India and the U.S. – strategic or symbolic partners?

June 10, 2010

With initial euphoria over last week’s U.S.-India talks on the wane, it may be time to take a long, hard look at what New  Delhi actually gained from the first official “strategic dialogue” between the two sides.

The flags of India and the United States are seen before a bilateral meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon during the Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit in Singapore June 4, 2010. REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/PoolThe timing was just right as Washington implements its AfPak plan, the correct gestures were made and U.S. officials went out of their way to convince the Indian media all was fine between the world’s two biggest democracies.

And while it is true that India-U.S. relations are now at their best, the June 2 talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna showed that though the two may have made progress on important but second-tier issues such as trade, agriculture and technology, there remains a disconnect on a strategic level.

Many in India seem worried the talks did not produce the deliverables New Delhi was looking for — even though President Obama has backed India’s $1.2 billion development initiatives in Afghanistan, Washington may not have been able to convince New Delhi it was balancing India’s interest in the war-torn country vital to its security.

Neither was there any talk of pushing Pakistan to go after the men India has persistently blamed for attacks on Indian cities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed.

Of course there are things the United States wants India to do: ratify the nuclear liability bill to open India’s $150 billion nuclear power market to American firms, scale down its public support for Iran, open up the economy and expedite the award of contracts for 126 fighter jets in which U.S. companies are a strong contender for the multi-billion deal.

Both sides have acknowledged the lingering doubts they have about each other. Clinton admitted to unresolved problems as India frets that the Obama administration does not accord it the importance it received under the preceding government of George Bush.

But the U.S. has sought to dispel those doubts, particularly keeping in mind Obama’s visit to India this fall.

Given the tentativeness in ties over strategic issues, one begins to wonder if the U.S. and India are the natural partners the two sides are seeking to be.

Will they be able to move away from mere symbolism to elevating their ties to strategic partners?

Will that be in the best interest of India which once propounded non-alignment and which has always sought warm ties with the Islamic world?


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To answer the last question first, the non-aligned policy was right at the time. I think everyone recognises, without openly admitting it, it is no longer useful in a today’s world.

Why should warm ties with Islamic countries, be a hindrance to US Indo ties? Don’t many Islamic countries themslves have close ties to the US? Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan has a working relationship, Afghanistan and Iraq all have bonds to the US. So it is difficult to understand where the writer is coming from on this point.

However, getting back to the main topic, I think after the Bhopal judgement and the skeletons now emerging, the US almost demanding that the Nuclear liability bill be cleared, is wishful thinking.

The question that really intrigues me is that in spite of India and the US being democracies and some say ideal partners, I personally feel that the US has now conclusive proved – time and time again – that it is not a reliable partner when it comes to Asian nations. It treats it relationships with the West and with Asian partners on totally different footings. It would be nice if India and the US could work in harmony but here again, its risky to bank on the US, unless it totally suits their interests. I dont trust the US to provide a firm partnership for developing nations.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

India continues to lag behind in the world politics, despite its claim to democracy. How many democracies are hanging on to a territory with military force whose people do not accept Indian’s jurisdictions over them. Is there a hope for self determination for Kashmiris in the Indian democracy? Indian democracy had an love affair with the communist Soviet Union and at the same time acquired the membership of the non aligned countries who by no means were democracies.
India has warm ties with the muslim states and military ties with Israel, the arch-enemy of the muslim States. Let us forget its relations with its neighbours who equally have the colonial past. India needs to undertakes structural changes in its domestic institutions as well as develop an independent foreign policy. There is a Seat reserved for India in the world arena but India on account of its domestic policies is very reluctant to claim this seat. The change in the world order is in motion, India needs to become a Nation which can contribute for the welfare of not only its own citizens but the rest of the people in the world.
My advice would be to get rid of the economist and elect a visionary Statesman. Does India have someone like the Chinese President or the Brasilian or even the Turkish equivalent to confront the imposter Obamas “yes We can” of this world. I am surec they have one and needs to come up front now and tell the world what the new Indian leader can do for the world.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive