Pres­i­dent Obama Sec­ond Com­ing

On In­dia’s part, in­creas­ing public aware­ness in In­dia of the US sup­port to our na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns in our re­gion and be­yond should help in bal­anc­ing deep-rooted per­cep­tions of the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of the US as a de­fence sup­plier


Indo-US geopo­lit­i­cal and strate­gic re­la­tions have never been as up­beat and as promis­ing as they stand to­day. Dur­ing his five days roller­coaster visit to the United States in Septem­ber 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi came across as a charis­matic In­dian leader who not only broke the ice with the US lead­er­ship but also re­opened the In­dia-US re­la­tions door, which was tend­ing to frus­trate in the UPA II ten­ure. His ini­tia­tive to in­vite Pres­i­dent Barack Obama as the Chief Guest at the Repub­lic Day pa­rade, and its ac­cep­tance by the lat­ter has raised the level and ex­pec­ta­tions of the Indo-US re­la­tions to a high level.

Be­fore list­ing new and analysing some stalled strate­gic and eco­nomic is­sues, it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to men­tion the agenda and prom­ises made by Modi dur­ing his visit to the US. Let there be no doubt that be­fore the US lead­ers and busi­ness­men roll out re­vised poli­cies, tech­nolo­gies and in­vest­ments, they would want to know if Modi is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing what he promised so em­phat­i­cally in the US.

Modi’s em­pha­sis in Wash­ing­ton DC was on busi­ness in­vest­ments in In­dia, par­tic­u­larly in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. He had said, “I am busi­ness minded. No busi­ness­man is a donor. A busi­ness­man has to make prof­its. He must get a re­turn for his in­vest­ment and I am in favour of that…Make haste be­fore the queue to in­vest in In­dia gets too long.” He promised to sim­plify In­dian laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions that im­pacted many busi­nesses ad­versely. The US law­mak­ers and busi­ness­men ac­com­pa­ny­ing Obama would want to know the progress on th­ese.

An im­por­tant con­nected but tan­gled is­sue is the civil nu­clear en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion. The In­dian Par­lia­ment’s Au­gust 2010 leg­is­la­tion on the nu­clear li­a­bil­ity of op­er­a­tors and sup­pli­ers had vir­tu­ally shut out

Amer­i­can com­pa­nies from par­tic­i­pat­ing in In­dia’s nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion in­dus­try. Since then there have been many dis­cus­sions in­clud­ing a pro­posal to set up a com­mon in­sur­ance ‘pool’ to com­pen­sate sup­pli­ers in case of a nu­clear ac­ci­dent. Modi said that he was se­ri­ous about re­mov­ing road­blocks in the civil nu­clear en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion. The ‘con­tact group’ es­tab­lished for this pur­pose has been busy dis­cussing the con­tentious li­a­bil­ity, and other ad­min­is­tra­tive and tech­ni­cal is­sues re­lated to im­ple­men­ta­tion, but we have yet to reach a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able for­mu­la­tion.

A some­what re­lated is­sue is the fu­ture cli­mate change ne­go­ti­a­tions. The re­cent Sino-US com­mu­niqué and the forth­com­ing global con­fer­ence in Paris on this is­sue have put fur­ther pres­sure on In­dia to work out its in­tended goals quickly.

Dur­ing Modi’s US visit, In­dia and the United States had agreed to ex­tend the US-In­dia Frame­work for De­fence Re­la­tion­ship (2005) by an­other 10 years. The old frame­work signed by the then De­fence Min­is­ter Pranab Mukher­jee and the US Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­feld was to re­place past mu­tual sus­pi­cions with ex­ten­sive de­fence ties based on shared po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives and an ac­tive agenda for mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion. The key fea­tures in­cluded pro­tec­tion of sea lanes on im­por­tant oceanic routes like the Malacca Strait, joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, co­op­er­a­tion to com­bat ter­ror­ism and de­fence trade with a “frame­work of tech­nol­ogy se­cu­rity safe­guards, in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for tech­nol­ogy trans­fer, col­lab­o­ra­tion, co­pro­duc­tion, and re­search and devel­op­ment.” This was a bold ini­tia- tive. Its vast scope could not be ex­ploited due to (a) lack of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus in In­dia, (b) con­tin­u­ing sus­pi­cions over US poli­cies in Af-Pak, (c) cau­tious ap­proach in the US to pass de­fence tech­nolo­gies, and (d) bu­reau­cratic lethargy in both coun­tries. Even the high level, in­ter-agency De­fense Tech­nol­ogy and Trade Ini­tia­tive, set up in 2012, has failed to make any sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion. Will there be a new frame­work en­hanc­ing de­fence re­la­tion­ship dur­ing Obama visit? Its em­pha­sis would have to be on the ex­e­cu­tion of Modi’s ‘Make in In­dia’ pol­icy of In­dia’s de­fence needs.

