The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi urged Washington to take advantage of improved Indo-Japanese ties to fulfil its own agenda in Asia

An uncharacteristically effusive diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi urged policymakers in Washington to use “blossoming” Indo-Japanese ties in 2006 to fulfil American goals for the Asian region, including in terms of offering emerging nations “an alternative model to China.”

“Leaders from every country which seeks global influence are beating a path to New Delhi, and if we want the bilateral relationship to have value, it will be in leveraging India's emergence as part of our global strategy. As India and Japan grow closer, the U.S. needs to pounce on this moment of opportunity to shape the direction diplomacy in this region takes in the coming decades,” a cable classified by Deputy Chief of Mission Geoffrey Pyatt, sent under Ambassador David C. Mulford's name, advised Washington.

The May 5, 2006 cable (88132: confidential) went on to discuss the potential opportunities and refute the perceived drawbacks of engineering a trilateral dialogue. It also revealed much about why the Americans valued the India relationship in the year the U.S. Senate passed legislation to allow nuclear material and technology exports to India.

“The opportunity for the U.S. to secure closer trilateral relations with the world's largest democracy and one of our greatest allies is dazzling. The stars have aligned in innumerable and historic ways,” said the cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

Among the “initiatives” envisaged by the Embassy were joint peacekeeping, disaster relief response capacity building, educational exchange, green technology and global disease initiatives.

Military cooperation

But it was in the area of military cooperation, it appeared, that the U.S. was most interested: maritime infrastructure and port-building projects, maritime security exercises in the region, trilateral missile defence research and other military cooperation, and bilateral aviator training for pilots. As well as having “strategic security implications these would provide opportunities for American business,” the cable said.

“The larger goal would be to demonstrate to India the benefits for Japan of the complex mil-mil [military-military] and military industrial relationship with Japan, with an eye toward getting India to ‘buy American',” the cable added.

Bilateral training exercises for Japanese and Indian airmen were held out as examples. “If done quickly, and if partnered with industry representatives seeking co-production offset arrangements… [these] could serve as an excellent conduit for demonstrating the superiority of F-16 and F-18 fighters as they compete for the multi-billion dollar Indian contract expected within the next couple years.”

Would all this cooperation make China feel “boxed in” and encourage it to counter the U.S. activities by engaging with North Korea, using its veto at the UN or building its military capacity, the cable asked. Well, China does what it wants anyway: this was the Embassy's comment. “China pursues its own interests relentlessly in international fora, and Chinese military spending has increased, by some estimates, by over 1000 per cent in the last 15 years.”

“The fact is,” the cable continued, “while China is actively seeking to spread its influence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its ‘string of pearls' in the Indian Ocean or other diplomatic initiatives (none of which suggest China defers to American anxieties as it proceeds), a more visible U.S.-Japan-India friendship would signal that free and democratic nations, too, pursue their interests, along with partners who share our values. We will be offering other hopeful emerging nations on the continent a distinctly alternative model to China's.”

India's value

The cable argued that aside from acting as a bulwark against China, allowing India into strategically sensitive discussions of the region would have a value of its own. Indeed, in answering the self-posed question, “what if we can develop India into a close ally in the coming decades?” the cable revealed what the U.S. might expect from such a relationship.

“India brings to the table not only the world's largest democracy and a potential market of a billion people, it is also the secular home to the world's second largest Muslim population, a regional naval power whose interests in maritime security closely match the United States', a growing economic giant, a nuclear power, an educational dynamo, a strategically located land and sea link for all Asia, an oasis of stability in a dysfunctional neighborhood, and a nation that is on its own actively seeking closer ties with Japan and Australia,” the cable said.

The potential to develop the U.S. into a close ally was evident through some cooperative activities such as those of the Tsunami Core Group, the cable said. It noted once again India's potential as a weapons buyer: “India plans to upgrade every major defense system it has over the next 15 years, and for the first time in nearly half a century is looking at the U.S. as a defense supplier.”

The cable mooted the idea of a quadrilateral dialogue between the U.S., India, Japan and Australia, starting with a “focus on the global war on terror, global warming/clean energy, maritime security, anti-piracy and intellectual property rights, trade liberalization, health and science.”

‘So what?'

In short, the cable said, “What the U.S. stands to gain by adding India to the U.S.-Japan-Australia mix is essentially squaring the circle in the Asia-Pacific region, bringing a geometric and geopolitical connection for democracy that spans nearly half the globe.”

The cable concluded with an appeal to strengthen this relationship, that invoked no less than the security of future American citizens: “By pushing our sphere of close friends past the Pacific Rim and through East Asia — through a region where the U.S. has been involved in three wars in our parents' lifetime, not to mention a hotbed in the Global War on Terror — in terms of U.S. interests in Asia, ‘so what?' could very well mean a great deal for the next generation.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)