No analyst of US policy in South Asia can credibly claim to have had greater influence over US-India relations than Ashley J. Tellis, currently the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As the chief intellectual architect and the most effective and consistent driving force behind the US-India civil nuclear agreement formulated during the George W. Bush administration, Tellis advanced a bold and ambitious agenda for a breakthrough in the US-India strategic partnership that has carried forward into the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administration. From the start, Tellis’ core proposition has been that the United States would benefit from placing a long-term “strategic bet” on building closer ties with India, an independent, rising Asian power with the heft and ambition to serve as a geopolitical counterweight to China in Asia.
Today, Washington’s bipartisan support for India (and concern about geopolitical competition with China) is so mainstream that it may be easy to forget just how unanticipated—and in many quarters, unwelcome—was the Bush administration’s deal to enhance ties with New Delhi. This was undertaken by freeing India from the international nuclear nonproliferation “doghouse” in a move that meant reversing decades of US nonproliferation policy and law. Washington’s policy shift was even more dramatic because it followed so soon on the heels of the Indian (and Pakistani) nuclear tests of May 1998 that had temporarily led the United States to impose sanctions on both New Delhi and Islamabad. Not only did the Bush administration’s deal require years of tireless policymaking and diplomatic negotiation, but it demanded skillful political maneuvering to win passage in the US Congress and the Indian parliament. No one, Tellis included, could have accomplished all these things alone, but he played a critical role at practically every step along the way.
Read the full article on Orbis