India-US Relations: Changing Scenario


India-US Relations: Changing Scenario

The US President Barack Hussein Obama has completed his three day visit to India. This visit was significant in many aspects. Unlike the earlier visits of American Presidents to India, Obama’s visit has come on the heels of biggest economic recession facing the US since 1930s Great Depression and a losing war in Afghanistan.

Just before his visit, Obama faced the wrath of American people in the mid-terms on account of mismanagement of economy and increasing unemployment. Thus creation of jobs in the US is his objective for the time being. The US economy is in dire straits. American businesses desperately need markets to sell their products. They are looking towards the developing world with great optimism. India, being the second fastest growing economy after China, is a major consumer of everything ranging from sports bikes to aircraft, nuclear power to defence equipment. In order to exploit the burgeoning demand from India, on the very first day of Obama’s visit twenty business deals worth $10 bn were signed between the two countries. The deals included sale of Boeing passenger aircraft, Boeing C-17 Globemasters to Indian armed forces, GE 107 F414 jet engines to the Indian Air Force, GE power turbines, setting up of Harley-Davidson assembly plant in India, among others. Obama declared that these deals will create around 54000 jobs in the US. Though true, it was more of a political rhetoric to be heard back home since before leaving for India, he spoke on TV that he is going to India in search of employment opportunities for Americans. All this was said and done despite the restriction on outsourcing from India.

Besides, Obama also declared to lift the ban of high-tech and dual-use exports to the Indian agencies- Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL). Moreover, Obama administration has supported India’s full membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australian Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. It is being said that these concessions will help India to develop its space technology and defence industry.

So far so good. All this might seem to be the generosity of Obama administration towards India, but the reality is different. Apart from eyeing economic gains by the sale of high-tech and dual use products, the US also wants to make geo-political impact in Asia. It is well known fact that worried by the rapid rise of China, America wants to create a counterbalance in Asia by allying India with itself.

On the last day of his visit, Obama addressed the Indian Parliament. He said many things which India wanted to hear and many which India doesn’t necessarily share. The most important was Obama’s vocal support for a permanent seat to India in the reformed U.N. Security Council. Since nothing from USA comes without conditions attached, he asked India to play an active role in passing and enforcing sanctions resolutions during its 2-year stint as a non-permanent member. By this, he wanted India to change its consistent stance on Iran. This was also reflected in the joint statement issued by both the countries. On Iran, it said both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to diplomacy and discussed the need for India to meet its obligations towards the IAEA and the UNSC.

On Pakistan, in line with the Indian expectations, Obama said that terrorist safe-havens within Pak borders are unacceptable and also called on Pakistan to punish the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks. This was the most an American President could do notwithstanding the lack of strategic convergence between India and the US on Pakistan. While for America, Pakistan is a ‘part’ of the solution, for India, it is the ‘heart’ of the problem. America badly needs Pakistan in its war against Al Qaeda and Taliban in AfPak region. On the controversial issue of Kashmir, repeating his earlier stance, the US President said Washington couldn’t impose a solution and it is on both sides to resolve the issue bilaterally. His silence on Kashmir was ensured by the above aircraft and defence deals.

Stressing on the term “two largest democracies”, Obama sought to send indirect message to China that development can be achieved by following democratic norms and values. This was in contrast to his visit to China where he talked about “G-2” leading the world. It clearly shows that the US seeks to “contain” China in Asia by supporting India. In reality, India and China cannot be compared. China has more than $2.6 trillion of investment in American securities. Moreover, the annual bilateral trade between the US and China is over $500 billion with balance of trade in favour of China. So, China has leverage over USA and this haunts Uncle Sam.

Also, in his speech, Obama questioned the silence of India on human rights violations in Myanmar and maintained that being upfront on such issues did not mean interference in the affairs of other country. Well Mr. Obama, the same applies to the US policy towards Saudi Arabia and other West Asian allies, where citizens even don’t know the meaning of Human Rights. Moreover, no sane person can condone the worst Human Rights violations by the US in Abu Gharib & Guantanamo Bay jails.

This visit was different in the sense that it was a give and take event unlike earlier visits of the US Presidents in which they only used to extract out of India, as much as they could. Obama apparently gave many concessions and assurances to India. Still, there are many such issues on which both countries do not share a common view. India, being a sovereign nation, has always followed an independent foreign policy.  Our defined principles determine our relations with the neighbouring countries and the world. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly said, “We cannot choose our neighbours”. We need to learn to live in peace with them without being bowed down to any external pressure. The distance between New Delhi and Washington D.C. is about 12000 kilometers and will remain so. Indian policymakers should also keep in mind that in 21st century, America needs India more than India needs America.


Sameer Jafri is an India-based analysis and may be reached at [email protected]

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