance in the global distribution of power. True, there have been earlier periods that saw the preponderance of one power, but never such a huge gap between the leading power and possible peer competitors.

All present indicators suggest that the American edge over its possible rivals will remain unchallenged for decades to come. The myth of American decline propagated in the late 1980s has been shattered and the world is witnessing the consequences of unusual unipolarity. In the economic realm, the United States has reorganized itself industrially over the last couple of decades to emerge as the most dynamic among the great powers. For the first time in decades, the United States has a budget surplus and this is expected to continue for many years to come.



In contrast, the myth of Japanese invincibility, which had such a powerful appeal in the 1980s, now stands terribly exposed. Japan is mired in a prolonged recession and is finding it hard to undertake the political and structural changes necessary to pull itself out of it. The European Union is performing better in comparison to Japan but remains way behind the United States. Japan and Western Europe face a new problem – the ageing of their societies – that is expected to create significant problems in the coming years. The U.S. in contrast is in a position to replenish its population with young and educated immigrants from all over the world.

China continues to grow rapidly and the size of its economy will begin to draw closer to that of the United States. But its quality and depth, as well as per capita income, will remain behind the advanced world. Russia, it is evident, will take a long time to get its economic act together, and until then is likely to remain marginal to the power calculus in the region.

More fundamentally, the United States appears to have secured a powerful lead in many of the emerging areas of technology and industry. There are more computers in use in the United States than in the rest of the world put together. The U.S. domination of the internet is comprehensive. The so called ‘digital gap’ is visible not just between the United States and the developing world, but it also deeply divides the U.S. and the other great powers.



On the military front, the United States continues to outspend all its potential peers put together. Its lead in nuclear and conventional weaponry remains unsurpassable. More important, in the unfolding revolution in military affairs, the United States is best poised to build and develop a new generation of weapons and adapt its forces to information warfare. Staying close to the United States in these new areas will be a hard task for any of the potential challengers. Washington, however, appears vulnerable to what it calls ‘asymmetric warfare’ – such unconventional means as terrorism.

In relation to ‘soft power’, too, all indicators favour the United States. The cultural appeal of the U.S. – the temptations of the ‘American way of life’, the global reach of Hollywood and American television and the attractions of the American university – remains unrivalled. The U.S. dominance of the world of computers and commerce has helped the English language penetrate even traditionally resistant terrains as the French. As a nation of immigrants, the United States has a concept of citizenship which few nations in Europe or Asia can match. This allows it to draw in the best and brightest from all over the world to contribute to its national gains.

A second feature of the balance of power in Asia is the end of ideological rivalry witnessed during the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism there is no grand alternative to the ideas of liberal democracy and free markets long espoused by the United States. Various versions of socialism continue to survive in Asia, but they are on the back foot. Although China, Vietnam and North Korea continue to pay obeisance to the idea of a socialist state, their economic policies are largely oriented towards building capitalism.

Political Islam has made a mark in the Middle East and is beginning to make its presence felt in parts of South and Southeast Asia. But even in the Middle East the march of radical Islam has hit new roadblocks. In the world’s most militantly anti western Islamic revolution in Iran, there is a growing popular backlash against the rule of the mullahs. The younger generation Iranians are looking towards cultural openness and freedoms that their President, Mohammed Khatami, has promised but is unable to wrest from the mullahs. The endemic economic crisis in West Asia and the failure of any of the variants of Islam to deliver prosperity to the people has shattered the hopes of an Islamic alternative to the West.



Meanwhile the vision of an East Asian alternative to the West, too, has received a dramatic setback. At the height of the Asian economic miracle, political confidence in Asia was so high that it could proclaim an Asian model of governance that was significantly different from ‘western’ liberal democracy. The sense of a ‘rising East’ dealing with a ‘decaying West’ became a popular metaphor in Asia at the turn of the 1990s. But the Asian economic crisis of the last few years and the political consequences that followed have renewed questions about both ‘Asian values’ and the superiority of an Asian model over a western one.

The ideological battleground, if any, in Asia is now within the various nation states on how to come to terms with the ideas of liberal democracy and free markets. With the United States positioning itself as the champion of both, one must expect prolonged debate, if not tension, between the U.S. efforts to promote these ideas and the substantive resistance to either or both these ideas in various Asian nations.



A third feature of the Asian balance of power is the relative increase in the power of China. The collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by the rapid economic advancement of China. Two decades of economic reform initiated by Deng Xiaoping have created perhaps the largest positive transformation in the lives of the largest number of people in the shortest possible time in history. The impressive economic achievements of China have begun to catapult Beijing to the status of the second most important power in the world. Although many in China have begun to visualize the emergence of a new bipolar world, at least in Asia there clearly are significant limits to Chinese power and far too many internal vulnerabilities to become a rival to the United States.

China is yet to consolidate the full territoriality of its nationhood. While it appears to be successfully managing the integration of Hong Kong and Macao, China is finding it increasingly difficult to handle the Taiwan question. The increasingly assertive postures being adopted by President Lee Tenghui, the rise of democratic aspirations and the sense of a separate nationhood in Taiwan have begun to fundamentally challenge the notion of ‘one China’. Meanwhile, Tibet and its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama continue to grab international attention. At the same time, there is new trouble in Xinjiang which is drawing the attention of militant political Islam. Although China is trying to smother the rise of destabilizing nationalist sentiments in its minority provinces, it may be some distance away from figuring out a viable framework of federalism that could satisfy the political aspirations of its minority nationalities.

Linked to the question of federalism is the broader question of democracy and modern governance inside China. The party-state in China has recognized the importance of political reforms and has even taken a few steps. But it is a long way from resolving the contradiction between the structure of the Communist Party and the imperative of genuine democratic governance. The original promise of the Chinese national movement to deliver democracy remains unfulfilled. At a deeper level, the inability of China to offer an alternative ideology to liberal democracy and free markets limits its ability to emerge as a challenger to the United States. Other than nationalism, China has little to offer to the world in terms of political ideas, and this leaves China on the defensive for the foreseeable future.



The financial clout, technological power, military reach, and the cultural dominance of the United States are being felt in many ways in Asia. On the strategic front, there are visible tendencies towards balancing and band-wagoning with the United States. The renewed demonstration of American power in Kosovo has left many in Russia, China and India with great unease. The expansion of the role of NATO, a lack of concern for the sovereignty of Serbia, and the perceived threats of humanitarian intervention create acute concerns in Asia where nations have significant minority problems. As a consequence, there is a frantic search for ‘multipolarity’ and countervailing coalitions and partnerships among the second tier powers.

Even as they seek to balance the United States, explicitly or implicitly, most Asian powers understand the importance of structuring a stable cooperative relationship with the United States. Given the unassailable lead of the United States, the efforts to balance it often end up as mere instruments of either insurance or improvement of bargaining power with the United States.



The United States sees itself as a ‘benign’ and the first ‘non imperialistic’ power in the history of the states system. The U.S. has come to believe that it is an ‘indispensable’ nation in the current constellation of international politics. But even those states that are consistently on its side find it impossible to gain terms of engagement with Washington that are both dignified and leave some space for their own internal evolution, at their own desired pace. The persistent streak of unilateralism in U.S. policy making, the emergence of a post Cold War generation of political class in Washington that is less committed to internationalism in either trade or security, the unpredictability and chaos that surround U.S. decision making – all make it difficult for the Asian nations to deal with the United States. These difficulties are compounded by a realization that there is no alternative to engaging Washington.

After the Cold War, the United States has unveiled a broad framework of its policy, the principal objective of which is to prevent the domination of the mega continent by a single power or a coalition of powers. In the pursuit of this objective, the Clinton administration has strengthened its traditional military alliances in the region, expanded security cooperation and military access in Southeast Asia, begun a policy of comprehensive engagement with China, probed for an opening with North Korea, and initiated a strategic dialogue with India. Quietly but firmly the United States is rewriting the rules of the political game in the region.



In a major success for U.S. policy, Japan has approved revised guidelines for defence cooperation with the United States that will open the door for a significant expansion of Tokyo’s military profile in Asia. The new framework brings the Japanese Self Defence Forces closer to military action in support of U.S. political objectives and allows them to operate outside Japan, marking a profound change in Japan’s security policy since the end of the Second World War.

Japan has finally decided to discard the political inhibitions imposed by its disastrous military adventure into Asia six decades ago and move away from the essence of the peace constitution it adopted after its defeat in the Second World War, which severely limited the freedom of its military action. For more than five decades, the military alliance with Japan has been the lynchpin of U.S. strategy in Asia. The new guidelines give Tokyo a wider military role in dealing with future contingencies in Asia and bring Japan closer to becoming a ‘normal power’, if only under the leadership of the U.S.

If Japan remains the ‘northern anchor’ of the U.S. military presence in Asia, Australia has emerged as the ‘southern anchor’. As part of an agreement in 1996, Australia expanded its military commitments under an alliance with the U.S. In combined military exercises, some of the largest conducted in Australia since the end of the World War II, Washington and Canberra have covered the full range of operational and tactical cooperation – from full scale joint/combined activities to unit level tactics involving all branches of the services of the two countries. Besides significant bilateral military exercises, the U.S. Navy conducts numerous port calls annually in Australia. In 1997 alone, according to official U.S. sources, the U.S. Seventh Fleet made 102 port calls to Australia. The two sides are also exploring increased combined training, particularly in the Australian Northern Territory.

Within years of being forced out of the Subic Bay – one of the largest U.S. naval bases abroad – by the Philippines in the early 1990s, the U.S. has devised new mechanisms to ensure a steady military presence in Southeast Asia. Apprehensive about the rising power of China and its muscle flexing in the South China Sea, most Southeast Asian nations have negotiated military and naval access arrangements with the U.S.



The Philippines found the Chinese nibbling away at its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Locked in an active dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, the Philippines has negotiated a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the U.S. that will expand military cooperation between Manila and Washington. Thailand has a long-standing military alliance with the U.S., under which it has provided Washington with maintenance of war reserves, access facilities, refuelling and transit arrangements that ensure U.S. ability to operate militarily in the region. Thailand also conducts the largest joint military exercises with the U.S. in Southeast Asia.

Elsewhere in the region, Brunei has a limited but active military cooperation with the U.S. in the form of periodic exercises in the nation’s jungle warfare training facility, ship and personnel visits, and aircraft transits. Malaysia supports a continued U.S. presence in Asia and makes available naval and air maintenance and repair facilities. There has been a steady increase in U.S. ship visits and exercises in the country. The U.S. is also engaged in low key military diplomacy with Vietnam, a country that fought a long and bitter war with it until 1975.



Singapore has been an active proponent of continued U.S. military presence in Asia to ensure a regional balance of power. Since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Subic Bay, Singapore has worked actively to facilitate the dispersal of U.S. forces and spread the political responsibility of hosting the American military presence. It has now offered the U.S. access to its long planned new pier facility at Changi that can accommodate a U.S. aircraft carrier.

China has opposed the expansion of U.S. military alliances in Asia, in particular the new U.S.-Japan defence guidelines. China is particularly concerned about the rise of the Japanese military profile, and is worried that the new defence guidelines bring its ‘renegade province’ Taiwan into the rubric of the U.S.-Japan security umbrella. China also opposes continuing American military cooperation with Taiwan.

China, however, has long given up its aggressive campaign to oust American military presence in the region. While being wary of the large U.S. military forces deployed in Asia, Beijing continues to believe that they may help prevent the emergence of an independent Japanese military role in the region. China also believes that it has common strategic interests with the U.S. and that it will be able to expand its own strategic partnership with that country. As a consequence, China is involved in expansive defence exchanges with the U.S., including high level consultations at the political and official level as well as port calls.

Therein lies a clue to the continuing primacy of the U.S. in Asia. Intense nationalism in Asia and memories of past regional conflicts have meant that most Asian states may have good reason to distrust the political intentions of their neighbours more than those of the U.S. Most Asians prefer the U.S. as a distant power to maintain peace in Asia to the domination of the region by one of their own neighbours. Like in Europe, the U.S. will continue to be welcome as the principal arbiter of the balance of power in Asia for a long time to come.



The relations between the United States and China have emerged as the most important determinant of the Asian security scenario in the coming years. After considerable uncertainties of the post Tiananmen phase in the relations between the two nations, Washington and Beijing appeared to settle down to a stable relationship during 1997-98, when President Jiang Zemin visited the United States and President Clinton travelled to Beijing. The two nations proclaimed a ‘strategic partnership’ and unveiled a broad agenda for cooperation on security issues in the Asia Pacific region.

The proclamation of a strategic partnership generated considerable unease in Asia. There was concern throughout Asia that China had emerged as the principal interlocutor of the United States in the region. The apparent ‘China First’ policy raised concerns about ‘Japan passing’ in Tokyo. Much of the region did not want to see a new Cold War in Asia between Washington and Beijing. They called on the United States to constructively engage China. But the new bonhomie between Presidents Clinton and Jiang raised the spectre of a Sino-U.S. condominium in Asia. If there is anything Asia fears more than a new Cold War it is a shared dominance of the region by Washington and Beijing.

