Two important developments coincide to make the ongoing three-day Indo-US strategic dialogue, which started yesterday in Washington, important. Many believe that the week will be a defining moment in the Indo-US bilateral relationship.
First, US President Barack Obama unveiled his national security strategy on May 26. At its heart, his administration intends to tackle America’s national security challenges through collaborative leadership with allies around the world including India. Second, officials from the two sides are already meeting this week for their second Strategic Dialogue — the first one was launched in Delhi in July 2009. That first meeting set a positive tone, this second round is unarguably far more important. If successful, it will chart a course to resolve certain tough bilateral and global issues with far-reaching consequences.
Twenty years ago, it was difficult to even dream that these two nations would be where they’re today. In 1990, the two democracies were seemingly at odds over just about everything. Today, the power asymmetry of the past is giving way to a more balanced partnership. While making a tough headway, Washington is realising, as Obama’s new strategy attests, that finding lasting national security solutions depends on joining forces with allies. India, the struggling giant, is generating impressive and sustained economic gains and is raising its global stature both as the world’s largest democracy and as a responsible player on the international stage.
Could it be that today the two governments have recognised that there is immense benefit in working together to address various strategic challenges they share? If so, it hasn’t come too soon. The urgency has never been greater. The stakes are already high.
The issues are compelling. First, they must intensify joint efforts to combat terrorism. The cooperation between the two nations post-26/11 Mumbai attacks needs to go beyond its initial phase. Next, there is the unfinished business of India as a full-fledged member of the world’s nuclear club. No longer a nuclear outcast, Delhi now has a bigger role to play as it assumes its new obligations. India conducted itself well as a non-proliferating nuclear power outside the NPT community. It now needs to demonstrate with its new partners that non-proliferation is a central tenet of its own nuclear and external affairs posture. Events in Iran and North Korea only remind that nuclear threats to world peace are growing.
Third, working together, Delhi and Washington can advance significantly to tackle threats to our environment. Both governments recognise that the challenge posed by climate change demand collective action — going-it-alone strategies could prove disastrous. Finally, there is a lot to be done on the economic front. These two world powers, at odds for the last eight years of the Doha Round, need to put their heads together to find workable solutions to revamp the world’s trading system. Both talk about facilitating trade and investment while ensuring fairness. But the world system cannot move forward until the two hammer out their differences. Stifling export controls in the US, prohibitive high duties in India and myopic trade-damaging agricultural policies in both countries continue to slow growth and skew investment flows. Scientific collaboration, energy cooperation, and education deserve real attention, too. But Washington and Delhi need to ensure that the ongoing meetings are the beginning of a new productive relationship built on the recent success to get India into the nuclear club, not a return to the one characterised by stalemate.
Douglas Hartwick was Assistant, United States Trade Representative for South Asia 2006-07
The views expressed by the author are personal