An­other topic dis­cussed in Wash­ing­ton DC was co­op­er­a­tion in counter ter­ror­ism. Both the US and In­dia agreed to col­lab­o­rate on dis­man­tling the safe havens and dis­rupt­ing the fi­nan­cial net­works of Pak­istani ter­ror out­fits. They had also agreed to pre­vent coun­ter­feit cur­rency, limit the use of cy­berspace by ter­ror­ists and iden­tify modal­i­ties to ex­change ter­ror­ist watch lists. The US un­usu­ally strong warn­ing to Pak­istan on Jan­uary 18, 2015, to en­sure that Obama’s visit is not dis­turbed by any cross bor­der ter­ror in­ci­dent is most wel­come. But it also raises a few tongue in cheek ques- tions and sus­pi­cions. First, that Pak­istan con­trols cross bor­der ter­ror in­ci­dents into In­dia and that the US is aware of it. The tap can be switched off at Amer­ica’s bid­ding. Sec­ond, is it OK if such in­ci­dents hap­pen be­fore or af­ter the visit?

There are many other strate­gic is­sues that re­quire deep and con­tin­u­ous mu­tual dis­cus­sions. The US needs to as­sure and sup­port In­dia un­equiv­o­cally in its ter­ri­to­rial claims vis- à- vis China. This would dis­cour­age Bei­jing from try­ing to change the ter­ri­to­rial sta­tus quo, which can lead to a bor­der con­flict.

The US and In­dia must in­ten­sify their bi­lat­eral con­sul­ta­tions and en­sure a mea­sure of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween their re­spec­tive poli­cies on Pak­istan and Afghanistan. Greater in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Pak­istan to crack down on its state and non-state sources of ter­ror­ism would not only con­trib­ute to the In­dia-Pak­istan peace process but also to Afghanistan’s sta­bil­ity. On ac­count of our high strate­gic and eco­nomic stakes, the US must also put aside any hes­i­ta­tion on its part to in­clude In­dia in any multi­na­tional dis­cus­sions on Afghanistan. There is also the need to re­main in con­sul­ta­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion over the fast mov­ing strate­gic pic­ture in the Mid­dle East and Iran, par­tic­u­larly the pos­si­bil­ity of the Is­lamist ex­trem­ists tak­ing ad­van­tage of the po­lit­i­cal chaos in that re­gion.

Ul­ti­mately, the suc­cess of the much needed Indo-US strate­gic part­ner­ship de­pends upon (a) bu­reau­cra­cies in both coun­tries not re­main­ing pris­on­ers of the past, (b) greater Indo-US con­sul­ta­tion in work­ing on the right strate­gies, (c) In­dia’s do­mes­tic trans­for­ma­tion agenda which the Prime Min­is­ter has promised, and (d) forg­ing a do­mes­tic con­sen­sus over im­por­tant strate­gic is­sues, which is a big prob­lem in the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion.

On In­dia’s part, in­creas­ing public aware­ness in In­dia of the US sup­port to our na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns in our re­gion and be­yond should help in bal­anc­ing deep-rooted per­cep­tions of the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of the US as a de­fence sup­plier. The US too needs to learn quickly the ad­van­tages of deal­ing with a part­ner which shares its val­ues and sev­eral strate­gic in­ter­ests but re­mains as­sertive of its au­ton­omy. Late K. Subrah­manyam, the doyen of In­dia’s strate­gic com­mu­nity, once said, “As the world changes, we should change too. It is stupid of us if we don’t. I al­ways say that you can have a cat as a pet, or a dog, but cer­tainly not an ele­phant! No Amer­i­can can treat In­dia like a pet.”

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi shak­ing hand with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama af­ter press state­ment

at the White House in Wash­ing­ton DC on Septem­ber 30, 2014

(Left) AH-64 Apache attack he­li­copter in flight; (right) CH-47F Chi­nook he­li­copters in ac­tion

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