July 22, 2011

'Economic engagement is the engine of US-India cooperation'

Jul 22, 2011, 12.00am IST
Former US assistant secretary of commerce, now with the Albright Stonebridge Group, Raymond E Vickery, Jr has written The Eagle and the Elephant. He spoke with Deep K Datta-Ray:

Is your book an insider's perspective?

To an extent. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton's strategy of using economic engagement is supported by the lessons in the eight case studies i present. I've participated in every case study from within government or the private sector. I've done economic work on India since 1995, accompanied President Bill Clinton here, worked on the civil nuclear deal and served on President Barack Obama's India advisory team. I know the complexities. My examples include nuclear negotiations and sensitivities, the H-1B visa controversy, the relationship between IT and technology outsourcing and terror - especially how economic engagement can maximise India's capacities and analytical capability. Food security - why the second Green Revolution hasn't happened - and HIV/AIDS. Health security isn't just about big pharma but also NGOs.

What's your argument?

My thesis is that economic engagement is the engine of US-India strategic cooperation. Economic engagement is fundamental to moving our relations forward. 'Strategic' is not simply about the use of force, but any major issue requiring transnational cooperation for its solution. Economic engagement drives the whole panoply of strategic issues, extending far beyond military matters.

Is the US using trade to entrap - or at best entwine - India into a strategic relationship?

No. We aren't the East India Company! And you're not in a subsidiary position. The Cold War meant the US built a vast regulatory framework. It's partially outdated. Unfortunately, bureaucracies move glacially. There're lots who've not gotten the message: We need to treat each other as friends and partners rather than impediments to our respective national interests. For example, the US was reluctant about cutting the red tape on the MMRCA despite dealing with a 'partner' as Obama said.

On the other hand, you're a global stakeholder and should have the self-confidence to make self-aware decisions. Unfortunately, India's objective is sometimes to just resist: If i don't do something that somebody else thinks i ought to do, then i've achieved something. But that depends on what the other person wants you to do. So analyse that. India's non-involvement itself isn't an achievement.

A contract, for instance, isn't bad or good. It limits both parties but can help move two parties towards a common goal.

Yet the US plays a zero-sum political game. You forced us to choose between you and Iran on the pipeline.

A case study in the book is on the pipe. I was involved as i worked on the civil nuclear deal. Attempting to force a choice was wrong. An example in the book is then chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos. He didn't want a nuclear agreement with India unless you foreswore a pipeline with Iran. A sanctions-based approach is often the least effective form of engagement. It's negative. A lot of the literature about strategic economic engagement focusses on sanctions. Negative techniques don't work. Blustering on what India ought to do just doesn't help. These are the types of lessons i present.

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