The US-Indian nuclear deal, finalized in March, unequivocally heralds a new age in Indo-US relations. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has praised the deal's potential to incorporate India into the non-proliferation community.
In Washington, however, many have criticized the arrangement as compromising the US' non-proliferation policy. A number of Republicans and Democrats have viewed the deal as contrary to decades of non-proliferation efforts. It has been alleged that inspections of Indian civilian reactors would not realistically limit India's ability to produce fissile material for weapons.
Furthermore, in the context of Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions, the US offer to India could provide an incentive for other states to pursue nuclear programs in hopes of a similar deal. Nevertheless, modified versions of the bill have passed through the House International Relations Committee with a vote of 37 to 5 and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a margin of 16 to 2. Intensive lobbying efforts from Indian-US groups will most likely help ensure that the deal will pass the full house and senate before mid-term elections in November.
The nuclear deal is the latest manifestation of a US foreign policy that is conscious of new security challenges facing the US. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for transformational diplomacy, a shift in focus away from Europe toward emerging regions of the world like India and China.
The US has used many diplomatic tools to forge the alliance with India. The nuclear agreement is just one facet of a broader US-India defense pact negotiated last year that calls for increased cooperation between the US and Indian militaries in the future. For the most part, India has reacted positively to the US offer of friendship with Bush's rating among the Indian people consistently measuring higher than in the US.
Close ties between India and US ally Japan, exemplified by high level visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Taro Aso in the past year, provide growing evidence that India is gravitating toward a pro-US alliance in Asia.
The US decision to bring India back into the nuclear fold is undoubtedly influenced by fears of a rising China. As a democracy with a population and economic capacity to rival China, India could prove to be an invaluable regional counterweight against the People's Republic of China's expansion. While China's conventional and nuclear military capabilities currently far outmatch India's, the new nuclear arrangement could provide India with the civilian nuclear capacity to satisfy its energy needs and some leeway to bolster its deterrent capability against its neighbor to the north.
The recent failed test of the long range Agni 3 missile is a demonstration of Indian resolve to extend its deterrence capabilities well into the PRC. While India has repeatedly stated that it will only pursue a minimal nuclear deterrent, future US policymakers might not be inclined to chastise India for exceeding this capacity if it means a more stable buffer against Chinese expansion.
By all measures, regional relations between Asia's major players have improved drastically in the last few years. Improved economic ties between China and India have given rise to regular high-level talks between the two governments, a reopening of border trade and the declaration that this year is "China-Indian relations year." As an indirect result, India's relations with Pakistan have also warmed considerably, with rhetoric surrounding issues like Kashmir noticeably softer.