Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties
August 8th, 2014
11:07 AM ET

Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties

By Robert M. Hathaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.

After a rough patch in bilateral relations, India and the United States have reengaged in a big way.  The U.S. secretaries of state and commerce, John Kerry and Penny Pritzker, were in India last week, while U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in New Delhi on Friday. In September, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, visits Washington.

Yet for all the diplomatic flurry, the two countries have yet to embrace a common agenda that would lay the groundwork for what President Barack Obama has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

Responsibility for this failure lies with both sides. Until Modi’s sweeping electoral triumph a few months ago, New Delhi had been paralyzed with indecisiveness for several years. In Washington, the Obama administration has never convincingly explained where and how India fits into America’s broader geopolitical vision. Doing so should therefore be Hagel’s top priority during his upcoming trip to India.

One of the hallmarks of Obama’s foreign policy has been the rebalance or “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.  To create the basis for a long-term Indo-American partnership, but also for reasons having nothing to do with bilateral U.S.-India ties, the administration needs to flesh out how the world’s second most populous country fits into the rebalance. After all, it is difficult to imagine a coherent U.S. approach to Asia that does not give Asia’s largest democracy a central role.

Is India even on Washington’s Asia-Pacific map?

Here the administration has been quite explicit. While secretary of state, Hillary Clinton defined Asia-Pacific as reaching “from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas,” a geographical construct other senior officials have since repeated.  On the eve of their trip to India last week, Secretaries Kerry and Pritzker published a newspaper op-ed noting that India’s rise would help the “Indo-Pacific” – not “Asia-Pacific” – region become more stable, prosperous, and free.

The Pentagon’s press spokesman has told reporters that Hagel’s meetings in India will focus on the “converging interests” of India and the United States in the Asia-Pacific.  The list of topics where the two countries share interests, and where they might work together, features many of the issues each most worries about.

Energy-dependent India has as great a stake in keeping open the global sea lanes as the United States. Both, meanwhile, face a threat from terrorism, from the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and especially from the leakage of dangerous WMD technologies to terrorist groups. Both want a passably stable Afghanistan following the end of U.S. combat operations later this year.

Defense cooperation offers another promising venue for drawing India more deeply into the rebalance.  Pentagon officials have said they are ready to move forward on co-production and co-development proposals. Joint research into new defense technologies and platforms, perhaps including drones and missile defense, would combine India’s IT savvy with America’s high-end manufacturing strengths. Defense sales also hold promise;  Delhi wants greater access to sophisticated U.S. weapons, and American arms producers are keen to further penetrate the Indian market. A renewal of the current framework agreement governing U.S.-India defense relations, which expires next year, would constitute a substantive as well as symbolic step forward.

Many analysts have described the U.S. rebalance as a response to the extraordinary strides China has made in recent decades. And the reality is that India has yet to get over the humiliating defeat it suffered at the hands of the Chinese in the early 1960s, and fears that Beijing has designs on Indian territory. So a partnership designed to check Chinese ambitions would be attractive to many Indians.

True, New Delhi, uncertain of U.S. staying power, will be cautious about being drawn into a policy that seems to target Beijing. But this doesn’t mean that India needs to be persuaded of the utility of playing a more prominent role in Asian affairs – Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe enjoy close personal ties, and Modi is to visit Japan later this month. Indian warships recently joined the U.S. and Japanese navies in exercises off the Japanese coast.

The Obama administration has been at great pains to insist that the rebalance is not simply, or even primarily, a military policy.  Involving India more comprehensively in the discussion of regional and global political challenges would reinforce this point. And while this will not be part of Hagel’s agenda, progress in addressing some of the many bilateral economic and trade disagreements that mar the relationship would help clear the way for ultimately getting India into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the economic centerpiece of the rebalance.

"The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners," Kerry said last week, before cautioning: "The words are easy; it's the actions we need to take that will really define the relationship."

Consciously or otherwise, the U.S. secretary of state has set forth the task awaiting his cabinet colleague. If the rebalance is to be more than a passing fad, Washington must incorporate India into its central structure.  And if India is to achieve its ambitions to be something more than merely a subcontinental power, it must be prepared to act as a great power in East as well as South Asia. ​​

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Topics: Foreign Policy • India • United States

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soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Or better yet, time to replace NATO forces in Afghanistan with those from India. Let India take care of Afghanistan for a change. If not, then let J apan do it. We need to just stay out of all these senseless wars!

    August 8, 2014 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • Indian

      You reap what you sow.

      Namaste.

      August 9, 2014 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • Indian2

      Thanks for the offer , but we will pass.

      Pls to sacrifice your own soldiers.

      August 16, 2014 at 5:54 am | Reply
  2. chri§§y

    Lol fake Joey! You KNOW the REAL Joey wouldnt say anything like this!

    August 8, 2014 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Wouldn't he, chrissy? If he had any sense at all, he would agree with me on this.

      August 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • Indian

      Real joey would know that India is smart enough to keep out of Islamic mess as it already has second highest muslim population in the world with Kashmir where half a million army is deployed, holding highest battle ground in the world at 17,700 ft.

      August 9, 2014 at 3:44 am | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Oh, please keep it up: the real Joey loves the attention.
        Le vrai Joey, who earned a G.G. from GIA as a hobby, associates India with fabled diamonds from the depleted Golconda region, and Kashmir with the finest sapphires.

