Sunday, November 21, 2010

The US-Indian Talk: A Rollback from Apologist Diplomacy?

Shortly after the loss in the midterm election, President Obama left for a ten day trip to Asia. Among big events including G20 in Seoul and APEC in Yokohama, bilateral talks with India is the most important because actual and concrete strategic issues were discussed, unlike nebulous and gigantic multilateral shows of G20 and APEC.

In addition to the rising market, India is a key country in security issues such as the Af-Pak problem and non-proliferation. Also, the trilateral power game among the United States, China, and India is an issue not to be dismissed. Prior to the bilateral talk from November 6 to 8, Senator John McCain gave a lecture on US-India relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on November 5. See the Video below.

Throughout the speech, McCain emphasized common democratic values between the Unites States and India, which are the key to develop further strategic partnership. India is not only a prospective emerging market for the United States. The Af-Pak problem is a critical issue for both countries. Senator McCain said that if the United States withdrew from Afghanistan prematurely, India would regard it as reluctance to deep commitment in the War on Terror. This is a critical point, because Bob Woodward says that President Barack Obama is psychologically out of Afghanistan, in his book “Obama’s Wars”. Actually, Obama showed the timetable for withdrawal from the Afghan frontline by 2014 at NATO summit in Lisbon (“Lisbon: NATO leaders endorse Afghanistan 2014 withdrawal date”; Daily Telegraph; 20 November, 2010).

Quite interestingly, McCain said that the US-Indian axis of democracy would advance liberty in Burma and Iran. In terms of geography, India is located between East Asia and the Middle East. The strategic partnership is beyond the Af-Pak security. India is developing naval cooperation with the United States, Australia, and other Asia-Pacific democracies. A hinge of eastern and western Eurasia, India is the key spot to coordinate trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific strategies of the United States. The problem is, the Obama administration is still somewhat shy of trumpeting America’s championship in global democracy. Therefore, the US-Indian partnership for regime change in Iran and Burma is likely to be a blueprint for the future.

Regarding the peaceful rise of China, though McCain talked implicitly of Indian counterbalance, he was cautious of making critical remarks on this country. McCain may have given consideration to business interests. However, he said that the US-Indian strategic partnership would be helpful to make China a “responsible power”.

On the other hand, George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the US-Indian relationship needs sustainable development without relying on “amphetamine” deals such as the Indo-US nuclear agreement by the Bush administration. See the video of an interview on November 4 below.

Particularly, liberals are concerned that the nuclear deal with a non-NPT member is contradictory to US national interest of non-proliferation. In addition, they worry that verification for nuclear facilities in India is only for US built ones, and other nuclear sites are out of touch. Therefore, liberals think this agreement will provoke nuclear arms race in the Indian subcontinent and around the world. However, liberals agree that strategic partnership with India is a vital national interest for the United States in view of the War on Terror and export market. As a centrist, Perkovich agrees with McCain’s view of common democracy values between the United States and India.

Regarding the Indo-Chinese geopolitical rivalries, Perkovich argues that the United States not make use of it. For India, China is a less important security concerns than the Af-Pak turmoil, Pakistani nuclear threats, and Islamic terrorists, he says. Historically, threats to India came from the Khyber Pass, rather than Himalaya Mountains. As Perkovich says, we should rather not expect Indian counterbalance against China too much.

At the meeting in New Delhi, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached a crucial agreement on a wide range of issues. As the most leftist senator, Obama was critical to the bilateral deal under the Bush administration. However, as the president, Obama is keen to pioneer the market for American business, and expand investment in India. In security, Af-Pak, piracy, non-proliferation, counter terrorism, and bilateral defense cooperation are discussed. Both leaders agreed to develop bilateral partnership on new issues, such as the Evergreen Revolution and cyberspace security. The former is very Obamanian. It seems that this is a part of Obama’s Green New Deal, which has not made sufficient progress in the first half of the presidential term (“White House issues fact sheets on Obama's India visit”; Hindustan Times; November 9, 2010).

From Indian point of view, the latest joint statement with the United States is a breakthrough to join multilateral export control regimes of WMDs. S. Samuel C. Rajiv, Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, says that the US-Indian joint statement on November 8 will pave the way for Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which will ultimately lead to India to join NPT and help India’s bid for a permanent member seat at UN Security Council, along with Germany and Japan. Obama is advancing his predecessor’s pursuit: deepening nuclear business with India, while accommodating this country into a US-led non-proliferation regime (“India’s Accommodation in Multi-lateral Export Control Regimes”; ISDA Comments; November 10, 2010).

The strategic partnership with India is a bipartisan national interest to the United States. For India, this will help boost its standpoint in global strategic bargaining. The bilateral deal by the Bush administration may have been controversial, but current administration could not develop the partnership furthermore without “amphetamine”. India is the first country that Obama visited after the midterm elections. Is this the first step to bring US foreign policy back to the normalcy as Robert Kagan argues, from apologetic diplomacy in the first two years?