Written By: Syed Muhammad Ali
Obama administration wanted the world to pursue Nuclear Zero while it exceptionally built up India militarily. Similarly, how Donald Trump looks at Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy will not only determine the peace, security and stability of Asia in general and South Asia in particular but also the long-term U.S. economic interests associated with Asia-Pacific.
The tumultuous month of November 2016 will long be remembered in world history. The election victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. Presidential elections led to nationwide protests and stunned Washington’s key allies including the UK, Germany, France and Japan. If Donald Trump manages to keep his promise and actually demands from NATO and other key allies to dig deeper into their own pockets, to ‘do more’ themselves for their individual security needs and depend less on Washington, it would reflect an unprecedented ‘U.S. security commitment fatigue’ and growing significance of domestic economic concerns for the new Republican administration. A declining U.S. security commitment towards both its traditional Western European and East Asian allies by the new Republican administration could encourage them to shed their own nuclear restraint and accelerate their individual efforts towards their heightened national security needs.
Another major event within four days of the U.S. election, somewhat eclipsed by Trump’s historic victory over Mrs. Clinton, is the signing of an extraordinary nuclear deal between Japan and India. The Japanese nuclear deal is unique and extraordinary for five reasons. First, Japan is the only country in the world which has actually suffered two nuclear attacks during war and its sterling commitment towards non-proliferation and principled stance on arms control has traditionally been exemplary. However, the signing of this new deal, despite India possessing the developing world’s largest and oldest unsafeguarded nuclear program, now raises new questions regarding the future of these Japanese commitments. Second, this latest deal would help expedite various additional nuclear deals that the other States have earlier signed with India. Both French company Areva and U.S. nuclear giant Westinghouse use key Japanese components such as reactor vessels for their reactors. Third, this deal has been put together even more hurriedly than the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal by compressing the 123 Agreement, reprocessing, administrative arrangements and NSG into one. This is perhaps to ensure its swift implementation before the Obama administration leaves office. Four, this deal has a cursory mention of principled Indian Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) adherence and hardly expects a significant non-proliferation commitment, sans non-testing of nuclear weapons by New Delhi, in return for exceptional Japanese technological access and support. Five, this deal symbolizes the growing strategic Indo-Japanese partnership and reflects their mutual desire to counter-balance China in East Asia and Asia-Pacific.
Another significant and related event was the NSG’s meeting held in Vienna on November 11 to discuss the “technical, legal and political aspects of Non-NPT States’ Participation in the NSG”. According to informed sources, although the U.S. tried its best to gain maximum support for Indian’s NSG membership, a large number of member States including Russia, said that further discussions were still needed before individual membership cases could be evaluated. This indicates that the support for a criteria-based approach for considering additional members is growing and gaining momentum within the 48-nation group managing the international nuclear trade and cooperation.
A declining U.S. security commitment towards both its traditional Western European and East Asian allies by the new Republican administration could encourage them to shed their own nuclear restraint and accelerate their individual efforts towards their heightened national security needs.
The impression some observers have attempted to internationally present is that basically the tussle between the U.S. and China will eventually determine the outcome of the new NSG membership cases. However, the outcome of this latest meeting indicates that the reality is far more complex than popularly presented. The divisions between the three camps supporting exceptional membership, criteria-based membership and swing states are starker and deeper than initially anticipated, and achieving consensus by either group is not likely in the foreseeable future. Therefore, Obama administration’s agenda of hurriedly making India an NSG member before the Democrats’ term runs out has essentially failed.
This provides the incoming Republican administration with an opportunity to look at all Democrat-led initiatives and agendas afresh and with skepticism. Obama administration wanted the world to pursue Nuclear Zero while it exceptionally built up India militarily. Similarly, how Donald Trump looks at Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy will not only determine the peace, security and stability of Asia in general and South Asia in particular but also the long-term economic interests associated with Asia-Pacific. Amidst serious domestic economic challenges, militarizing Asia-Pacific excessively and further escalating tensions with China could increase, not reduce threats to the long-term U.S. vital economic interests associated with Asia-Pacific.
Throughout history the Republicans have traditionally maintained a more careful balance in the delicate and complex U.S. relationship with both Pakistan and India than the Democrats. The presidencies of President Nixon, Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Junior have demonstrated a better U.S. understanding of Pakistan’s regional security concerns towards India, leading to a relatively more stable regional order, reduced tensions, better crisis management and lower nuclear escalation risks.
One hopes that the new Republican administration will seek and shape a fresh and more prudent security agenda towards both Asia-Pacific and South Asia, which can make the nuclear-armed region more stable and less conflict-prone. It should include a comprehensive review of the U.S. policy towards South Asia and a fresh approach based on supporting a robust composite dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, sustainable cooperation with Pakistan in its efforts to defeat terrorism and stabilize Afghanistan, and supporting simultaneous NSG membership for both Pakistan and India. This new security agenda will enable the Republican administration to devote its attention, energies, resources and capabilities towards more urgent and graver challenges to the U.S. national security such as terrorism, ISIS, managing relations with China and Russia and putting its own house in order. Like always, ignoring Pakistan instead of working with it, will harm and not improve U.S. long-term national security interests both regionally and globally.
The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad.