Obama Building U.S.-India Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century

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Obama Building U.S.-India Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century

Obama Building U.S.-India Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century

Photo Credit: The White House, 1/26/15

President Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this weekend, their second bilateral summit since September 2014, when the two leaders announced a “renewed U.S.-India partnership for the 21st century.” Now, the United States and India are following up on that commitment with additional action to strengthen the foundation of the strategic relationship. That effort is meeting significant success, with Prime Minister Modi announcing that “Our relationship stands at a new level today” following the unprecedented invitation and attendance of President Obama at India’s 66th Republic Day. Already, agreements have been reached on a wide range of mutual interests between the two nations, including trade and investment, security, nuclear energy, and climate change. While much work remains to build on this foundation, effective follow up holds the potential to deepen a bilateral relationship that may form a new cornerstone for comprehensive global security and stability in the 21st century.

The developing partnership between the United States and India is crucial to securing the mutual interests of both nations in addressing regional and global challenges. Vikram Singh Mehta and Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu of the Brookings Institution put the developing partnership between the United States in India in strategic and political context: “With the upheaval wrought by state and non-state actors to its west and inter-state tensions to its east, India sits at the epicenter of the unfolding geopolitical uncertainty; New Delhi might have no choice but to help manage the chaos and restore order regionally and globally for its own interest. There is growing recognition in the Modi government that the United States is probably the best partner to address these challenges and help India’s rise—despite the differences that persist between the two countries and the questions about reliability. The Obama administration, on its part, has repeatedly stated that even if India and the United States will not always be on the same page, India’s rise is in U.S. interest—not least because a strong, prosperous, inclusive India could help manage global and regional disorder.” [Vikram Singh Mehta and Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, 1/15]

U.S.-India diplomacy made progress this weekend on a range of mutual interests that strengthen the foundation for strategic partnership:

Growing trade and investment: The United States and India have just agreed to resume talks over a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). “The treaty has been discussed only sporadically since 2008 and is stalled over differences on a range of prickly issues,” reports the Hindustan Times. According to the latest data available from the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in India was $28.4 billion and Indian FDI in the United States was $5.2 billion. While the way forward on the BIT is likely long, the United States is taking action on trade right now. The Hillreports, “President Obama unveiled $4 billion in new federal initiatives designed to boost trade between the U.S. and India during a summit with top business leaders Monday in New Delhi….the Export-Import bank would dedicate $1 billion in financing to support U.S. exports to India. That’s of particular significance because although India represents a sixth of the world’s population, just 1 percent of U.S. exports go to India — and just 2 percent of U.S. imports come from the country… an additional $1 billion would be earmarked for lending to small and medium businesses in India located in rural and underserved markets.” [Hindustan Times, 1/26/14. The Hill, 1/26/15]

Increasing security collaboration: President Obama and Prime Minister Modi agreed to renew the New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship – the foundation of U.S.-India security ties, first signed in 2006 – increasing security cooperation. The Times of India reports, “The two nations agreed to step up joint combat exercises, maritime security endeavours, intelligence-sharing mechanisms, military exchanges and the like through the framework.” The agreement also includes the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) for co-development and production of military hardware. The Times of India continues,  “The DTTI will be launched with four aptly-called ‘pathfinder projects’…The four products to be co-produced are the next-generation Raven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ‘roll-on, roll-off’ intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance modules for C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, mobile electric hybrid power sources and ‘uniform integrated protection ensemble increment-2 (chemical, biological warfare protection gear for soldiers).’”[Times of India, 1/26/15]

Deepening cooperation on climate change: President Obama and Prime Minister Modi reached an agreement regarding a number of climate change initiatives and “plan to cooperate closely this year to achieve a successful and ambitious agreement in Paris,” the White House noted. Carol M. Browner of the Center for American Progress explains, “President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have made admirable progress on energy and climate change today. They established a new leader-to-leader channel for communication to work through issues in climate negotiations, affirmed ambitious solar energy goals for India, launched a new air quality initiative focusing on India’s major cities, catalyzed new clean energy investment opportunities, and more.” Additionally, The Hill reported that the President announced today “plans to invest $2 billion in helping India build new renewable energy sources.” [U.S.-India Climate Change Fact Sheet, 1/25/15. Carol M. Browner, 1/25/15. The Hill, 1/26/15]

Progress on nuclear impasse but key questions remain: The development of U.S.-India relations have been impeded by a stalled 2008 nuclear agreement on civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries, which would enable American firms to work with or invest in the development of Indian nuclear power plants. TheWashington Post reports that President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have made progress towards overcoming two of the main hurdles towards: first, an Indian law that “holds suppliers, designers and builders of plants liable in case of an accident making companies reluctant to invest in the plants,” and second,  disagreements “on how to track nuclear material” to ensure no material is used for military purposes in accordance with U.S. domestic law regulating nuclear cooperation with India.

Details are scarce, but the agreement on the nuclear liability issues reportedly involves “the provision of insurance pools and an assurance that reducing liability would be within the framework of the 2008 agreement. It will now be up to companies to decide whether to do business in India.” Details on tracking nuclear materials are far less clear. While the National Security Council says “information exchanges and a consultative mechanism” will be in place, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, expressed skepticism. “India, which has nuclear weapons and is building up its nuclear weapons program outside of international safeguards/monitoring, is a special case,” Kimball told the Post. “It means that additional safeguards are necessary to ensure that U.S. nuclear cooperation does not directly or indirectly assist its nuclear weapons program.” [Washington Post, 1/25/15. Daryl G. Kimball via the Washington Post, 1/25/15]

Prioritizing leader-to-leader engagement is key to present and future progress on the U.S-India partnership. The Washington Post reports, “Obama is the first president to visit India twice while in office, after receiving an unprecedented invitation to attend the country’s annual Republic Day parade, which celebrates the adoption of the Indian constitution. Modi broke with tradition and met Obama at the airport here, giving the president a bear hug after he bounded down from Air Force One…‘Barack and I have forged a friendship,’ Modi said earlier through an interpreter. He made a statement in English and answered questions in Hindi. ‘There is openness when we talk, and we even joke and share a lot together,’ he said. ‘I think this is a chemistry which has not only brought Washington and Delhi, Barack and I, closer, but also the two peoples of the two countries closer.’” Building on the developing relationship of the two leaders will now be the challenge of the new U.S. Ambassador to India and former NSN Advisory Board Member Richard Verma.  [Washington Post, 1/25/15]

Photo Credit: The White House, 1/26/15

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