Jerome M. Conley. Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation: Lessons and Options for U.S. Policy in South Asia. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001. ix-xiii + 164 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-0217-6.
Reviewed by Eric Pullin (College of Business and Management, Cardinal Stritch University)
Published on H-Diplo (March, 2002)
Fracturing the Indo-Russian
Fracturing the Indo-Russian "Special Relationship"
Jerome M. Conley's Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation provides a solid, albeit brief, treatment of the "special relationship" between New Delhi and Moscow during and after the Cold War. Noting that Indo-Russian connections resulted from "Indian needs, American ambivalence, and Soviet opportunism," Conley argues that this "special relationship" has lacked depth, and sees this condition as an opportunity for the United States to "fracture" the Indo-Russian bond by establishing a closer economic and security relationship with India (p. xiii).
Conley is refreshingly succinct, writing clearly and concisely. However, subsequent editions of Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation could benefit from addressing a number of stylistic issues, such as spelling mistakes, typographical errors, and awkward phrasings. Despite the occasional gaff or ambiguity (like misspelling Gandhi and telling readers that "the United States tried to satisfy both the State Department and the DOD by offering military aid to Pakistan" p. 10), such shortcomings do not significantly detract from the work. In addition, Conley repeatedly burdens readers with excessive detail about specific arms procurement deals and weapons systems. On the other hand, Conley's thoughtful use of informative figures and tables further clarifies his already direct writing style. For instance, the figures in Chapter One nicely quantify India's dependence upon Soviet weapons and the tables in Chapter Five provide a quick summary of Conley's specific policy recommendations.
Conley appears to have written Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation more as a policy recommendation than as a historical work, and makes no claim to contributing significant reinterpretations or new research. The author reviews diplomatic history only as background to explain and justify his policy recommendations. Conley makes his point succinctly, but perhaps a bit too succinctly. The sum of his argument, the survey of India's foreign policy, the analysis of India's current security needs, and his recommendations for U.S. policy, amounts to fewer than a hundred pages. The brevity of Conley's book means that, while citing a few important works like George Perkovich's India's Nuclear Bomb (1999), he must ignore the historiographical contributions of specialists such as Ayesha Jalal, Robert J. McMahon, Dennis Merrill or even generalists like H.W. Brands. Conley derives his history mostly from the historical distillations of political scientists such as Sumit Ganguly, J.A. Naik, and Stephen P. Cohen. Yet, even if specialists are unlikely to learn much from the book, general readers will gain from its introduction to the issues driving the Indo-Russian "special relationship."
Conley observes that, far from being an enduring and close "special relationship," Indo-Soviet ties resulted from the intersection of India's drive during the Cold War for military self-sufficiency with "Soviet opportunism and American ambivalence" (p. 3). India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru regarded the Soviets with ambivalence, recognizing that they could provide substantial support but could also taint India's credibility as leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, already irritated by the Eisenhower administration's unwillingness to sell India weapons and its preference for Pakistan, Nehru reluctantly turned toward the Soviets for military aid during its crisis with China between 1959 and 1962. "The choice was not the preferred option for India; it was 'predicated by dire necessity'" (p. 15). Doubly stung by defeat at China's hands in 1962 and that country's detonation of a nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964, India increased its demand for Soviet conventional weapons and decided to develop its own nuclear weapons. Conley contends that the decision to "go nuclear" further emphasized the tenuousness of the Indo-Soviet relationship. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, appreciating that dependence had its limits, realized that the Soviet Union would not extend its nuclear umbrella to cover "capitalist" India. Strangely, though, Conley stops short here, failing to comment on Shastri's own reluctance to spend India's millions on nuclear weapons. Moreover, Conley could have significantly enhanced his discussion by addressing the parallel between China's and India's respective decisions to go nuclear. Although both received substantial Soviet assistance, neither felt safe under a Soviet nuclear umbrella.
For Conley, the nearly ten-year gap between initiating a nuclear weapons program in the mid-1960s and testing a nuclear device in 1974, indicates Indian "restraint." India's "peaceful nuclear explosion" (PNE) on May 18, 1974, might have seemed an obvious response to the strategic situation following the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, but Conley argues that the "the explanation for India's 1974 PNE should...be viewed as the delayed union of technical capability and political will, and not a dramatic change in India's security environment" (p. 31).
As counter-intuitive as the claim might seem, Conley maintains that the inertia of India's scientific bureaucracy and the pressures of domestic politics determined the PNE as much as security issues. For example, the chair of India's Atomic Energy Commission, Vikram Sarabhai, who replaced the father of India's nuclear program Homi Bhabha in 1966, stalled the Indian nuclear program until 1971, because he regarded large expenditures on nuclear research as wasteful. In addition, Conley argues that the immediate decision for the PNE directly related to the Congress Party's desire to improve its domestic image through a grand flourish. Conley might be right in all this, but he does not fully convince. He neither explores the issue with enough original research nor makes sufficient reference to existing scholarship.
Even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, relations with the Soviet Union began deteriorating. The government of Morarji Desai, frustrated with Russian "spare parts diplomacy," hoped both to reduce India's dependence upon the Soviets and to modernize its own military equipment. Moreover, Desai, even more than Nehru, considered India's association with the Soviet Union as a compromise of non-alignment principles. Sensing a significant shift in Indian priorities, the Reagan administration briefly created an "opening to India." However, "India's quest for diplomatic independence and self-reliance did not fit into the American paradigm of a bipolar world" (p. 40). In the 1990s, India continued trying to reduce its dependence upon Soviet weapons, but "would continue to use Soviet arms as a stepping stone between the bygone era of the British Raj and future Indian self-reliance...[, and] to offset American influence in South Asia" (pp. 39-40). Here again, Conley might be right. However, without considering U.S. support for Pakistan during the Soviets' war in Afghanistan, Conley offers no alternative for how the United States could have made an "opening to India."
