President Obama’s Second Visit to India is a Significant Event in Indo-US Strategic Relationship
President Obama has become the first US President to grace the occasion of India’s Republic Day as the Chief Guest and also to visit India twice while in office. Strategic affairs pundits remarked President Obama’s upcoming visit to India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘diplomatic coup’. The White House statement that confirmed Obama’s acceptance of the invite also highlighted that the President would meet with the Prime Minister and Indian officials to strengthen and expand the U.S.-India strategic partnership.
With a new Republican-dominated Congress, the defence cooperation seems to be an extremely vital subject, especially with John McCain as the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Modi has highlighted the need to modernise India’s armed forces and the U.S. is poised to play a significant role in helping to fill Indian defence requirements. But both sides will need to show flexibility on their approach to plans for co-production and co-development of military equipment. Thus security issues remain high on the agenda, as building military and defence cooperation, especially in the Indo-Pacific region that would help the national interests of India as China pursues its aggression and border interventions against India. It would also facilitate American interests as it sees a strong and vibrant India preferable to an aggressive China, which would simulataneously help in the creation and maintenance of a stable balance of power in the region.
President Obama’s visit presents an important opportunity for finding a compromise solution for the U.S.-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) on technology transfer that meets U.S. requirements for safeguarding technology and India’s desire to maintain its “strategic autonomy.”
A corollary of the defence cooperation is an unequivocal alliance for counter-terrorism cooperation, in order to defeat, dismantle and disrupt terrorist networks from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. This would signal implementation of the historic 2010 counter-terrorism agreement. At a time when the American troops are exiting Afghanistan, and where the progress seems to be fragile, it is important for President Obama to take India into confidence, so that the purpose is fulfilled and the source of terror deracinated forever from across the world. This would also be important for Obama to set a historic precedent as his tenure and troop withdrawal deadline end in 2016. In order to gain the full benefits of their counterterrorism cooperation, Washington and New Delhi must overcome their suspicions and deepen their intelligence exchanges.
As cyber warfare is increasingly gaining grounds, the US wants India to pursue a multi-stakeholder democratic governance of the cyberspace in order to ensure freedom of speech and expression. Another consequence to defence and security cooperation on which President Obama must deliver on his visit to India is to garner India’s support for cyber security.
A major sign of the deepening ties between India and the US, also sending out the signal that India’s obsession with the tradition of non-alignment are ending and that this ‘man of action’ is fearlessly demonstrating his inclination towards the ‘country that is hailed as the leader of the free-market economy’.
While PM Modi has made it abundantly clear that he is commited to economic reforms, with special emphasis upon rectifying the obstacles in the way of ‘ease-of-doing-business’ in the country, the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative becomes an important driver to bolster India’s economic growth. Through this initiative PM Modi has the necessary mechanisms to lure US investments into India to increase Indian growth rates and create jobs for the country’s rapidly expanding work-force; and thus proactive measures to boost Indo-US economic ties remain high on the agenda of the upcoming Modi-Obama summit.
While the Trade Facilitation Deal is formally inducted into the WTO rulebook in November 2014 and 2017 has been the target year by which both countries must resolve their contentions over domestic food subsides bilaterally, President Obama can make an historic impact by pushing for an early settlement of the issue, as agricultural cooperation has remained a fundamental and signature issue in Indo-US relations during his administration.
A re-evaluation of the Immigration Bill would help build the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship that will bolster the partnership between the two great nations, especially because the Bill contains a number of elements that could hurt India’s IT industry.
With a new climate change accord in place, President Obama who tended to side with China in Lima in December 2014 in taking a leadership role in assisting the attainment of global reduction of green-house gases, needs to put India at the forefront of tackling global warming and ensuring sustainable development. President Obama must incorporate India to play a leadership role on a finanace-driven approach on clean energy based system, as it is of vital interest to India’s population and the developing world.
After the civil nuclear deal between the two countries in 2008, cooperation in the sector has been stalled over the tough provisions in the Civil Nuclear Liability Act. Discussions on implementation issues, including administrative, liability, technical and licencing to facilitate the establishment of US-designed nuclear power plants in India are expected to be a “concrete” deliverable during Obama’s visit. India could also push the U.S. to support its bid for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
As Joseph Nye said, India and the US are married to each other, yet there are occasions when the two partners quarrel over issues, but they are certainly not directed towards a divorce. The structural aspect of the climate of Indo-US relationship is perfect on the upcoming Obama’s visit, as let’s-get-to-know-each-other phase has been overtaken by the ongoing phase of we-understand-each-other-well. While there will surely be disagreements in the future and a need for patience as initiatives work their way through the bureaucracies of both countries, the two leaders are sending clear messages about their commitment to the relationship and their intention to move forward with an ambitious agenda of cooperation. This second visit is an opportunity for President Obama to continue the view that US profits from India’s rise and economic success and must be reiterated before the Indian public. There is a need to forge a new kind of a major-power-relationship, and send out the message that he is here to implement the strategic relationship.
The author is Ph.D Scholar, United States Studies, Centre for Canadian, United States and Latin American Studies (CCUS&LAS), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi