Posts Tagged ‘us india cooperation’
Yesterday, I attended the inaugural U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue jointly organized by Brookings and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a kind of ‘Track 2′ discussion that took place after the actual dialogue from June 2-June 3 between Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I’ll be blogging about some interesting findings and experiences from the conference over the next few days.
But let me start by addressing the most concerning issue in my mind that emerged from the various panels of scholars, diplomats and journalists. Despite the flowery official rhetoric coming from the American side (“one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century”, among other labels), and scholarly calls for “bringing India into a more global role”, there seemed to be a strong tension on the Indian side regarding how India perceives its own role in the world.
The first school, articulated by some including economist Eswar Prasad, called for India to assume a more global, assertive, and proactive foreign policy. Unless New Delhi “stands up for itself”, Mr. Prasad argued, the relationship “won’t rise to a level of strategic cooperation”. Yet there was a strong counterargument advanced by former Indian Ambassador Kanwal Sibal and others that any suggestion that India “look beyond its own neighborhood” was merely “skirting the regional issues”, and that a vision focused on India’s ‘global, multilateral role’ “cannot be a long term strategic perspective for the relationship”. Rather, India should pursue a more regional-focused, reactive foreign policy.
So, since no one in the three panels directly addressed this tension, I asked a question along these lines at the Q & A after the third panel on the future of the U.S.-India strategic relationship:
All this talk about getting India to play a more global role is all well and good, but there appears to be tension in India itself about what its future role should be: with some arguing for a more proactive, global approach, and others calling for a cautious, reactive approach and a narrower regional focus. Where do you think India is now with regard to its own perceptions about its roe in the world, will this change, and how will it affect the future of the U.S.-India strategic partnership?
The response from Financial Times journalist Edward Luce (who wrote a great book on India as its South Asia bureau chief), was unequivocal, both in direct response to my question and in a conversation we had afterwords:
What I would say is that there is a real lack of strategic, global thinking in India, not just among the think tanks, but within the political and scholarly circles as a whole. Indian foreign policy is still very much reactive…it will continue to be so for a long time to come, even if generational perceptions continue to be slowly altered.
Or listen to what Gautham Adhikari, a prominent Indian journalist, had to say about this question:
If it is said that the United States does not have a strategic view of Asia, well, India does not have a strategic view of the world. There is no single document articulating what India’s foreign policy is even today, and I think that India must have such a document. But there is a counterargument that Indian foreign policy ought to be reactive, because India is in a dangerous region and so its approach has to be crisis-driven, ‘crossing the river and feeling each stone’ as Deng Xiaoping once said.
Like many others, I would like to see India play a stronger, more assertive role in the world. I think it would be a positive development not only for India, but for the world at large, since India is an important part of addressing issues such as climate change, maritime security issues, global economic problems and terrorism. But in order for this to happen, as Mr. Luce and others have suggested, the initiative and vision needs to come from the Indian side.