America’s New Strategic Partner?

President George W. Bush and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, March 2, 2006. Stringer India / Reuters


Last summer, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that India and the United States had struck a deal for a far-reaching "strategic partnership." As part of the agreement, President George W. Bush broke with long-standing U.S. policy and openly acknowledged India as a legitimate nuclear power, ending New Delhi's 30-year quest for such recognition.

Much of the debate surrounding "the India deal," as the agreement has come to be known since it was finalized last March, has focused on nuclear issues. Opponents charge that Bush's historic concession to India could deal a serious blow to the international nonproliferation regime and could set a dangerous precedent for Iran, North Korea, and other aspiring nuclear powers. They also note that the Bush administration obtained no meaningful commitments from New Delhi -- no promises that India would limit its growing nuclear arsenal or take new steps to help combat nuclear proliferation and international terrorism. Why, the critics ask, did Washington give India so much for so little?

These detractors are both right and wrong. They are right to say that the deal is unbalanced and seems to have been struck with little regard for some of its implications. But they overstate the damage it will do to nonproliferation -- an important cause, without doubt -- and their understanding of the deal's objectives is too narrow. When the nuclear arrangements of the agreement are understood -- as they should be -- as just one part of a sweeping strategic realignment that could prove critical to U.S. security interests down the road, the India deal looks much more favorable. Washington gave something away on the nuclear front in order to gain much more on other fronts; it hoped to win the support and cooperation of India -- a strategically located democratic country of growing economic importance -- to help the United States confront the challenges that a threatening Iran, a turbulent Pakistan, and an unpredictable China may pose in the

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