        August 9, 2014 at 9:44 am |
      • JC Suman

        Majority of Indian Muslims are patriots and know that India is the only Country where "Live & Let Live" philosophy is still alive ( other than US). They are safer here then any other so called "Islamic" Countries; where "Muslim on Muslim" discrimination and atrocities are as prevalent as laws of Nature.

        August 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm |
  3. The GOP Solution

    The GOP Solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. And don't forget the GOP all time favorites........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!

    August 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Well put, The GOP Solution. You know what the Republicans stand for and that they take full advantage of the ignorance of the general public!

      August 9, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  4. chri§§y

    Looks like the First Lady needs to get on the threadmill a couple of times a week and lay off those carbs.

    August 8, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  5. banasy@

    Lol. I know chrissy. I out weigh her by about 20 pounds.

    August 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  6. JK

    Trust is the real matter

    August 9, 2014 at 3:26 am | Reply
  7. usindiamonitor

    I do not see from this article how the present moment in time shows more promise than any time over the last several decades. Below are more details on why.

    http://usindiamonitor.com/2014/04/22/us-vs-india-dissonance-on-global-strategy/

    http://usindiamonitor.com/2014/07/30/analysis-us-india-relations-under-p-m-modi/

    August 9, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  8. Chuck for profit

    US needs India for its profit making motive. It will cause Indians manipulation of the govt, their currency , economy and neighbors for the sole purpose of american profit. I hope it doesn't result in Indian lives

    August 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      When do the right-wing thugs in Washington do anything that's humanitarian, Chuck? Never!

      August 9, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ My Troll,
        The present left-wing government in Washington has vast humanitarian interests: in fact, vastly humanitarian and coddling, in some cases, to a fault.
        Some Americans need recovery from dependency on the government.
        HILLARY 2016!

        August 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Think_Dynamic

    It is about for US to boost ties with India under new administration (Modi) hoping it is not too late yet but India deep ties with Russia makes it nearly out of reality. Biggest chunk of Indian defense procurement for the several decades and at present is focused on Russian technology although minor procurement were from western nation. India's refusal embracing US weapon technogy versus Russian inferior technology is clear evidence of rejection. Perhaps with India's new prime minister with liberal mind will make a difference.

    August 11, 2014 at 1:45 am | Reply
  10. rick

    Well.. We could start by shipping some simple outhouses and a roll of toilet paper in each one over there. Would keep the engineers confused for a long while trying to guess what its designed for..?? Or a 5 galon bucket with a faucet on bottom. Demonstrating RUNNING WATER to those who never seen it in their country. Or a picture of a american dollar bill. Proof of money with ACTUAL WORTH looks like. A lot of improvements just in those sudgestions...

    August 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  11. j. von hettlingen

    The "Indo-Pacific" region means India and Ja pan would have to join forces in order to provide for security and order in the region, Indeed there had been a "quadrilateral security dialogue" between India, Ja pan, Australia and the US to promote security issues in the region.

    August 12, 2014 at 11:17 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Realpolitik is India's core interest. It dances at several weddings. On the one hand it says it sides with the US, while also doing business with China and Russia.

      August 12, 2014 at 11:30 am | Reply
  12. BanglaFirst

    India cannot be trusted with anything. It occupies Kashmir and summarily executes people at border areas with Bangladesh where it has killed over 13,000 since 1971. It is a evil Nation like Israel, Russia and China that's why it never condemned Russia over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. How can you trust people who worships cows that rest of us eat?

    August 14, 2014 at 6:46 am | Reply
    • Guest

      Great Comment!

      August 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Indian

      You are talking about trust...do you know what is the meaning of the trust india is the only country which was ruled by mughals,britishers and suffered a lot still our culture taught us not to fire until it is the last options.....the number of innocent people killed by terrorists till date i our country due to extremism from pakistan is uncountable.....still we have kept the calm but this constant provocation by the countries like you will be dealt severly in the coming days......and each of our belief cow worship also is having specific meaning we believe all religions as one god as one not like some bloody idiots who can kill anyone brutally on the name of religion ...Hinduism teaches peace ...and if provoked nobody will be silent .....so think before you say a word against India.Jai Hind

      August 15, 2014 at 5:45 am | Reply
      • Gay Hind

        Gay Hind Niger...

        August 16, 2014 at 4:02 am |
  13. ElliotJKlein

    It would certainly be better for the whole world and especially Asia, if future investment of US, UK and EU businesses was in India (and Brazil) rather than China, the country which poses the greatest threat to world peace and security. All of the FDI over the past 20 years has given China everything it needs to invade and conquer SE Asia and eventually more of the region. Its recent actions over islands in the South China Sea and its white paper for Hong Kong have demonstrated China's willingness to take what it wants, daring the West to do anything about it. Every item bought by people who believe in freedom and democracy which says Made in China has added to the military power of the most repressive and dangerous country on Earth.

    August 16, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  14. BanglaFirst

    We Bangladeshis however cross the border into India illegally and take up their job. After sometime, the next generation doesn't assimilate well with the local culture. Instead our kids spread terror in India.

    August 16, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  15. Rajiv

    Yes, years to US neglect towards India and modi and constant insult, all ended when Obama called Modi. Get real US, we know you wanna sell weapons to India so now its boot licking time. All of a sudden US and India have common interest, common history, common idea of democracy. How stupid do you think Indians are?

    August 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply

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