Event ReportsPublished on Dec 12, 2013
During the India-US Strategic Dialogue 2013, it was felt that it is essential for both the countries' interest, and that of the world at large, that there is stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this stability can be ensured only through dismantling of terrorist outfits and strengthening of democratic institutions.
India-US Strategic Dialogue 2013: India, US on the same page on rising Chinese might

The annual United States-India Strategic Dialogue, jointly organised by Observer Research Foundation and Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey (NPS), was held in New Delhi on 12-13 December, 2013. This conference brings together academics and retired foreign policy practitioners from both India and the US in a Track II dialogue. This is the eighth such dialogue by the NPS with Indian institutions and the fourth with ORF. The dialogue seeks to facilitate deeper understanding of emerging issues of security, trade ties and cooperation between the two nations. The themes of the conference this year were: 1) The Overall State of India-U.S. Relations; 2) Indian/Pacific Ocean Security and the U.S. Rebalance to Asia; 3) Asian Nuclear Environment; 4) Common Goals and Threats in Cybersecurity; and 5) India’s Regional Security Challenges.

The two-day conclave began with assessing the current state of India- US bilateral relationship which has progressed from breathless anticipation to dedicated long term involvement. This transformation can be attributed to the efforts India made on its part to accommodate US efforts in the middle- east during the 1990’s. However, the new-found collaboration suffered some setbacks with India conducting a series of nuclear bomb test explosions in 1998 and the subsequent sanctions placed on India by the USA. But since then, the bilateral relationship has moved in the right direction and has gone from strength to strength. Yet it still remains highly asymmetric. The agenda for cooperation between the two countries is broad but not energetically addressed, and it is necessary for both sides to be willing to actively pursue each other.

The discussions progressed to focused areas of bilateral interests such as technology transfer, defence partnership, regional issues and cyber security. There are various cultural and domestic impediments to the relationship and they need to be overcome by identifying the gaps and cooperating on strategies to fix such fault-lines. India and the USA have dissimilar endowments which can be used for innovation for low cost products. Indian military establishment needs to reassert its demand for technology transfer from the USA. The two countries should also conduct more military exercises while not looking at such exercises as a zero sum game but to identify and clearly enunciate self- interests and work jointly on them. In the nuclear energy sector, India has received immense support from the USA for developing its nuclear capacity. However, the access to nuclear energy is not limited to only stable- responsible states. This rise in nuclear capabilities of various countries, especially in Asia, has put the region in a vulnerable position creating problems of long term stability in the region.

The nature of the regional challenges that India faces were also examined.These challenges begin with existential threat from the Chinese and Pakistani nuclear weapons’ programme, followed by lower order military threats from non-state actors, trans-border insurgency and narcotics trafficking, migration, issues relating to water flow and ecological issues emerging from climate change.

It was felt that India and the USA both have some congruence over the changing security architecture in South Asia. It is essential for both the countries’ interest and that of the world at large, that there is stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan; this stability can only be ensured through dismantling of terrorist outfits and strengthening of democratic institutions in these two countries.

On the issue of the rising Chinese might in Asia, the two countries are on the same footing. With China’s assertion of sovereign air space in the East China Sea, Indian and American energy interests in the region have been hit by the looming Chinese presence. But the inequality between China and India in terms of economic might and military power makes it difficult for India to engage China in diplomatic maneouvres. Thus, it is imperative that USA increases its security efforts in the region without causing affront to Chinese power. There is a need to ensure that PRC confirms to the rules of regional security and not shape them to its advantage. Towards this, the US policy seems to be not of containment of China rather engage and hedge while continuing the strategic dialogue with the PRC. Such engagement is likely to create stronger economic links, making future escalation in hostilities an unlikely scenario. In this scheme of things, USA sees India as a ’lynchpin’ in its strategy in Asia; however, this labeling has met with significant ambivalence as India is not keen on doing anybody’s bidding and seeks an equal role in such strategic efforts. Hence, it is necessary for India to develop its security apparatus and economy in order to provide balance of power in the Asia, restoring its regional primacy not by fiat rather through extended cooperation.

Deliberations on cyber security were also undertaken during the strategic dialogue. Cyber space has provided people a platform to access and share information in a revolutionary manner. However, the laws are yet to catch up with this scientific innovation. With the lack of regulation and responsible use, the internet might unwittingly contribute to deepening of security threats across the world. Use of internet technology is vital for the military and information technology revolution has significantly contributed to the powering of entire military set-up in both United States and India. However, lack of institutional partnership between Indian and American security establishments can undo any joint intelligence efforts the two nations might undertake. In India, there is a tendency to keep internet governance state to state, i.e., Indian government speaking to USA on issues of cyber sovereignty and other controls without any inputs of various stakeholders involved in India. USA has also complicated the cyber security framework by coming up with the concept of extended sovereignty. This has led to a situation where there is no universal consensus on definition of sovereignty.

Various panelists agreed that the relationship seems to have plateaued in the recent years. So there is a need for continuous effort on both sides to restore comfort levels and assess the culture-effect on joint outcomes in order to see whether it is an independent causal force or an artifact causing sub optimal cooperation between the two countries.

The dialogue concluded with reiteration of the need to continue working on the commonalities, mitigate challenges jointly, coordinate on global and regional issues, managing domestic dynamics for fruitful bilateral relationships, and cultivating a habit of cooperation which goes beyond segmented dialogue.

Various distinguished speakers, including the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, sought to examine a range of issues from the point of view of US-India strategic ties. The annual dialogue was chaired by Mr. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Senior Fellow at ORF, and Professor S. Paul Kapur of the NPS. Among the prominent participants were Amb. (Retd.) Alok Prasad, Amb (Retd.) Jayant Prasad, Amb (Retd.) G Parthasarathy, Amb (Retd.) Arundhati Ghose, Dr. C Raja Mohan, Prof. Sumit Ganguly, Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan, Dr. Sanjaya Baru, Dr. Bharat Karnad, Prof. James Wirtz, Prof. Dinshaw Mistry and Comm. Uday Bhaskar.

(This report is prepared by Nivedita Parashar, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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