January 16, 2014
Updated: January 16, 2014
The challenge is to extricate India-U.S. dialogue from the pattern of complaining against or making excessive demands on each other
The handling of Indian Deputy-Consul General’s case by the U.S. Government is symptomatic of a deepening divide between India and the United States. President Barack Obama in 2010 declared India-U.S. relations to be “the defining partnership of the 21st century.” He told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later that “India is a big part of my plans.” There is actually no plan to show, big or small. Even as both governments struggle to put the recent incident to rest, the high-handed U.S. action has guaranteed that the manner in which it transacts business with India will change.
India’s foreign policy goals today include creating a facilitating environment for India’s continuing transformation; securing access to markets, investments, technology, energy sources, and strategic minerals needed for development; coping with the impact of climate change; securing the global commons — outer space, the oceans, transportation and communication networks, and cyber-space; and reforming the United Nations and Breton Woods institutions, even while the United States and other industrialised countries are moving away from the open, democratic and rule-based conditions for international commercial and financial exchanges. Except the latter, these are not generally at odds with U.S. interests.
Closer home, India seeks to combat terrorist groups in the subcontinent, maintain maritime security, including by protecting the two choke points of the Indian Ocean — the Gulf of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca — and promote stability in India’s larger neighbourhood and the world. Indeed, many of these are also U.S. goals.
The dramatic change in India-U.S. relations, a full decade after the end of the Cold War, was propelled by India’s economic growth and, paradoxically, by its nuclear weapon tests of 1998. India’s relations with the other great powers began to change too, but only in synch with and partly as a consequence of the transformation of the India-U.S. relationship. It became clear also that the future success or failure of India’s external engagement, including that with the United States, would be determined by India’s economic performance.
The India-U.S. bilateral agenda straddles myriad fields. If a relationship were to be judged by the number of bilateral summits — Dr. Manmohan Singh has had six bilateral summits with Presidents of the United States — and ‘full-spectrum’ official dialogue mechanisms — there are now 35 of them in operation, spanning civil nuclear industry, counterterrorism, cyber security, culture, defence, energy, higher education, health, space, and science and technology — then there is no denying the multi-faceted interactions between the two countries.
Meetings must be judged by desirable outcomes, not by their count but by their content. U.S. leaders had committed to support India’s permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council and to the four principal international export-control groupings. But without proactive diplomatic pursuits — like when U.S. was seeking Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)’s approval for the Civil Nuclear Agreement — many Indians see these as empty promises.