Posts Tagged ‘us india strategic dialogue’
Last week, as the 3rd US-India Strategic Dialogue was going on, I co-wrote an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC with Ernie Bower looking at ASEAN-India relations as both sides commemorate two decades of their official partnership.
The purpose of the article was two-fold: first, highlighting the importance of India’s role in the Asia-Pacific and US interests in the region, and, second, noting both the opportunities and limits to potential cooperation between India and ASEAN (and the US as well).
We propose some areas where both ASEAN and India can work together, such as building infrastructure, improving people-to-people ties and private sector collaboration. The idea is to get from India’s “Look East” policy which dates back to the early 1990s to “acting East”, as several US officials have urged New Delhi to do.
But we are also not naïve about how factors like India’s domestic politics and its identity may constrain its ability to work with ASEAN and the United States and also disappoint those who expect New Delhi to play a dominant role in the region.
You can read the full thing here. I’ve gotten some feedback about the article, but I always welcome more and look forward to your thoughts.
Picture: One of the winners of the ASEAN and SAARC drawing competition for 2011. From UNISDR Flickr Account using a Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isdr/6216677209/
With the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue concluding earlier this month, what does the future look like for the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies? I consider this question in a piece for World Politics Review. I’ve pasted it below.
The Future of U.S.-India Relations
Judging by the atmospherics on display during last week’s inaugural U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, the bilateral relationship between the two countries appears to be on solid footing. U.S. Under Secretary for Public Affairs William Burns called the relationship “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of a joint responsibility to “determine the course of the world.” U.S. President Barack Obama even made a surprise visit at the dialogue’s reception, and announced that he would visit New Delhi in November.
Yet this flowery rhetoric masks the complex realities of what has been and continues to be a testy relationship between Washington and New Delhi. Even today, Indians worry that the United States is cozying up to Pakistan and China at their expense, while some in Washington charge that India is too caught up with its “neighborhood” concerns to assert its influence on the world stage. If the two countries hope to forge a stronger partnership in the 21st century, they will have to navigate past sharp disagreements and bridge wide perception gaps.
Divergent interests kept India and the United States estranged during the Cold War. India’s policy of “moral nonalignment” in the 1950s was viewed in Washington as immoral, while the U.S. arming of Pakistan after 1954 as part of a global containment policy engendered much mistrust in New Delhi. Estrangement continued through the 1970s and 1980s, as India drifted toward the Soviet camp, while the U.S. pursued rapprochement with China and armed Pakistan to undermine the USSR. While the end of the Cold War did lead to some bilateral cooperation, including joint military exercises in the 1990s, India’s nuclear test in 1998 — which it viewed as retaliation for Pakistan’s nuclear tests — drew Washington’s ire. It was only with the signing of the civilian nuclear deal under the Bush administration in 2008 that the relationship began to really take off.
Both sides now realize that there are manifold areas in which to pursue functional cooperation. Economically, India’s blistering growth rates and role in the G-20 means that it is unquestionably a global economic power, with room for expanding bilateral trade, investment, as well as educational linkages. Strategically, Washington views India as a counterbalance to Chinese hegemony in Asia, even if New Delhi is itself at times reluctant to play this role. Both the United States and India are among the world’s top-five greenhouse gas emitters and have been victims of extremism, and are thus vital to solutions on climate change and terrorism. India’s geographic proximity to the Indian Ocean and status as the world’s fifth-largest navy also means that opportunities exist for further cooperation in the maritime domain, from disaster relief to anti-piracy operations and joint patrols. Beyond these interests, both are also large, vibrant democracies.
Yet discord continues to persist. The two countries often lock horns on trade and climate issues, and there is still bad blood surrounding both the collapse of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2008 and the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009, where New Delhi is said to have colluded with China to obstruct any meaningful outcome. More recently, Indians have hissed at the Obama administration for interfering in the “internal” Kashmir issue, carelessly signing off on a joint U.S.-China role in South Asia (which India considers its neighborhood), and turning a blind eye on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and nuclear activities in exchange for Islamabad’s cooperation in Afghanistan. The United States, for its part, laments India’s more-conciliatory position on Iran and its inability to even pass the requisite legislation for civil nuclear cooperation to begin.
As Jasmeet Ahuja, a staff member for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told a conference at the American Enterprise Institute recently, “India needs to think strategically about how to engage. . . . If India does not want to, there isn’t much more that the U.S. can do.”
Forging a strategic partnership will require both sides to find a way to compromise on these issues and address their respective concerns, while also managing perception gaps. While India sees the world from the prism of “strategic autonomy” and views itself as a great power and civilization, the United States is used to relationships where it has the dominant voice. Despite the vast asymmetry in terms of material capabilities, both nations engage in preachy moralism, and neither is used to adopting a deferent attitude. Learning to deal with each other amid vibrant media communities and noisy democracies is a challenge in and of itself. The United States must understand and at times accommodate India’s perception of its “inherent greatness,” as India scholar Stephen Cohen once put it. But India similarly needs to comprehend that it is only one of many priorities on the U.S. agenda, and that other interests may at times take precedence.
Washington is often critical of New Delhi’s unwillingness to assume — or ambivalence about — a global role, or to think strategically beyond its immediate neighborhood. At a Brookings Institution event last week, Indian journalist Gautham Adhikari plainly admitted that “India does not have a strategic view of the world,” and urged New Delhi to formulate a comprehensive vision for its foreign policy. At the same time, Washington must grasp the fact that India is still grappling with a complex set of domestic challenges, from poverty that affects a third of its population to a growing Maoist insurgent threat, and external challenges that include a terrorism threat from Pakistan and unresolved border issues with China. Such a full plate understandably weighs New Delhi down and restricts its ability to assert a global presence.
A strong basis for cooperation exists between the United States and India, both in principle and on specific issues. But solidifying a strategic partnership in the 21st century will require compromise, vision and deftness from both sides. For, as Mr. Burns himself has noted, “progress in U.S.-Indian partnership is not automatic,” no matter what the atmospherics may suggest.
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.