Buttressing U.S. – India Relations

Defence
For too long, the U.S. has been going from crisis to crisis: Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because India is a large, stable democracy, there is sometimes a sense that the U.S. can buttress relations with India, later, after the “crisis of the moment” is over. That’s not good enough. We need a broad-based partnership that should be viewed and built in the context of U.S.-Asia Pacific relations. Why?

According to the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), “There are few regions as culturally, socially, economically, and geopolitically diverse as the Asia-Pacific. The 36 nations comprising the Asia-Pacific region are home to more than 50% of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world’s largest militaries, and five nations allied with the U.S. through mutual defense treaties. Two of the three [now top three] largest economies are located in the Asia-Pacific, along with ten of the fourteen smallest. The [Asia-Pacific region] includes the most populous nation in the world, the largest democracy, and the largest Muslim-majority nation. More than one-third of Asia-Pacific nations are smaller, island nations, including the smallest republic in the world and the smallest nation in Asia…. The region is a vital driver of the global economy and includes the world’s busiest international sea lanes and nine of the ten largest ports. The Asia-Pacific is also a heavily militarized region…. Given these conditions, the strategic complexity facing the region is unique.”

“Unique” is an understatement, which is why we need to deepen U.S.-India relations in a more thoughtful way. While protection of intellectual copyright, human rights, religious freedom, high tariff rates and localization barriers are very important, Congress should not use these issues to divide us. The U.S. and India have shared interests, and our shared interests should take center stage – at home and abroad. Whatever differences there are between us, India is the world’s largest democracy. America is the oldest. Democracy ought to be the glue that forges us. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The same can be said of the U.S.-India relationship. No one pretends that it is perfect. But it just might exceed our expectations if we reshape our thoughts and actions. And so, in a new series of postings, this blog will put forth step-by-step ways about how we can buttress our relationship beyond security-related posturing, though security is and should be an essential component of our partnership. So should a U.S.-India Investment treaty and sensible dialogue on people mobility. Our partnership has the potential to influence regional and global policy-making, and it’s high-time we make a hard push for a special relationship between the U.S. and India.

US Passes Defence Budget- A new step towards stronger India ties

DefenceAs both the United States and India look forward to strengthening their defense partnership, the recent passage of the American defense budget is a clear step in the right direction. Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA), one of the five Indian-American members of Congress, attached an amendment to the budget that addresses the strategic alliance between the two nations. While the amendment does not specifically allocate any of the defense budget, which totals over $621 billion, it does set a 180 day deadline for the development of a strategy that will advance the U.S.-India defense partnership. The amendment requires that the Department of Defense and the Department of State work together to form this strategy. The passage of this amendment is a concrete action by Congress that shows that representatives value strong bilateral relations with India and recognize the mutually beneficial nature of the relationship.

Furthermore, the addition of this amendment displays the importance of Indian-American representation in Congress. Indian-American representatives that advocate for the community, like Congressman Bera, help ensure that the needs of Indian-Americans are properly represented and that the community remains visible to the American population as a whole. As the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) moves to the Senate, it is exciting that Senator Kamala Harris, the first Indian-American senator, will be able to represent the Indian-American community, as well.

Ultimately, the United States-India defense partnership is key to maintaining geopolitical stability in Asia and across the entire world. Especially after the successful visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House in late June, it is integral that bilateral relations progress at a swift pace. Fortunately, there are many indicators U.S. government seems to be enthusiastically working with India to accomplish this task. On July 14th, the U.S Department of Defense published an article titled “U.S.-India Defense Relationship on Positive Trajectory, DoD Official Says,” which discusses the recent selling of both manned and unmanned American aircraft to India. Additionally, the article highlights the productive meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Prime Minister Modi. All in all, the increased focus on the relationship between the United States and India over the last month demonstrates that the American public views India as a critical ally, and that both nations are excited to advance their partnership.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Modi-Trump Meeting

MT2PM Modi is arriving in Washington, D.C. on June 25 for his first face-to-face meeting with President Trump. There is some concern over how this meeting will go given the fact that Trump singled out India and China’s environmental practices as one of the reasons for exiting the Paris Climate Change Accord. He also has had his ups and downs with foreign leaders. My sense is that Modi and Trump will get along fine. Modi built a strong relationship with President Obama despite the administration banning him from visiting the U.S. when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Modi is a pragmatist and decided to move forward versus holding a grudge. Expectations are that he will apply the same pragmatism during his upcoming visit.

Following are my top five suggestions for PM Modi as he embarks on fostering a good relationship with President Trump:

Talk about defense contracts: India is a top buyer of U.S. defense equipment so engage the President on past and future deals. Recall how the arms deal with Saudi Arabia was considered a big win.

  1. Offer assistance to reduce prescription drug costs in the U.S.: India is a low cost provider of generic medicine to the U.S. This puts India in a good spot to encourage more deals that reduce cost given Trump’s focus on healthcare policy.
  2. Point out that Indian companies have contributed to jobs in U.S.: Discuss how Infosys and other companies have recently created 10,000 jobs here. Remember it’s all about jobs, jobs and more jobs!
  3. Do not bring up H1b: President Trump was elected on the premise of offering Americans available jobs before those on a visa. Domestic politics usually takes precedent over geopolitical considerations.
  4. Do not bring up the Climate Change Agreement: Trump is not going to change his mind about exiting the Paris Climate Accord anyway. It’s a done deal and a promise he made during the campaign.

Modi’s visit is supposed to be low key but can be leveraged nicely as he’ll see President Trump again soon at the G20 Summit. Best wishes for a good dialogue!

 

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