June 13, 2012

What might the third Indo-US strategic dialogue be about?


- What might the third Indo-US strategic dialogue be about?
Ronen Sen

The third annual Indo-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington DC today provides a timely opportunity for a comprehensive high-level review of our most broad-based and important relationship. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, and their ministerial colleagues would cover a wide vista of bilateral partnerships encompassing strategic co-operation, clean energy, climate change, economy, trade, agriculture and food security, higher education, health, science and technology, innovation and related areas. A number of these collaborative programmes holds great promise of transforming the lives of millions of our people. I will, however, limit myself to an analysis of some security-related issues.

India and the United States of America have many common challenges in the Asia-Pacific, or rather, Indo-Pacific region. President Barack Obama's initial inclination to imitate Bill Clinton in working out a G2 relationship with China appears to have been reversed by Obama's decision on a US "re-balancing" towards the region. Earlier pronouncements by him and Hillary Clinton were elaborated by the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, last week in terms of enhanced US force deployments to underpin this new strategy.

We are on the same page as the US on the freedom of navigation and peaceful settlement of differences in international waters, including the South China Sea. The defence minister, A.K. Antony, stressed the "need to strengthen the multilateral security architecture in the Asia-Pacific and to move at a pace comfortable to all countries concerned". This could be a signal that India would not always march lock-step with the US, as well as an indication of our preference for building on the existing multilateral regional regime envisaged by the US rather than a US-China condominium apparently favoured by China.

Both India and the US have significant stakes in engaging China. We have no interest in confronting or containing China. India and China should have mutual interest in respecting their respective roles in a multi-polar Asian and global order. India has no one but itself to blame for the growing economic and military gap between India and China. Yet we have to factor this current reality, as well as China's military build-up and deployments and other actions in our neighbourhood, in our contingency planning for countervailing or balancing measures.

In spite of his misgivings, Obama had continued with Bush's policy of relying primarily on Pakistan to achieve US objectives in Afghanistan. Much has happened since Obama launched his Af-Pak initiative in early 2009. Pakistan's double-dealing on terrorism stands exposed as well as its continued objective of a Taliban regime of its choice in Kabul. However, there is mutual recognition of the need to maintain a working relationship between the US and Pakistan. The US appreciates India's significant contributions in developing and stabilizing Afghanistan as well as our role in training the Afghan security forces.

Contrary to general perceptions, the Bush administration had also confidentially encouraged such security co-operation by India notwithstanding strong reservations on Pakistan's part. The US has kept us fully in the loop on Af-Pak developments in the run-up to the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline. Continued US advocacy of improved Indo-Pakistan relations as well as a more prominent Indian role in Afghanistan is all the more understandable in view of the erosion of its own influence in Pakistan.
US policies in south Asia take into account India's vital interests. Pakistan is no longer an irritant. Nor is Myanmar. However, Iran remained a recurring source of mutual recrimination. Rhetoric on both sides had obscured the convergence of our longer term interests and had also remained at odds with realities. For instance, our first vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency was not because of, but in spite of, US Congressional pressures. This also applied to our subsequent actions. There is now better appreciation of the substantial and continued decline of our oil imports from Iran. The waiver of US sanctions vis-à-vis India was therefore a most welcome but expected goodwill gesture on the eve of the strategic dialogue.

The Indo-US civil nuclear deal and the US-led initiative to exempt India from the application of Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines were historic milestones. They were the most important manifestations of the transformation of the relationship into a strategic partnership. In view of the US leadership and unprecedented political capital invested in these initiatives, there is understandable disappointment that American firms will be the last to finalize agreements to commence commercial operations of nuclear power plants in India.

Particularly after the June 2005 defence framework agreement, our co-operation in this strategic field has grown exponentially. The armed forces of our two countries conduct more joint exercises with each other than with any other country. Orders worth around $9 billion have been placed for defence equipment. Other major contracts are in the pipeline. None of these involved technology transfers. Even consultancy contracts involving dated American technologies were rejected. Reiterated expressions of intent on promoting defence industrial production, including joint R&D and co-development, remain unimplemented.

On the other hand, there is widespread angst amongst US and European suppliers about our defence off-set policies. We do not have integrated national procurement policies for our armed forces, paramilitary, defence research, defence production, ordinance and related needs, against which we could more effectively leverage technology transfers and facilitate economic scale of production by foreign and domestic private and public sector companies. We should subordinate ideological predilections to larger geo-strategic considerations, including on questions related to inter-operability with friendly armed forces. As the nuclear deal demonstrated, ideological and bureaucratic mindsets can be changed not through inter-agency consultations but by decisive political directives from the highest level.

Another strategic area of co- operation has been in counter- terrorism. There had been a steady improvement in our intelligence co-operation since 2007. There has been a major boost in recent years, particularly after 26/11, in operational co-operation, including in intelligence sharing.

A vitally important aspect of any healthy bilateral partnership is trade and economic links. The US remains our largest trading partner, with trade in goods and services currently totalling about $100 billion. The US also remains the largest investor in India, including through Mauritius. At the same time, Indian investments in the US were over $25 billion between 2005 and 2009. A top priority of our strategic partnership should be to impart greater economic content to our relationship.
India, until recently, had an unblemished record of honouring all international commitments. We were confronted by several challenges since our Independence by assassinations of our leaders, natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude, border conflicts, economic shocks and so on, but we met our obligations nonetheless. Unfortunately, this legacy has been severely damaged in the recent past. While India had rightly blamed US fickleness in retrospectively applying domestic legislation to abrogate the Indo-US Tarapur atomic agreement, India now requires the US to accept that our inter-governmental commitment to abide by the Vienna Convention on Supplementary Compensation will be subject to retroactive reconciliation with the liability law adopted subsequently by our Parliament.

Just as we resumed negotiations on an India-US bilateral investment treaty, a number of global investors from Germany, Mauritius, Norway, Russia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and so on initiated international arbitration proceedings and filed notices with our government citing violations of BITs. More such arbitration cases are under preparation. We need to address these issues and also adopt long-pending economic reforms without being mesmerized into inaction by lack of political consensus. Continued procrastination would seriously undermine our image as a global business destination and retard our economic growth. This, in turn, will have a major negative impact on our socio-economic development and our national security. We can no longer afford to pay such a heavy price on account of the so-called compulsions of coalition politics.

The author is the former ambassador to the US

1 comment:

subhash nair said...

Thanks for sharing i like it to read and share among my many frds.. keep going on..

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