FPI Bulletin: U.S. Should Use High-Level Summit to Reinvigorate India Partnership

July 19, 2011

- Download a copy of this Bulletin in PDF format

From FPI Policy Analyst Patrick Christy

Less than a week after the July 13th terror bombing in Mumbai, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna in New Delhi today to begin the second U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue.  Clinton rightly reaffirmed U.S. and Indian efforts to combat the ongoing threat posed by terrorism, noting:  “We are allies in the fight against violent extremist networks, and homeland security is a high priority and a source of increasing partnership.”  Indeed, Clinton’s two-day visit gives the United States and India an important opportunity not only to enhance counterterrorism ties, but also to begin the renewal and reinvigoration of their partnership on a wide range of strategic issues

Growing Counterterrorism Cooperation

Coming nearly three years after gunmen killed 174 innocent civilians in November 2008, the recent coordinated bombings in Mumbai claimed the lives of nearly two dozen people, and injured scores.  For the world’s two largest democracies, those tragic attacks are a reminder that free and prosperous nations still face threats from extremists.

In November 2010, President Obama stood before the Indian Parliament and rightly proclaimed, “Strong and resilient societies … refuse to live in fear.”  In the face of the dangers posed by violent extremism, Obama stressed that the United States and India should neither “sacrifice the values and rule of law that defines us” nor ever “waver in the defense of our people.”

In the aftermath of the recent Mumbai bombings, America’s message to India has not changed.  President Obama offered full cooperation and support to “bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.”  Accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, Secretary Clinton rightly noted in New Delhi that this week’s meeting should further build upon collaborative efforts to improve India’s national and homeland security.  Indeed, Indo-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation has shown itself to be a robust area for continuing bilateral engagement.

Expanding Strategic Engagement

Yet counterterrorism cooperation is only one area in which Indo-U.S. ties have thickened.  In 2000, Bill Clinton became the first sitting U.S. President to visit India since 1978.  Over the following eight years, President Bush made improved relations with New Delhi a priority.  As a result, the United States and India have inked a landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement, broadened bilateral relations, and expanded security cooperation and defense trade.  Most notably, free flows of trade and investment reached unprecedented levels.  By 2008, total bilateral trade surpassed $43.4 billion, up from just $14 billion in 2000.

No doubt, U.S.-Indian relations have truly begun to mature over the past decade.  Lately, however, fatigue has replaced optimism in many circles of Washington.  In particular, U.S. policymakers and lawmakers were perplexed by India’s delayed reaction to the Arab Spring and its decision to abstain at the United Nations over Libya.  Moreover, some big ticket commercial contracts have failed to materialize in America’s favor.  And New Delhi must still work through complicated domestic legal issues so it can start buying American nuclear power reactors and reap the full benefits of the landmark Indo-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

But despite temporary setbacks and momentary disappointments, the U.S.-Indian strategic partnership remains strong.  Bilateral trade and investments are growing in wide-ranging sectors like biotechnology, energy and infrastructure.  India recently signed its biggest defense deal with the United States so far—a $4.1 billion contract to procure ten C-17 airlift aircrafts.  And internationally, both countries are continuing to work on a multitude of security issues including Afghanistan, China, and Iran.

Conclusion:  Push the U.S.-Indian Strategic Partnership Forward

This week’s Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue provides a springboard for further actions that strengthen bilateral ties.  No doubt, Washington and New Delhi will face tests from time to time—but that is the nature of special relationships internationally.  In the long term, however, the fundamentals remain strong.  Both nations are bound together by increasingly shared values.  Both democracies face threats of extremist terror.  And both countries stand to reap great benefits from further cooperation.  It is therefore high time for the Obama administration to push this important strategic partnership forward.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More