Former U.S. National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, was officially released in the U.S. on Tuesday but much has been written about it in the press already. India finds a few mentions in the book, none of them positive, many neutral, and several as a country that has not fallen in line in the context of international treaties.
For instance, Mr. Bolton calls the Paris Agreement a ‘charade’ that has given ‘leeway’ to countries like China and India, leaving them “essentially unfettered”.
He talks about the threat the U.S. allies and others face from the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty because a number of countries such as China are not party to it.
“China, for example, had the greatest proportion of its large, growing, already-deployed missile capabilities in the INF-forbidden range, endangering U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea, as well as India and Russia itself, a fine irony,” Mr. Bolton writes. He goes on to add India to the list of countries, along with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan whose nuclear arsenal was poised to expand. The U.S. quit the treaty in August last year, having announced its intention to leave six months prior to that.
On the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Mr. Bolton notes that “other nuclear powers” like India and China have neither ratified nor signed the treaty. “… Unsigning the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty should be a priority, so the United States can again conduct underground nuclear testing.”
Six-month exemption on purchase of Iranian oil
In November 2018, India was one of eight countries that got a six-month exemption from U.S. sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil, after the U.S. decided to unilaterally pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an international treaty signed during the Obama years that sought to limit Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump, “while oscillating on any given day on any given issue,” in Mr. Bolton’s telling, was “vibrating increasingly” on the side of the scale that favoured ending the waivers after six months.
“In a phone call with Pompeo, Trump had not been sympathetic to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, ‘He’ll be okay.’ I recall a similar conversation reflecting Trump’s indifference to notifying allies about waiver decisions,” Mr. Bolton writes, adding that while India’s arguments for continuing waivers was understandable, it was ‘incomprehensible’ to him [Mr. Bolton] that the U.S. bureaucrats would echo these so sympathetically. India had been concerned, Mr. Bolton writes, about finding new suppliers to replace Iran and worried that it would have to pay market prices — Iran had been charging below market prices to get rid of its oil.
Then there is a brief mention of the S-400 Triumf missile-defence system that India has committed to buying from Russia. Mr. Trump asks Mr. Bolton in 2018 – as per the book – to look into a news report that says the S-400 is better than the Patriot Missile System (a U.S. product). The U.S. administration has repeatedly and pointedly said countries should not presume they are exempt from U.S. if they buy weapons from Russia — and Turkey has already faced sanctions for going ahead with S-400 purchases.
“India builds a library and advertises it all over”
On Afghanistan, Mr. Trump was complaining, as per Mr. Bolton, about how the U.S. was spending all these resources and that it was time to withdraw. “We’ll never get out. This was done by a stupid person named George Bush,” he told me. “Millions of people killed, trillions of dollars, and we just can’t do it. Another six months, that’s what they said before, and we’re still getting our asses kicked,” Mr. Trump said according to Mr. Bolton.
“India builds a library and advertises it all over,” Mr. Trump had allegedly said.
In January 2019, Mr. Trump, in public remarks, mocked India’s extensive development work in Afghanistan with a reference to India building a library there.
At one point in the book, Mr. Bolton talks about Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., wanting to travel to India to see the Dalai Lama but had brought up China in the conversation with Mr. Trump, which effectively ended her chances to being given permission for such a trip.
“The purpose of this trip was unclear, other than getting a photo op with the Dalai Lama, always good for an aspiring pol. But the minefield she strayed into by raising the China trade issue showed a political tin ear: once Trump wondered how China would view Haley’s seeing the Dalai Lama, the trip was essentially dead,” Mr. Bolton writes.
Questions on India-Pakistan 2019 crisis
On the India-Pakistan crisis in early 2019 (the Balakot air strikes following the Pulwama terror attack), Mr. Bolton questions whether there was a real crisis at all. He talks about phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford:
“After hours of phone calls, the crisis passed, perhaps because, in substance, there never really had been one. But when two nuclear powers spin up their military capabilities, it is best not to ignore it. No one else cared at the time, but the point was clear to me: this was what happened when people didn’t take nuclear proliferation from the likes of Iran and North Korea seriously.”
The book has not gone down well with Mr. Trump, whose administration tried, unsuccessfully, to get a court to block its release. “Washed up Creepster John Bolton is a lowlife who should be in jail, money seized, for disseminating, for profit, highly Classified information,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday.