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Making Indo-US Ties Meaningful

The quintessence of diplomacy from the legendary Mauryan strategist Prime Minister Kautilya in ancient times to American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and beyond in modern is: foreign relations are guided most by one’s own national interests. As interests between any two nations are never completely convergent, there remains always a lot for a statesman to improve his nation’s ties with others. This is precisely the new challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the realm of Indo-American relations today.   

Apparently, during his visit to New York and Washington in September-October 2014 Prime Minister Modi had it all highly commendable with everyone – the American Administration, Congress, corporate barons as well as the Indian diaspora. New Delhi and Washington had a comprehensive dialogue on energy, health, space, women’s empowerment, trade, skills, strategy and security. Prime Minister Modi and American President Barack Obama came to issue a vision document on the India-US Strategic Partnership, author a joint op-ed in The Washington Post and declare a comprehensive Joint Statement.    

One finds in the Oped, New Delhi and Washington look determined to “forge more collaboration not just at the federal level but also at the state and local levels, between our two militaries, private sectors and civil society.” Theirs is “an agenda to expand collaboration in trade, investment and technology” aimed at fostering India’s development and sustaining the United States’ global engine of growth.

The Indo-US joint statement speaks of “advancing” the civil nuclear dialogue. It talks of New Delhi and Washington being “committed to enhancing our homeland security by sharing intelligence, through counterterrorism and law-enforcement cooperation.” It also talks of renewing their strategic partnership and  “joint and concerted efforts” to dismantle terror groups, including al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company and the Haqqanis.”  

However, Prime Minister Modi has still miles to go beyond this apparent bonhomie to make Indo-US relations really meaningful. There is a near consensus across the strategic community that the stalemate in Indo-US relations over certain crucial issues, including India’s nuclear supplier liability law, intellectual property rights, bilateral investment, TFA, H1B visas, continues. The implementation of the historic India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement is still a far cry. Giant nuclear companies, including Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi, have had serious issues in this regard.

Despite the 2005 Framework for the India-U.S. Defense Relationship, little has been done so far “to increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development.”  In the recent years New Delhi has stepped up buying US weapons. But it has so far not co-developed or built any such weapon systems.  

Washington is yet to whole-heartedly support New Delhi’s proposed inclusion in the UN Security Council as a permanent member. It has been far from honouring its already declared resolve for India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. Besides, New Delhi and Washington have divergent views on the issues related to climate change, world trade and agricultural subsidies.

Knowledgeable sources say New Delhi would have to work hard with Washington to iron out all these irritants and foster a meaningful relationship between them. Time is very opportune for this as American President Barack Obama will be visiting New Delhi to be India’s chief guest on her Republic Day 2015 and discussing important state matters during his stay in the country. Two issues should demand New Delhi’s particular attention. First, it has to see that civilian nuclear cooperation takes place on the ground as early as possible. Given the nature of growing Indian economy and its futuristic profile, New Delhi today needs nuclear power on a very large scale. Prime Minister Modi is fully aware of it and has already urged the Atomic Energy Commission to triple the current production of 5,780 MW of nuclear power by 2023. This objective requires the installation of at least 40 light water power reactors of at least 1,000 MW capacity each.

India has no alternative to nuclear energy right now. It does possess one of the largest reservoirs of coal in the world but the mechanism of its conversion into energy has long been in bad shape in the country. India is not inclined to the generation of hydro-power today. As for the recent focus of some of the most enlightened strategists the world over on alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, it is a long way to go in India. Presently, this programme is not advanced enough to take care of the county’s energy demand. Alternative sources of energy can at best only supplement the existing traditional ones. 

India thus needs to clinch its civilian nuclear deal with America as early as possible. Presently, Washington takes strong objection to India’s Nuclear Liability law. Its argument is that this law places responsibility for a nuclear disaster not only on the operator but also on the supplier of equipment.  The Americans also fear that even a “third party” can drag the supplier to a court of law in India.

Second, New Delhi would have to see to it that Washington’s present cooperation with it on combating terrorism is more real than apparent. In his United Nations General Assembly Address in September, Prime Minister Modi rightly called for a global convention on terror so that no country could differentiate between "good terrorism and bad terrorism." But Washington still seems to be thinking in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorism. It is yet to see the need to dismantle the various linkages Islamist terrorism has had the world over.

Besides, Washington still seems to be keeping its eyes closed to the root cause of terror in India - Pakistan’s Army and ISI. Despite the already proven common nature of all Islamist terrorists the world over,  Washington  still seems to be wishfully dreaming the Pakistani masters of terror might be encouraging what it calls ‘India-specific’  terrorists alone and that has no dangerous implications for the United States !

The author is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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Jagdish N Singh
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