COMMENTARY
 
Assessing US National Security Strategy 2006
Weekly Pulse
March 24-30, 2006
On March 16, just two weeks after concluding his visit to South Asia, President George W. Bush announced the US National Security Strategy 2006, a document that lays down the basic guidelines for America’s global policy until the year 2010. Under this strategy, India is “poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power,” and “America’s relationship with Pakistan will not be a mirror image of our (US) relationship with India.”

Pakistan may have played the role of a frontline state in the US-led ‘war on terror,’ but there should be little doubt about the fact that Washington is anymore interested in playing its traditional role of a power balancer in South Asia. The just released US National Security Strategy document calls South and Central Asia as a region of “great strategic importance where American interests and values are engaged as never…Our goal is for the entire region of South and Central Asia to be democratic, prosperous, and at peace.”

India and Pakistan

It was the Clinton administration that had abandoned the Cold War-specific policy of ‘even-handedness’ in India-Pakistan relations. The US National Security Strategies for the years 1998 and 2002 concretised the new American approach to South Asia. What the US National Security Strategy 2006 does is to further institutionalise and strategise it, while referring to the July 2005 nuclear cooperation agreement, terming it a “roadmap to realize the meaningful cooperation that had eluded our two nations for decades.”

“India,” as stated in the document, “is a great democracy, and our (US) shared values are the foundation of our good relations…We have made great strides in transforming America’s relationship with India, a major power that shares our commitment to freedom, democracy, and rule of law…We have set aside decades of mistrust and put relations with India, the world’s most populous democracy, on a new and fruitful path.”

As for Pakistan, the document states, “We (Americans) are eager to see Pakistan move along a stable, secure, and democratic path.” It does acknowledge that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have taken the lead in the Muslim world in fighting al-Qaeda.

In South Asia’s context, the document further states: “Progress with India has been achieved even as the United States has improved its strategic relationship with Pakistan. For decades, outsiders acted as if good relations with India and Pakistan were mutually exclusive. This Administration has shown that improved relations with each are possible and can help India and Pakistan make strides toward a lasting peace between themselves. Together, our relations with the nations of South Asia can serve as a foundation for deeper engagement throughout Central Asia.”

The mention of the word “together” above seems to imply that Washington would like to take Pakistan and India along insofar as the progress towards peace and security in Southern and Central Asian region is concerned. However, given the fact that the strategic dimension of Indo-US ties is not merely symbolic but involves an agreement that violates the very spirit of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Islamabad may perceive that the United States may be pushing India to have a foothold in South Asia and Central Asia, the two regions that the State Department has recently started to treat as one. Foreseeing such an eventuality, President-General Pervez Musharraf, during his visit to China days before President Bush’s visit to the region, had expressed Pakistan’s desire to be a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. If that happens, then Islamabad could increase its own influence in Central Asian affairs with the Chinese well before India attempts to achieve the same with American help.

Kashmir Settlement

One of the tasks listed in the US National Security Strategy 2006 that Washington aims to strive for as required by the ‘war on terror’ is to “work with others to defuse regional conflicts.” However, insofar as the resolution of the Kashmir conflict is concerned, the document does not indicate anywhere that the US is indeed interested in undertaking any mediatory bid.

The document simply states: Relations between India and Pakistan have improved, with an exchange of high-level visits and a new spirit of cooperation in the dispute over Kashmir—a cooperation made more tangible by humanitarian actions undertaken following a destructive earthquake.”

Afghanistan and Central Asia

The strategy mentions Afghanistan as a “staunch (US) ally in the war on terror, adding that “much work remains” to be done in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, and, for this, “the Afghan people deserve the support of the United States and the entire international community.” It further states, “Afghanistan will increasingly “assume its historical role as a land-bridge between South and Central Asia, connecting these two vital regions. Central Asia is an enduring priority for our foreign policy.

“The five countries of Central Asia,” states the document, “are distinct from one another and our relations with each, while important, will differ. In the region as a whole, the elements of our larger strategy meet, and we must pursue those elements simultaneously: promoting effective democracies and the expansion of free-market reforms, diversifying global sources of energy, and enhancing security and winning the War on Terror.”

It is clear from the above description regarding Afghanistan and Central Asia that in Washington’s perceptions, democratic India and Afghanistan should play a pioneering role in the South and Central Asian region. The document praises India as the world’s largest democracy, and hails recent democratic successes in Afghanistan. As for democracy in Pakistan, the US policy document does not state anything except being “hopeful,” it could be construed that, without credible democratisation, Pakistan’s importance for the US in South and Central Asia could gradually dwindle.

Neo-Conservative Legacy

The broader theme of US National Security Strategy 2006 is the same as that of US National Security Strategy 2002, based on the ‘war on terror’ and guided by neo-conservative approach. There are, for instance, umpteen references to “ending tyranny,” “promoting democracy,” as broader goals of the ‘war.’ The enemy is to be struck before it strikes, and regimes could also be changed if such an option is necessitated by the ‘war.’

According to the document, “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. In the world today, the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them.”

Without specifying Islamic extremism or terrorism, the US National Security Strategy 2006 states at the outset that a “new totalitarian ideology now threatens us, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion. Its content may be different from the ideologies of the last century, but its means are similar: intolerance, murder, terror, enslavement, and repression.”

Hamas Victory

The latest document, however, incorporates developments in the last four years, especially on the two ‘front lines’ of the ‘war’—Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as the electoral victory of Hamas in Palestine. It acknowledges that “the Palestinian people voted in a process that was free, fair, and inclusive.”

However, the new US policy document puts on the onus of responsibility on the shoulders of the “elected Hamas representatives…to uphold the principles of democratic government, including protection of minority rights and basic freedoms and a commitment to a recurring, free, and fair electoral process…But any elected government that refuses to honour these principles cannot be considered fully democratic, however it may have taken office.”

Iran and Iraq

The US National Security Strategy 2006 makes some bold proclamations about the challenges emanating from the war effort in Iraq and Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The document really comes hard on Iran. It states, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran…The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy.”

As for Iraq, the document states: “The terrorists today see Iraq as the central front of their fight against the United States. They want to defeat America in Iraq and force us to abandon our allies before a stable democratic government has been established that can provide for its own security. In the chaos of a broken Iraq the terrorists believe they would be able to establish a safe haven like they had in Afghanistan, only this time in the heart of a geopolitically vital region. Surrendering to the terrorists would likewise hand them a powerful recruiting tool: the perception that they are the vanguard of history.”

Just as the US National Security Strategy 2002 was heavily criticised because of its controversial provisions, such as those pertaining to pre-emption and regime change, its 2006 version is likely to receive a similar reaction globally. A glance at the detailed document establishes beyond doubt that the Bush Administration, despite rapid erosion of public support on at least one of the front lines in the ‘war on terror’—namely, Iraq—appears unlikely to abandon the neo-conservative policy streak.

Since the US National Security Strategy 2006 remains valid for two years after the end of the Bush administration, the new President, whether Republican or Democratic, who will take over in January 2009 may be obliged to follow up on at least the fundamentals of this strategy.