Originally Published 2013-06-20 00:00:00 Published on Jun 20, 2013
Recently, in two special reports (ORF-Heritage Foundation and ORF-Center for American Progress) Indian and American scholars have come out with many suggestions to fast-track India-US relations. If the policy-makers at the Annual Strategic Dialogue take on board some of these recommendations, it will go a long way in re-energising the relationship.
Kerry-Khurshid dialogue: Time for hard decisions
John Kerry arrives in New Delhi on Sunday (June 23) for the fourth round of the Indo-US Annual Strategic Dialogue, starting on Monday. This is his maiden visit to India after taking over as Secretary of State. The Annual Strategic Dialogue, which is held alternately in India and the US, was instituted to evaluate progress, give policy guidance and suggest new areas of cooperation between the two countries. The dialogue this year comes at a time when there are widespread apprehensions on both sides that the relationship has not fulfilled its promise and that it has "plateaued."

Whilst the strategic convergence between New Delhi and Washington has been proclaimed, it is now time to take hard decisions and move forward. So it is vital that the Annual Strategic Dialogue looks into the details of the relationship, examine new areas of cooperation and reinvigorate cooperation in areas where there is already collaboration to propel the relationship to a new level. The forum will discuss the entire range of issues in Indo-US relations, bilateral as well as regional, reflecting the transformational change in the relationship.

As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the regional situation is fraught with uncertainties. Regional players like China, India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan will all be jockeying to protect and promote their own interests in this situation. As 2014 approaches, New Delhi and Washington should intensify their bilateral discussions and ensure some amount of coordination between their policies towards Afghanistan. This should not be difficult given that they share interests in Afghanistan such as a unified and territorially-integrated Afghanistan and an independent Afghan government. Both countries are also looking at making Afghanistan as a trade and transit hub for the region. The US needs to set aside its hesitations on the trilateral engagement initiated between India, Afghanistan and the United States. Also, as a recent ORF-Center for American Progress Report suggests, Washington and New Delhi should focus on three areas for deepening their partnership: pursuing a strengthened political consensus in Afghanistan; advancing economic and political integration in the region by helping to return Afghanistan and Pakistan to their historic roles as land bridges between the subcontinent and Central Asia and Persian Gulf; and supporting Afghan security forces, with India providing more financial assistance, training and support.

East Asia is another geopolitical sphere where India and the US share concerns about China’s rapid rise, its military modernisation and its assertiveness in the South China Sea. At the same time, they both understand the need to avoid provoking China into a confrontation. New Delhi and Washington both have stakes in their relationship with China. However, China cannot be allowed to have a veto on deepening the Indo-US relationship. India and the US need to strengthen bilateral security cooperation even while expanding engagement with China. Though the US ambassador to India has endorsed India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh, the US response to the Indo-China border standoff earlier this year was disappointing to say the least. The US needs to unequivocally support India’s territorial claims vis-à-vis China as this will discourage China from trying to change the status quo on the border.

A recent ORF-Heritage Report recommends that the two countries should facilitate one another’s involvement in regional trade discussions; while the US should help India help achieve observer status in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and membership of APEC, India should help the US gain observer status in the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. India and the US should also look at ways to more closely coordinate policies with ASEAN and Southeast Asian nations. The US should help India to develop new trade routes, particularly to Burma, thus increasing India’s connectivity with Southeast Asia. The proposed Indo-Pacific corridor is a good step in this direction.

Both India and the US have intersecting interests in preventing nuclear proliferation and therefore need to coordinate their policies more closely in this sphere. The ORF-Heritage Report proposes that the US incorporate India into diplomatic efforts to address Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats and increase cooperation against nuclear terrorism. A contact group on nuclear non-proliferation which could explore ways to strength the international non-proliferation architecture and deal with the challenges to multilateral arms control negotiations could fulfil the need for periodic conversation to address the perceptional differences between technocrats, scientists, the bureaucracy and the political leadership. Another way to boost cooperation would be to create a joint training centre on nuclear safety to train security forces from developing countries in preventing nuclear accidents or catastrophes. A joint study group which could explore the challenges of sustaining nuclear deterrence amidst unfolding space and cyberspace developments might also be a good idea.

Cooperation in counter-terrorism has been a key element in Indo-US cooperation. However, cooperation has been impeded by India’s misgivings about the US’ over-eagerness to accommodate Pakistani demands and its unwillingness or inability to penalise Pakistan for its continued support to terrorism. America’s handling of the David Headley case also disappointed India. The ORF-Heritage Report suggests that India and the US should expand participation in Indo-US engagements on terrorism at the dialogue as well as training level while increasing cooperation between the intelligence agencies of both countries. Both countries must initiate fora where mid-level officers can benefit from the dialogue as well as from training courses conducted in and outside India, enhancing the level of engagement and helping to remove scepticism on the part of Indian and American officials about each other’s intentions and capabilities. The corporate sector should also be integrated into counterterrorism cooperation.

Indo-US defence relations have come a long way since the 1990s. But defence trade has been impeded by India’s insistence on transfer of technology and the US’ assertion that India sign agreements such as the CISMOA and LSA before such technology can be transferred. So New Delhi and Washington need to find the middle ground for protecting sensitive American technology and equipment which would permit deeper defence trade between the two nations. The ORF-Heritage Report recommends that the US help build India’s capacity to monitor and protect maritime routes in the Indian Ocean and beyond and along with Australia and Japan, take the lead in developing a code for the high seas. At the same time, India and the US should recognize limits to the defence partnership and focus on flexible arrangements that improve policy coordination.

To strengthen bilateral economic cooperation, India should move forward with economic reforms that remove trade and legal obstacles to American agriculture and pharmaceuticals. India should look at strengthening enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, increasingly a key concern for the US. The ORF-Heritage Report says that Washington needs to go back to earlier liberal policies regarding Indian services, trade and labour movement. India and the US should negotiate a Bilateral Investment Treaty and encourage their states to invest in the trade relationship. India and the US need to put in renewed efforts for an FTA.

Another area where cooperation can be strengthened is clean energy. Given India’s burgeoning energy needs and the shale gas revolution in the US, Washington should explore the possibility of exporting LNG to India to provide India with a reliable and clean source of energy while reducing India’s dependence on energy imports from West Asia. This is important for India in the light of estimates suggesting that India will require about 8 tcf of natural gas every year by 2030. Exporting LNG to India has become easier for the US now that the US Department of Energy has changed its laws to allow LNG exports to countries which do not have an FTA with the US. The US should also invest in the energy sector in India and transfer energy technologies to India. On its part, India needs to remove the restrictions on imports of electric power equipment and the US should invest in joint ventures with India on solar energy.

If the policy-makers at the Annual Strategic Dialogue take on board some of these recommendations, it will go a long way in re-energising the relationship and winning over the sceptics in both countries. This will help towards making the Indo-US a "partnership for the next generation". A reinvigorated Indo-US relationship is in the interest of both countries. It will further send a clear signal to the regional and international community at large that the two largest democracies in the world are serious about their relationship and are ready to tackle common challenges together.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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