Originally Published 2013-07-12 09:30:41 Published on Jul 12, 2013
It is time for the India-US security partnership to be more than a Voldemort -that whose name shall not be spoken. India is capable enough to secure its interests within such a partnership. The trade relationship will always be contentious, that much is clear.
US-India ties: 'Yada, yada' way of glossing over
In an episode of the iconic US sitcom, Seinfeld, the characters take to using the phrase 'Yada, Yada' to gloss over the details of any story. "Are you close with your parents", asks a girlfriend of the neurotic George Costanza. He replies: "Well, they gave birth to me, and Yada, Yada, Yada." George later exults: "I'm loving this Yada, Yada thing. I can gloss over my whole life story." The US-India Strategic Dialogue ended with plenty of good statements and affirmations. The Joint Statement by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and US Secretary of State John Kerry was long on shared interests and potential. Indeed, the Dialogue itself was feted for the dizzying number of issues discussed, from clean energy and Space to education. The breadth of topics discussed has itself become a de rigueur measure of the health of the relationship between the two countries. The statement didn't, however, fill in many of the details. If Seinfeld were telling the story, it would sound something like this: "The US and India met. They talked. Yada, Yada Yada, they have a strategic relationship." Bilateral disagreements have recently become more prominent, or at least as much so, as the agreements. A hundred and seventy Members of Congress wrote to the White House asking Mr Kerry to raise with India, US concerns about intellectual property protections, investment rules and preferential market access. That so many Congressman (the India Caucus in the House has 200 members) signed onto a strongly worded letter critical of India is ample sign that the bipartisan support for India, which New Delhi has counted on, cannot be taken for granted on every issue. Also, India itself has serious concerns on issues such as restrictions on the movement of skilled labour. Economic and trade divergence won't be solved easily. Further, the post-US-withdrawal state of Afghanistan is of immediate import to a security relationship which, while getting stronger, is still weighed down by the baggage of Cold War history. What both sides have been able to do so far is to manage these disagreements in the context of a superstructure of strategic congruence. That both have shared long-term interests in Asia is not in doubt. But, if their economic and trade relationship is problematic, and their security relationship is slow to mutually acceptable congruence, what is truly 'strategic' at the moment between India and the US? Do not forget that in the absence of convergence on security issues, the divergences, which are many, are easy to amplify. Areas of convergence like education and Space are interesting and impactful, no doubt. But, whether they are strategic, or in fact need a 'strategic relationship' to prosper, is questionable. If the Yada, Yada of the strategic relationship has to be filled in, it is the security leg that will define it. What would this security convergence look like? Even without putting in place a priori agreements, it is possible to envision a relationship where the militaries from both countries work on Tactics, Techniques and Procedures to collaborate upon and where India can ask for assistance in building the capabilities and technologies it needs to service its own independently evolving regional security needs. At first blush, this security relationship is growing. India has agreed to buy nine billion dollars worth of defence equipment, and the C-130J, the P-8I and the C-17 have arrived or started arriving in India on schedule and on budget. But, a true security convergence would mean more than just a bazaari buyer-seller relationship. Both sides agree on many long-term Asian security issues, so the fundamentals of deeper co-operation do exist. The US Defence Technology Initiative aims to help move this relationship into a more collaborative mode of co-production and co-development to meet these threats and help build Indian industrial capability by reforming the US's own procedures on technology release. Some observers have been critical of the DTI for not delivering enough yet -with good reason. However, India must also realise that change in Washington, DC's contentious inter-agency process doesn't occur in a vacuum. 'What does India need' is a common refrain in Washington. As the 'Asian Rebalance' takes hold, New Delhi could help construct the strategic and economic rationale for the US to work with India on the more advanced capabilities it seeks. New Delhi can, and should, think 'strategically'. Some possibilities include collaboration on maritime domain awareness. It is time for the India-US security partnership to be more than a Voldemort -that whose name shall not be spoken. India is capable enough to secure its interests within such a partnership. The trade relationship will always be contentious, that much is clear. A stronger security relationship can help moderate these differences. And, perhaps fill in the Yada, Yada. (The writer is a Visiting Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi) Courtesy : The Pioneer, July 10, 2013  
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