India-US Strategic Partnership
SCRATCHING EACH OTHER’S BACK!
By Monish Tourangbam
Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)
New Delhi, June 19 : From “estranged democracies” to sharing an “evolving strategic partnership”, India and US have travelled a long distance. Borne by the India-US Strategic Dialogue’s increasing profile, regularity and importance accorded to these by both countries. The 3rd meeting concluded in Washington recently.
Undoubtedly, this is a welcome sign. Whereby, the importance of ties can be gauged from the fact that two high stature visits, preceded the dialogue. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made efforts to address vital issues, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta outlined critical issues of defence and security in his inter-action with officials during a stopover in New Delhi of his extended Asia tour.
Importantly, the Indo-US emerging strategic partnership is perhaps one of the most vital components of India’s foreign policy and is poised to gain increasing importance as Washington seeks to reorient its foreign policy and put emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. Wherein, US see’s an inevitable role for India in its “rebalancing” strategy towards Asia-Pacific and managing China’s rise. In fact, Secretary Panetta made this one of the highlights of his visit.
America through this strategy intends to “expand” its “military partnerships” and its “presence in the arc extending from Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and South Asia”. Asserted Panetta, “defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.”
True, Beijing’s muscle flexing has been condemned by many countries in Asia, including India. In fact, many South-East Asian countries concerned of China’s hyper-activity have welcomed US presence in the region to offset China’s influence.
Raising a moot point: Where does India-China and US-China relations go from here? Undeniably, things are more complex when one looks at the bigger picture. The US, India and some South-East Asian countries have major differences with China regarding freedom of navigation, especially in the South China Sea over which Beijing claims uncontested authority.
But, at the same time, economically, New Delhi, Washington and most of South-East Asia are so inter-linked to Beijing that one can hardly foresee any major conflict. Thus, when it comes to hedging China, responses are subtle and attention geared towards: “How to manage rising China without provoking any major untoward incident having global ramifications.”
Hence, if Defence Secretary Panetta outlined America’s new defence strategy in New Delhi, Foreign Minister SM Krishna emphasized the importance of India-China relations at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in China.
Pertinently, Chinese leaders too understand the importance of sustaining India-China ties. For instance, Beijing and New Delhi are more in tune with each other than with Washington on many multi-lateral issues such as climate change. Thus, just as Washington and New Delhi look for ways to control Beijing’ aggression, they also prepare various diplomatic cushions so as to prevent any crash landing.
Significantly, the two democracies are making major strides in defence cooperation which is the true hallmark of any strategic partnership. In the last decade, Indo-US defence ties have undergone a sea change. Wherein major sanctions on Indian defence entities have been lifted and now mutual business interest exists. India needs high-grade defence technologies from US and Washington wants India’s defence market to create more jobs in its defence industries. As America hasn’t been India’s major supplier there are many challenges largely in differences vis-à-vis procurement laws.
Muddying matters, US is very restrictive about technical know-how of its weapon systems and has laws which restrict transfer of technology. So, both countries need to work hard on resolving differences. But, one needs to recognise that defence cooperation between the two nations has scaled heights in a short time whereby India has conducted more military exercises with the US than with any other country.
During the latest Strategic Dialogue, deliberations were held on continuing and increasing cooperation on numerous aspects including in technology transfer, joint research, defence exchanges, maritime cooperation, etc. According to Secretary Clinton, efforts would be made to “convert common interests into common actions.” In recent years, India has awarded $9 billion worth defence contracts to US companies.
Further, in regard to India’s role in the Afghan conflict and Indo-US cooperation, both sides agreed to hold a trilateral dialogue with the Afghan Government. Progress in the nuclear energy cooperation field gained currency as MoUs were signed and sites developed in India for US firms to develop nuclear reactors.
Counter-terrorism too is another area of convergence between India and US specially post 2008 Mumbai attack where American civilians were victims. Moreover, major efforts are being made in the field of knowledge and cultural exchanges to foster more people-to-people contacts, an insurance against political differences between the two sides.
There is no gainsaying, Indo-US strategic partnership cannot stand on a strong foundation, unless economic content expands. Amidst doubts on the vitality and sustenance of India’s economic model and its projected growth, Minister Krishna sought to calm nerves, “The Indian economy will restore investors’ confidence and regain the growth momentum,”he said.
Needless to say, talks centered around expeditious conclusion to negotiations towards a bilateral investment treaty (BIT). Given, the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail continues to hover over Indo-US economic ties with American leaders asking New Delhi to open the sector. Alas, consensus still eludes decision-making.
Last but not least, Iran continues to be a major factor in US foreign policy and as its Presidential election nears, more heat will be built up on this issue. India needs to handle this cautiously, since it cannot ignore Iran despite cutting oil imports which New Delhi justifies as “based on commercial considerations.”
Remember, prior to the Strategic Dialogue, India along with six countries was exempted from US-led sanctions on Iran’s oil trade. But New Delhi downplayed the decision by stating “taken by the Obama Administration under its domestic law”. Thereby, thanks to last minute adjustments, the Iranian issue wasn’t an irritant during the dialogue. But the matter is still not off the burner. India needs to stay awake on this.
It would be stating the obvious, that Big Brother US, like any other world power would primarily look for its own national interest, and India should do the same. Consequently, in essence, the goal of a strategic dialogue is to figure out convergence areas and assess ways in which a Super power and an Emerging power could work together. —- INFA
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