M A I N   N E W S

Special to the tribune
Take a new leap, Obama advised
No vision or strategy in Indo-US partnership, say concerned experts
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC

Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to India next month, a new report acknowledges a fear prevalent among many prominent Indians and Americans that a rapid expansion of the US-India relationship has “stalled” and recommends a “bold leap forward.”

“Past projects remain incomplete, few new ideas have been embraced by both sides, and the forward momentum that characterised recent cooperation has subsided,” says Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in its report “Natural Allies: A Blueprint for the Future of US-India Relations.”

The report, whose authors include R Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary who played a key role in shepherding the civilian nuclear deal with India during the George W. Bush administration, is critical of legislation recently passed by Parliament that holds suppliers liable in the event of a nuclear accident. The report contends that the legislation “deviates significantly from international standards.” The authors describe the law as a “major disappointment to private and public officials in the United States, and India should take quick and resolute action to resolve this issue.” The report warns that a failure to do so will undermine the most important agreement the two countries have negotiated and pose grave risks for the relationship at the political level.

Richard L. Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state; and Richard Fontaine, a senior CNAS fellow and former foreign policy adviser to Republican Senator John McCain, are the other two authors of the report, which is to be released on Monday.

They say the Obama administration has taken significant steps to break through the “inertia” that has set into the bilateral relationship. The report sites as examples of these steps the US-India strategic dialogue that took place in Washington this spring and Obama’s upcoming visit to India. “Yet there remains a sense among observers in both countries that this critical relationship is falling short of its promise,” it adds.

The report says it is critical to rejuvenate the relationship and put US ties with India on a more solid foundation. “The United States should establish a vision for what it seeks in the relationship and give concrete meaning to the phrase ‘strategic partnership,’” it recommends.

Some suggestions to invigorate US-India ties include:

1) The US must commit, publicly and explicitly, to work with India in support of its permanent membership in an enlarged United Nations Security Council;

2) The US should liberalise its export controls, including the removal of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) subsidiaries from the US Entity List. (Changes to US export control regulations would demonstrate a degree of mutual trust commensurate with the ambitious goals of the strategic relationship, the report’s authors write.)

3) A broad expansion of bilateral trade and investment, starting with a Bilateral Investment Treaty.

4) A greatly expanded security relationship and boosted defence trade.

5) The US support for Indian membership in key export control organisations would be a step towards integrating India into global nonproliferation efforts.

It also recommends that the US stop calling for India to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear state.

The onus is not entirely on the US. India, too, would be required to make a number of commitments and policy changes. These include taking rapid action to fully implement the civil nuclear agreement; raising its caps on foreign investment; reducing barriers to defence and other forms of trade; enhancing its rules for protecting patents and other intellectual property; further harmonising its export control lists with multilateral regimes; and seeking closer cooperation with the United States and like-minded partners in international organisations, including the United Nations.

Noting that India’s rise to global power is in America’s strategic interest, the report’s authors say the US should actively assist India’s emergence as a great power. They dismiss the notion that either the US or India seeks containment of China, but say growing US-India strategic ties will ensure that Asia will not have a vacuum of power and will make it easier for both Washington and New Delhi to have productive relations with Beijing.

Other areas of cooperation recommended in the report include counterterrorism; defence trade; regional issues (Pakistan and Afghanistan), liberalisation of the H-1B visa regime and climate change.





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