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September 10, 2018

US and India – Convergence of the Strongest and the Largest

The US high power delegation led by the Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and including the US Army Chief, has just concluded its visit to India. The two countries are moving towards closer cooperation in their efforts for regional and global peace and development. The US lately recognizes that the strongest and the largest democracy in the world should have convergence on approach to many regional and global problems with terrorism at the top of them all.

Strategic importance of relationship between the US and India lies primarily in their political arrangement of democratic governance. While the US is the strongest democracy in the world India is the largest. Both are multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies. Together they send a message to the entire world that they are living examples of unity in diversity, something which other countries with diversified social structures can emulate and adapt voluntarily. In a world torn by contradictions and controversies democratic dispensation is the time tested module of accommodating different shades of opinion and approach. Protection and preservation of democracy against the forces of exclusiveness becomes a priority with the two countries.

Security and trade are crucial to development. Both countries have stakes in the security of the region which is catalyst to free flow of trade. Three-fourth of oil requirement of the world passes through the Arabian Gulf and equal size of international trade has to flow through the Straits of Malacca. This speaks loudly for the need of security of the Gulf and India-Pacific regions. Good relations between India and the US are a key to the imperative of security and trade with development as the final destination.

The United States was favourably disposed towards the leadership of Indian freedom movement against colonial power. However, during the cold war era the US found its interests served better by patronizing Pakistan. India pandered to the Soviet bloc. Nevertheless, the US did not fail to understand that despite many odds, India was wedded to democratic governance. Therefore relations never reached a freezing point which reflected maturity of statesmanship on either side. This understanding was reflected in the US offering huge quantity of wheat to India to overcome her grave food shortage during 1950s. The PL- 480 programme is a significant landmark in the history of bilateral relations. India improved its agriculture sector as a result of collaboration with the advanced agricultural expertise of the US. This was part of PL – 480 and later on it became catalyst to what Indians call “Green Revolution” or self-sufficiency in food production.

A marked change appeared in India’s policy towards the US after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. Heads of the two governments exchanged friendly visits. India found vast scope for collaboration in many areas of development like strategic security, trade and commerce, science and technology, energy resources etc. But the most significant area was that of civil nuclear cooperation. The civil nuclear initiative has been strengthened by the regular meetings of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Working Group (CNWG).

Cooperation between two major democracies purports prosperity of people in both countries and the world at large. Modi government’s objective of cooperation with the US is multi-dimensional but regional security and free and fair trade concept is at the centre of this cooperation. At present, the trade side of the U.S.-India partnership is vastly underperforming. Two-way trade in goods and services is about $115 billion. This pales out in comparison with two-way trade between the United States and China, which at about $650 billion is almost six times as large. Modi believes that raising bilateral trade to match the size of Sino-US trade is the key to the success of his doctrine of “Make India”. Here lies the importance of a “free and fair” trade agreement between the two sides that would serve their common interests. A fair and free trade agreement when signed could go a long way in strengthening bilateral relations. However, for the time being the process of finalizing such an agreement remains in suspended animation owing to unjustifiable tariff regulations on either side. Once they clinch an agreement, India could take care of other areas like energy, defense production, anti-terror and the growing influence of China in the region on its own.

Mechanisms like defense and anti-terrorism cooperation; strategic consultation, mutual investment programmers, space civil science cooperation, energy development projection etc. are the instruments that will enhance trade and economic prospect of both countries.

Trump administration’s India policy is a component of US’ South Asia policy overarched by Indo-Pacific strategy. Initially Trump’s strong stand on H-1B, EB-5 visa and immigration caused disquiet to New Delhi. His predecessors were liberal on these matters. Trump’s accusation that India was seeking billions of dollars from advanced countries in exchange for its support for the Paris Climate Change Agreement caused serious concerns in New Delhi. However, Prime Minister Mode’s US visit to the US helped normalize the situation.

Trump-Putin understanding bodes well for New Delhi. It can stop Russia from falling into the embrace of Xi Jinping. It allows India greater room in proposing important projects like the International North-South Trade Corridor.

President Trump’s deviation from the lukewarm policy of the Bush and Obama administration in dealing with terrorism and extremism gives satisfaction to India which is a victim of terrorism. During his visit to India, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had hoped that India would take her rightful place at the global table meaning the Security Council. The two sides have also focused on strengthening cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and respecting freedom of navigation, over-flight and commerce. It is a matter of great relief for India. Revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the US, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia last year indicates expanded bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Washington. However, accusing India of raising tariff on US imports is the latest irritant in Indo-US relationship. Their representatives are scheduled to meet soon to find a solution to the issue.

In his South Asia policy statement in 2017, President Trump said India was crucial to America’s interests in peace and stability in Asia-Pacific region. Previous administrations in Washington did not seriously think so. Trump administration also recognizes India’s role in stabilizing Afghan peace and economy. In Trump administration’s “Defense, Technology and Trade Initiatives” India occupies a prominent place as the world’s largest democracy and fast developing economy conducive to strengthening of peace in Asian region and the world. Calling ties with India as of utmost importance, US Defense Secretary Mattis said, “Washington would pursue a long term partnership with India to stabilize Asia-Pacific region.”

Trump has not minced words in declaring US’ determination of fighting terrorism to let humanity live in peace. He has made a resolve to take on these enemies of peace with the cooperation of democratic countries in the region. Indian Prime Minister Modi has been emphasizing on world powers to understand the seriousness of terrorist and extremist threat to peace. This shows convergence of policy of fighting the menace of terrorism.

Trump administration will support India’s membership in the Security Council as well as in NSG. The US supports Quad – 4 viz. Japan, Australia, South Korea and India. Thus Trump administration recognizes the strategic importance of India to peace and security of the Indian Ocean.

However, among the irritants in their relationship are the trade imbalance and Trumps’ decision to do away with EB-5. In both cases prospective Indian investors will be affected adversely. However, the two sides will be talking to resolve differences.

Asia-Pacific idea, dating back to 1960s was related to Cold War strategy of the US in the East. The proposition that future world history would be actually the history of Asia made the American think-tanks focus on broad East Asian cooperation in Asian politics and economic growth. However, China’s rapid economic growth enabled her go militarily strong enough to intimidate the South China Sea states and make naval forays into the Indian Ocean. This posed threat to the vital world maritime trade route passing through the Straits of Malacca. The concept of Indo-Pacific was thus born to meet military and commercial challenges in the Pacific region.

The concept was first expressed by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2006. In 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about “expanding our work with the Indian Navy in the Pacific because we understand how important Indo-Pacific basin is to global trade and commerce.” The rationale for re-cycling the nomenclature is that the region now boasts the world’s three largest economies, seven of its eight fastest growing markets, and seven of the world’s ten largest armies and it is expected to produce more than half of the world’s economic output in the coming years. The reason why the US prefers Indo-Pacific instead of Asia-Pacific is that it acknowledges the historical reality and the current-day reality that South Asia, and in particular India, plays a key role in the Pacific and in East and Southeast Asia. Secondly, it is in the interests of the region, that India plays an increasingly weighty role in the region. India is a nation that is invested in a free and open order. It is a democracy. It is a nation that can bookend and anchor the free and open order in the Indo-Pacific region, and it’s America’s policy to ensure that India does play that role, does become over time a more influential player in the region
(Prof. K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar.)

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