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#306, 21 December 2009

Indo-US Relations

INDO-US RELATIONS: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Chair: PR Chari, Research Professor, IPCS

Speaker: Dr Surjit Mansingh, American University, Washington

Introduction: Mr. PR Chari

There are two distinct perspectives that exist today on Indo-US relations. First, the Joint Statement of 18 July 2005 embeds the Indo-US nuclear deal, but issues like nuclear disarmament, nuclear proliferation are also included and are more widely discussed. However other issues like space co-operation, energy security, environment, HIV Aids, and democracy functioning are not being given priority. At the same time, there is also a growing perception that, under the Obama administration, there has been a downgrading of India in US foreign policy. This is attributed to various reasons ranging from the influence of the nuclear non-proliferation stalwarts of the Clinton era who have returned in the present administration; and the ascendancy of Pakistan in comparison to India for the US, given the Obama administration’s emphasis on Af-Pak, and “bringing the boys back home” for which the support of Pakistan is essential.                                                  

Dr. Surjit Mansingh

Indo-US Relations can be broadly discussed in the context of their past, present and future ties.

The relations between the US and India in the past can be understood in the following phrase, “...In each decade and in each administration, the expectation of each side of the other exceeded the ability of the other to deliver...”. It can be argued that things were never as bad as they have been made out to be by much of the intelligentsia in India. In the 1950s, for example, notwithstanding the US-Pakistan military alliance that had gained prominence, there were good collaborations between the US and India in the United Nations, in the Atoms for Peace program, in the personal relationship between Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and President Eisenhower and so on. The Green Revolution in the 1960s also owed a great deal to the US. In 1972, Kissinger himself praised India and later, the US wrote off the entire amount of its PL-480 loan to India. Since the early 1990s, a bi-partisan consensus in the United States had pressed for the need to improve relations with India; and encourage it to become a key Asian power. In 2008 the Bush administration had welcomed India into the “Nuclear Club”.

It is useful to analyze Indo-US relations today from the perspective of the Obama administration. He was an unknown entity; hence, there was considerable uncertainty in India and the US on what he might say and do in the foreign policy realm. One of the many uncertainties regarding the President arose from the extravagant speeches made during his campaign. For example, his statement regarding the renegotiation of NAFTA, and US mediation on Kashmir invited severe criticism. The second uncertainty about the Obama Administration owes to the Democratic Party itself being a coalition of many groups. The third uncertainty is the vicious right-wing propaganda against Obama; to the extent of questioning his right to become the president of US. Most of these uncertainties regarding Obama and his administration are due to the “unlimited mess” inherited from eight years of the Bush administration. As a result, most of the problems due to the Bush legacy are being identified with the Obama presidency.

There is a need to make a few general comments on the US at present because it is in this context that the relationship between the US and India will develop:
  • American society is deeply divided and, within the federal government, there is a lack of co-ordination between the departments. Different agencies are following different foreign policies. This could pose a problem for India in its relations with the US. •    The ‘immediate always takes precedence over the important’ and this holds true for all political systems and democracies. The US has a myopic way of looking at issues immediately confronting it, and is not looking up to the end of the table; most importantly not even at the possible consequences of its actions. This has been a characteristic of the American foreign policy and continues to be so.
  • The American political system faces the problem of ‘bureaucracy inertia’. This problem originated when government actions were outsourced to private contractors under the Bush administration. It got aggravated when the functions of government, and embassies in the areas of foreign affairs were also delegated to contractors. Further, the American government is unaware of such contractors representing them, specifically in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For example, the US economic aid package to Pakistan was counter-productive because civilian functions were being undertaken by the Department of Defense. Young soldiers lacked the training to implement the civilian building up of the affected regions.
  • As far as the perception of India is concerned, Americans derive their perceptions from British literature and almost all Anglo-Indian literature produces a negative image of India. However, this image is changing largely because of the two and a half million strong Indian community in the US. Indians are the most affluent and highly educated among the minority groups in the US. As regards personal relations, Americans have a considerably positive image of Pakistan, owing to many retired Pakistani armed officers having integrated into the power structure of the US; this does not exist between India and America.
  • Lastly, despite American dependence on Chinese bankrolling Pakistan, and the supply route from Karachi to Kabul through Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan, the President has identified the US-India relationship as one of the defining parameters of the 21ST century.
At present, a strong bi-partisan consensus exists in the US which emphasizes the need and desirability of having good relations with India in every domain. Therefore, it depends almost entirely on how India plays its cards to nurture its relationship with the US.  The groundwork has already been laid by the co-operation and personal relations between the Indian Prime Minister and the US President as apparent from the recent Joint Statement. The momentum exists but the Indo-US relationship cannot be put on auto-pilot; it requires constant efforts on both sides to keep going. There are several factors that could derail the Indo-US relationship such as a conflict between India and Pakistan that would place the US in a dilemma, testing of nuclear weapons by India before signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and, above all, the victim syndrome that characterizes India’s behavior. If India puts its own house in order, things will go well.

Questions and Comments
  • India has signed civil nuclear agreements with many other countries but is lagging behind so far as its agreement with the US is concerned. Does this bother the Obama’s administration?
  • There is a perception that India is being downgraded in US foreign policy. How does Obama view this? Despite India making all the efforts, what can the Americans do to change this perception?
  • Why is Obama diluting the regional context as far as the Af-Pak strategy is concerned?
  • Often the US denies the leverage it has with Pakistan. What about the personal relationships between officials in the Pakistan Army and the Pentagon?
  • As far as the Indo-US nuclear agreement is concerned, specific agreements like liability exposure and re-processing are being negotiated by the US government, and only after that will nuclear plants be built in India by US companies. So, it is not true that the US has forgotten about the deal. There is no harm in India signing nuclear co-operation agreements with countries that are more advanced than the US in terms of nuclear technology.
  • There are prominent Americans who have been lobbying to rescue India’s downgraded perception in the US, which includes urging the government to support India’s membership in the United Nations Security Council, economic governance of the world, and so on. President Obama, himself, supported India’s candidacy in G20. 
  • There is evidence that US is conscious and aware of the regional context as far as the Af-Pak policy is concerned, and  recognizes that only a regional solution can address the problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An example is President Obama’s initiative to open a dialogue with Iran. China has been persuaded to open the Wakhan corridor to allow transit to Afghanistan. Russia has also agreed to grant transit rights but until the US has other means of access, its dependence on Pakistan will remain to stabilize Afghanistan. 
  • Pakistan depends on American support to maintain its stability, and if the US refuses to support Pakistan, it will collapse and the jihadists will take over. Therefore, Pakistan is dependent on America for its survival. The Pentagon, on the other hand, has a strong relationship with the Pakistan Army, because it is the only effective institution in the country that can usher stability into the region.
Attrika Hazarika,
Research Intern, IPCS
E-mail: attrika@ipcs.org


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