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A roadmap for revitalizing the U.S. partnership with India

A roadmap for revitalizing the U.S. partnership with India

The Center for a New American Security has just released an important report laying out a concrete vision and action agenda for the future of U.S.-India relations. Co-chaired by former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, and guided by CNAS senior fellow Richard Fontaine, the study group (on which I served) that produced the report seeks to provide a blueprint for the Obama administration as it considers how to reinvigorate relations with India, which have drifted over the past 22 months. As the report puts it:

The transformation of U.S. ties with New Delhi over the past 10 years, led by Presidents Clinton and Bush, stands as one of the most significant triumphs of recent American foreign policy. It has also been a bipartisan success… Many prominent Indians and Americans, however, now fear this rapid expansion of ties has stalled. Past projects remain incomplete, few new ideas have been embraced by both sides, and the forward momentum that characterized recent cooperation has subsided. The Obama administration has taken significant steps to break through this inertia, including with its Strategic Dialogue this spring and President Obama’s planned state visit to India in November 2010. Yet there remains a sense among observers in both countries that this critical relationship is falling short of its promise.

The stakes are high: the United States has a compelling interest in facilitating democratic India’s emergence as a global power to help shape a world order conducive to our common interests and values. More particularly, as the report notes, U.S. interests in strengthening ties with India are premised on:

  • Ensuring a stable Asian and global balance of power.
  • Strengthening an open global trading system.
  • Protecting and preserving access to the global commons.
  • Countering terrorism and violent extremism.
  • Ensuring access to secure global energy resources.
  • Bolstering the international nonproliferation regime.
  • Promoting democracy and human rights.
  • Fostering greater stability, security and economic prosperity in South Asia, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

How should the United States act to advance these interests with India?

In order to chart a more ambitious U.S.-India strategic partnership, we believe that the United States should commit, publicly and explicitly, to work with India in support of its permanent membership in an enlarged U.N. Security Council; seek a broad expansion of bilateral trade and investment, beginning with a Bilateral Investment Treaty; greatly expand the security relationship and boost defense trade; support Indian membership in key export control organizations, a step toward integrating India into global nonproliferation efforts; and liberalize U.S. export controls, including the removal of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) subsidiaries from the U.S. Entity List.

Of course, strategic partnership is a two-way street, and India lately has disappointed American friends who had hoped for more progress on nuclear liability, defense cooperation, and trade and investment. India has an equal responsibility to help move the relationship to a higher level, including by

taking rapid action to fully implement the Civil Nuclear Agreement; raising its caps on foreign investment; reducing barriers to defense and other forms of trade; enhancing its rules for protecting patents and other intellectual property; further harmonizing its export control lists with multilateral regimes; and seeking closer cooperation with the United States and like-minded partners in international organizations, including the United Nations.

Closer Indo-U.S. relations are intrinsically important, and have ramifications across the full spectrum of functional, regional, and global issues. But given how the rise of China impacts the core interests of both countries, the report usefully points out that a stable Asian equilibrium is as important to China as it is to India and the United States:

Both India and the United States have a vital interest in maintaining a stable balance of power in Asia. Neither seeks containment of China, but the likelihood of a peaceful Chinese rise increases if it ascends in a region where the great democratic powers are also strong. Growing U.S.-India strategic ties will ensure that Asia will not have a vacuum of power and will make it easier for both Washington and New Delhi to have productive relations with Beijing.

One central recommendation of the report is robust U.S. support for India’s aspirations to permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. Working with India in multilateral institutions is never easy; both countries have a preference for bilateralism. But India’s ascent to the high table of world politics — with U.S. sponsorship — should over time influence India’s own definition of its interests and expand its strategic horizons in ways that induce greater convergence with the United States in institutions like the United Nations and the G20. This would benefit both our countries and enhance the legitimacy of key international institutions for a new era.

Finally, whereas the values and interests of India and the United States frequently pulled in opposite directions during the Cold War — when India pursued a policy of non-alignment that evolved into tacit alliance with the Soviet Union – today our interests and ideals reinforce each other in a number of areas. These include promoting the freedoms that animate our two societies in lands where they are scarce. It follows that, as the report puts it, "The United States and India should work together to spread the culture of democracy in lands where it does not yet exist."

As President Obama prepares to visit New Delhi, his team could usefully act on the report’s key recommendations to produce a "bold leap forward" in Indo-U.S. ties that could change the history of the 21st century.