A bolt from the blue often destroys years of diplomatic labour spent in crafting a relationship between two nations. The U.S. bombing of the Chinese mission in Belgrade is one such. When Chinese students started throwing stones at the U.S. embassy in Beijing in May to vent their anger at the death of their compatriots in Belgrade, it appeared that Sino-U.S. ties had become part of the unanticipated collateral damage from the American war for Kosovo.



Even before the incident in Belgrade, tensions in Sino-U.S. relations were coming into view. The unveiling of new defence guidelines for the U.S.-Japan military alliance, the U.S. commitment to the development and deployment of theatre missile defences, the NATO expansion to the East, the growing support in the U.S. for the causes of Taiwan and Tibet, the strengthening of the anti China sentiments in the U.S. political establishment and the uncertainty about China’s entry in the WTO were all beginning to cast a shadow over the much touted strategic partnership between Washington and Beijing. The bombing incident helped crystallise Sino-U.S. tensions and may have begun to push the relationship into an uncharted territory.

Despite the tragic incident in Belgrade and the outburst of anti American sentiment that followed in China, Beijing appears determined not to let Kosovo undermine its expansive relationship with Washington. The Clinton administration, too, appears eager to limit the fallout of the diplomatic disaster in its Balkan war and has responded with alacrity to Beijing’s demand by repeatedly apologising at the highest level. It may be only a matter of time before U.S. and China begin to normalise their relations disrupted by the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.



Less certain, however, is the ability of the two sides to restore the past warmth in bilateral ties. Even more doubtful is the capacity of the two nations to rebuild a broad domestic consensus in favour of mutual engagement. In the short term, Beijing may have effectively exploited the moral high ground it acquired after the loss of innocent Chinese lives in Belgrade. It has succeeded in mobilising much of the non-western public opinion in its favour and signalled to the West that China cannot be taken for granted. The re-emergence of uncertainty in Sino-U.S. relations poses fundamental political challenges to all major Asian nations, including India and Southeast Asia.

The smaller nations of Southeast Asia have always been extremely sensitive to the smallest of power shifts in Asia. Singapore for example has long been the most consistent advocate of structuring a stable balance of power in Asia. India on the other hand, has tended to emphasize Asian solidarity and non-alignment. The end of the Cold War brought into question non-alignment, the leitmotif of Indian foreign and security policies in the first few decades.

Many in India and outside have questioned the relevance of non-alignment after the collapse of bipolarity. Non-alignment between whom? What should be the central guiding principle of India’s relations with the great powers in the post Cold War world? At the rhetorical level, New Delhi appears reluctant to discard its commitment to non-alignment. At a popular level, there is a strong view that India must persist with the normative, liberal internationalist notions that originally drove India’s enthusiasm for NAM (non-aligned movement). These include the importance of solidarity with the decolonized nations, opposition to power politics and military alliances, democratisation of the international order, emphasis on genuine multilateralism, and the promotion of global collective security.

India’s formal emphasis on non-alignment should not, however, obfuscate the reality of a determined bid by India in the recent years to transform its bilateral relationships with all the major power centres of the world. Its new approaches to the great powers have been rooted in fairly realistic assessment of the altered power scenario. In fact, India’s non-alignment during the Cold War could be interpreted as a deliberate play on the then prevailing power politics in the international system. Seeking to maximise its autonomy in the Cold War, India effectively used non-alignment as a policy to promote its perceived economic and political interests.



For a country with few real cards to play in the international system, non-alignment offered the best route to promote its diplomatic profile on the world stage. It allowed India to become one of the few countries in the world to gain massive economic assistance from both camps in the international system, and yet retain the right to criticise both East and West on specific international issues.

The focus on non-alignment did not prevent India from developing a security policy that was sensitive to shifting alignments in its neighbourhood. Its productive relationship with Moscow had the effect of balancing American military ties with Pakistan during the early Cold War. When a de facto strategic consensus emerged between Pakistan, China and the United States at the turn of the 1970s, India did not hesitate to deepen its relationship with the Soviet Union through a ‘peace and friendship treaty’ in 1971. While India was loath to call it an alliance, or acknowledge it as a departure from ‘pure’ non-alignment, it was for all practical purposes a security pact with the Soviet Union. And the treaty served India well for nearly two decades before the Soviet Union collapsed.



At the turn of the 1990s, New Delhi quickly set about the task of reorienting its relations with the great powers. Recognizing the fact that the United States was now the sole superpower in the international system, India paid particular attention to building a new relationship with Washington. Although the United States loomed large on Indian foreign policy in the 1990s, the prospects for greater Indian autonomy, New Delhi calculated, rested on a revitalisation of relations with the other great powers – Russia, Western Europe, China and Japan. The basic Indian objective has remained unchanged: maximising room for manoeuvre.

The search for greater political space for itself in a unipolar world has also raised the prospects of formal or informal alliances with the great powers. One possibility is to look at a grand coalition between India, Russia and China (some throw in Iran as well) to balance the overwhelming preponderance of the United States in the international system. The other option is to jump onto the U.S. bandwagon to maximise India’s capabilities.

Neither of these options is likely to become a viable one for India’s foreign policy. First, take the idea of a triangular or quadrangular alliance against the United States. It is painted in many different hues – a revamped anti-imperialist bloc, a newly resurgent Orient against the hegemonic Occident, or an alliance of the second tier powers against the hegemon. In any format, this proposed alliance is unworkable. No single power or a group of them is in a position to take on the might of the United States. India, China, Russia and Iran all need and are seeking cooperation with the United States to advance their own national development.

Although all four have innumerable political problems with the United States, they will find it impossible to structure an anti U.S. alliance. China, for all its formal rhetoric on promoting a multipolar world order, sees itself as becoming the second most important power centre in the world. Its preference could be a bipolar framework in Asia. India also knows that as permanent members of the UN Security Council and as the self-appointed guardians of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Washington, Moscow and Beijing have common interests, some of which may run counter to New Delhi’s.



Equally unrealistic is the possibility of a formal Indian alliance with the United States aimed against China. Neither does the U.S. have any plans for a ‘containment party’ against China; nor would India want to see a new Cold War in Asia between the United States and China, which is India’s largest neighbour. New Delhi’s policy thrust will remain centred around an intensive and pragmatic engagement with both Washington and Beijing. India is likely to devote itself to the pursuit of an independent foreign policy that will maximise its freedom of manoeuvre in all directions.

Such an external orientation will be rooted in two basic propositions. First, India needs an intensification of cooperation with all the great powers, without being tied down to the rigours of a strategic alliance with any one or a group of them. It has no reason to paint any one of the great powers as an enemy, and jump onto the bandwagon of another to counter it. Second, the expansion of India’s role in the world is likely to be achieved less by external political alliances and more by the rapid enhancement of its internal economic capabilities. For this reason, New Delhi must begin to define its foreign policy goals in a modest and pragmatic manner while setting for itself purposeful and ambitious developmental goals at home.



Despite its unchanged rhetoric on non-alignment (which must only be seen as a code word for an autonomous foreign policy), India has begun to experiment with the politics of balance of power in a complex world. As a large nation, committed to an independent judgement on various issues, India will find it difficult to become a junior partner in any alliance system. However, India is likely to press ahead with its efforts to build ‘special relationships’ at the bilateral level with most of the major powers.

Following India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, there was a major and immediate disruption in Indian efforts to engage the great powers. But ironically, India’s declaration of itself as a nuclear weapon power may have provided a new basis for resolving India’s long standing non-proliferation disputes with the international community. With the United States, there has been a continuous dialogue aimed at reconciling India’s security interests with global non-proliferation concerns. The outlines of an accommodation in which the U.S. would concede India’s right to build a minimum nuclear deterrent and Indian participation in global arms control arrangements are visible.

This is the first time that the United States and India have engaged in such a sustained dialogue on security questions which has gone a long way in building a new understanding between the two nations. The U.S. approach to the recent Kargil crisis, which saw Washington side with India on a Kashmir related issue for the first time in the last five decades, has helped lay the basis for an important political departure in Indo-U.S. relations.

Similarly with China, the nuclear tests initially worsened New Delhi’s ties with Beijing. But sustained efforts over the last year have helped overcome the rupture in Sino-Indian relations, and the two sides have agreed to put the relationship back on track. For the first time, India and China have agreed to initiate a ‘security dialogue’ that could provide a framework to discuss issues they have long found it convenient to sweep under the carpet. In the post Kosovo context, China has been more than keen to build a political relationship with India that would seek to minimise differences. The Chinese neutrality in the Kargil crisis, although tinged by an unwillingness to name Pakistan as the aggressor, has been well received in India.

After the Pokharan tests, India has also deepened its dialogue with the European Union – France in particular – and Russia, and is in the process of mending ties with Japan. Slowly but steadily, India is moving towards a realistic foreign policy framework that sheds some of its past emphases on ideology and political first principles. India is beginning to break out of its traditional defensive mindset and putting across a more self-confident and outward looking approach.