Between the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the Kargil Crisis of 1999 (an Islamic insurgency in the Kargil region of Kashmir), India actually increased its demand for Russian military hardware despite attempts to reduce that dependence. In a sense, Russia and India suffered from mutual dependence; India needed the weapons (e.g., during the 1990s, over 70 per cent of India's weapons procurement came from Russia) and Russia needed the money (e.g., sales to China and India accounted for 41 per cent of Russia's military exports). The Clinton administration pursued goals "based on human rights issues, the desire to resolve tensions in Kashmir and the need 'to cap, roll-back and eliminate' nuclear weapons in the region" (p. 58), and preferred to ignore the Indo-Russian dynamic, focusing instead on making India conform to an American non-proliferation agenda. According to Conley, "this period represents an opportunity lost for American security interests in South Asia as Russian influence was allowed to remain and American influence was not properly developed" (p. 3).
Between 1964 and 1998, the development of India's "minimum nuclear deterrent" has been slow and India has claimed to act with "restraint." However, Conley argues that, while restraint might have delayed the decision to go nuclear, political will and technological capability have been India's greatest obstacles to the deployment of an effective nuclear triad. India, now determined to develop nuclear delivery vehicles, "must [still] rely on Russian support to establish its nuclear triad" (p. 114). Conley rightly notes that in terms of developing nuclear delivery systems, India has tried to claim limitation as a virtue. In Conley's view, the only minimal aspect of India's deterrent is its relatively low number of nuclear warheads. Conley further observes that, despite reliance upon Russian technologies, the development of India's nuclear deterrent is only a matter of time.
However, is Conley right to imply that India's deterrent would be even more minimal if the United States would only draw closer to India? He identifies opportunity in this dynamic, concluding with recommendations for U.S. policy. Conley sees no "silver bullet" for Indo-American relations, and thus reasons that institutional engagement between the two countries must be a priority. The United States must be willing to revisit the "missed opportunities" of the past 50 years. Trade agreements and U.S.-Indian cooperation with counter-terrorism provide the best opportunities to develop institutional relationships. However, the United States should also appreciate India's unique security position and recognize that "China [not Pakistan] remains the primum mobile in future Indian deployment decisions" (p. 140). Therefore the United States must consider carefully how its strategic relations with China will affect the situation in South Asia. Finally, although he does not say so explicitly, Conley hints that the United States should try to replace Russia as India's supplier of military technology. "The inability, or unwillingness, of the United States to...buy out Russian interests groups [sic] defines the limits of American diplomatic and financial weight" (p. 140). It must be said, though, that, aside from this brief comment, Conley largely ignores the issue of what the United States can reasonably do to help reduce India's reliance upon Russia assistance. Conley concludes by warning that, unless the United States takes steps to narrow the gap, the current distance between India and the United States will continue to hinder the security of both states.
Perhaps, but, while Conley describes the particular steps necessary for the United States to improve relations with India, he offers no justification for doing so. In other words, beyond improving relations with India per se, Conley does not really draw out a larger regional or global range of options for the United States. A significant shortcoming of Conley's policy recommendation is his assumption that India is a better strategic partner than China. Yet again, Conley might be right, but he neglects to explain why India offers greater opportunity. For instance, a discussion of Zbigniew Brzezinski's triangulation between the Soviet Union and China would have been extremely helpful. Conley does not address how the Carter administration could have worked with India, as it did China, to isolate the Soviet Union during the late 1970s. One of the sad facts of Indo-American relations is that, while the two countries have shared many long-term interests (e.g., protecting democracy and fighting terrorism), they have rarely shared short-term interests (e.g., building a Cold War alliance in South Asia, warming with the Chinese, supporting the Mujahadin against the Soviets, or now using Pakistan as a base to fight in Afghanistan).
India might be the better choice, but, currently, friendly relations with China appear to yield more benefits. China has a stronger military and possesses greater economic power, but Conley takes it for granted that India is the better partner. Meanwhile, Russia is not the security concern that the Soviet Union once was. Decoupling India and Russia does not have the same priority that it did during the Cold War. Moreover, India might be taking steps to achieve the result Conley desires. Still frustrated by Russian "spare parts diplomacy," India has turned to Israel, with its surfeit of Russian-trained engineers, who can help wean India from Russian assistance. None of this is to suggest that India was or is unworthy of improved relations with the United States.
Rather, Conley has not fully made his case, giving readers only the "how to" but not the "why" of improving Indo-American relations. The case is worth making, but Conley's slim volume does not ultimately make it. One of the prices for concision is omission. Thus, readers looking for details beyond India's dependence upon Russia must look elsewhere. Conley explores an important, but only single, dimension of India's foreign policy. Unfortunately, he provides only a cursory description of how Pakistan and China complicate U.S.-Indian relations. Still, withstanding the above criticisms, Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation should be considered for introducing non-specialists to the development of the Indo-Russian "special relationship."
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Eric Pullin. Review of Conley, Jerome M., Indo-Russian Military and Nuclear Cooperation: Lessons and Options for U.S. Policy in South Asia.
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Copyright © 2002 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.