New Delhi: Until 2004, Robert D. Blackwill was a key member of the administration of US President George W. Bush, first as ambassador to India and later as deputy national security adviser. Thereafter, until July 2008, Blackwill served as India’s lobbyist in Washington as president of the consulting firm Barbour Griffith and Rogers. Presently a senior fellow at Rand Corp., a policy research body, Blackwill was in New Delhi on Thursday to attend a conference on US-India ties organized jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industry, a domestic industry lobby, and The Heritage Foundation, a US think tank. In an interview, he spoke on a range of issues, including the threat posed by the terror hub in Pakistan and the challenges awaiting the next US president. Edited excerpts:
Click here to watch interview
A week from now is the seventh anniversary of 9/11. How do you believe the world has fared in its war against terror during this period?
If an analyst would have asserted a month after 9/11 that the United States would not suffer a terrorist attack in the next seven-plus years, most people would not have believed it. And that’s because the administration has worked very hard to prevent it and gone out into the world; maybe it is somewhat luck. The second (point) that would follow on is that on 9/11 the US experienced what India had been experiencing since the 1990s... While the US has been exempt from terror since, India has not... Both external and, to some extent, internal forces continue to murder innocent Indian citizens. America should feel fortunate that it has not happened again to us.
So is the Indian failure more an outcome of the Western success against terror wherein terrorists are pushed out to new areas?
I don’t think so. All democracies and pluralist societies offer many targets. Yes, but why it is happening in India and not the United States, I would say, analytically the following: Firstly, you have a neighbour that supports terror against you, we don’t. So imagine a situation where Canada or Mexico’s intelligence service was training terrorists to attack US, then more such incidents would happen.
Forging a relationship: Former US ambassador to India Robert D. Blackwill says one of the reasons India continues to suffer terror strikes is because it has a neighbour that supports terror against it. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Secondly, because of your ethnicity, the terrorists who are against you can submerge into the population. In the US it is not so easy for these folks to swim in the stream of ordinary people.
Thirdly, we have these big oceans that separate us. So, I wouldn’t be critical in this regard of the Indian government.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group, or NSG, is poised to meet later today (Thursday) in Vienna to discuss the exemption for India. How do you view the leak of a state department document on the eve of this meeting?
I am not going to say much about this. It was not actually a leak. Chairman (Howard) Berman (head of the House foreign relations committee of the US Congress) released it. That document has no legal force or obligation on the government of India. It is a communication between the executive branch of the US government and the Congressional branch of the US who can say whatever they want to one another without relevance to India.
What if NSG does not clear the deal?
If one of these 45 countries, these small nations, stop this, I think the US should mount a major initiative to change the rules from unanimity and total consensus to two-thirds or three-quarters majority. It will be as if every member of the UN General Assembly will have a veto.
Click here for expert views on NSG meet
I think the US and India have been able to stay very close together on the issue of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. So, I think if it doesn’t happen they will be together. I don’t think it will substantially affect the bilateral relationship. It will affect India’s energy generation.
Will the imminent change in the US presidency force a radical shift in the country’s foreign policy?
I think the US president will continue a bilateral relationship with India. They may have some different wheels for some parts of the policy.
At the plenary session your comments on Iran almost sounded heretical, especially in the context of the common rhetoric expounded by Washington.
It is my view. I believe India has insights, has a long relationship with Iran and doesn’t want it to have (nuclear) weapons. It would be bad for India if Iran was to acquire nuclear weapons.
What we are really talking about is whether there are tactics available that could do what so far has not been done. That is to persuade or coerce the Iranian leadership to do so. So far we have failed to do this. We had a strategy, which was to do it through the UN; but we did not have enough support. Now, it seems less likely, given our problems with Russia in the context of the problems in Georgia.
So we need a new strategy; one of the first places I would come to would be Delhi and sit behind closed doors and ask our Indian friends as to what we are going to do about this: you don’t want a weapon, we don’t want a weapon; we need another strategy. And as I say, you have a good relationship with them and talk to them. We don’t talk to them, which, I suspect, will change with the next administration.
And what are your thoughts on the growing adventurism by Russia?
It is bad news. US-Russian relationship has not been good for several years. But it has really gone off the cliff here in the last month. And there is really very little support either in Washington or Moscow to slow down the deterioration. That will have its effect on international relations. This will spill over into the Middle-East, Central Asia and so forth.
Will it be among the top issues on the agenda of the incoming US president?
Yes, of course. These are the two wars we are fighting. Then, we have the Iranian nuclear programme and then you have the US-Russia relationship. The relationship with China is pretty equilibrious for now; it could change. The last one, of course, is Pakistan. What to do about Pakistan and the epicentre of global terrorism that exists there. I think the next US president will expand the agenda to include climate change.