The Future of the U.S.-India Partnership

The Future of the U.S.-India Partnership

Are the recent complications in the U.S.-India nuclear deal symptomatic of a wider rift? On Wednesday, two experts argued that both Washington and New Delhi have a vital interest in working together.

In the upcoming Nov./Dec. issue of The National Interest, Karl Inderfurth and Bruce Riedel lay out what needs to happen to take the U.S.-India relationship to the "next stage"-the emergence of a de facto alliance between the United States and India that can reshape the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. Inderfurth is the John O. Rankin Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He served as assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs at the State Department from 1997-2001. Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He served as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council from 1997-2001. On October 17, the Elliott School of International Affairs hosted the event "Breaking More Naan with Delhi" where the two experts gave a preview of their article-a timely presentation given concerns that the landmark U.S.-India nuclear deal is in trouble.

The lure of the Indian marketplace is undeniable. Over a billion people live in India-a sixth of the world-and more than half are under 25 years old. A quarter of the population belongs to the growing middle class. According to Inderfurth and Riedel, close to five million new subscribers sign up for cellphone service in India every month. The world's largest democracy also boasts the third largest economy in the world (in terms of purchasing power parity), which has grown by 9 and 9.4 percent in the last two fiscal years. The nation demonstrates tremendous potential for continued growth.

The importance of cultivating the U.S. relationship with India has substantially increased over the past decade. In 2000, Bill Clinton became the first president in over two decades to visit India. In 2001, Clinton declared that the course of the 21st century would be shaped by what happens in India, according to India Abroad. Expanding upon Clinton's efforts, George W. Bush made India a foreign-policy priority early on in his term-enacting substantial agreements on nuclear power, trade, science and agriculture. When the president visited India in 2006, he deemed the relationship "never better." Bush also recognized the importance of the rising power as a strategic ally and set an ambitious agenda that encompassed a wide variety of issues, ranging from public health initiatives to assisting countries transitioning to democracy.

The experts recommended utilizing soft-power strategies in cementing the U.S.-India relationship. Inderfurth suggested increasing the number of educational exchanges, particularly since Indian exchange students in the United States top the charts at 80,000 per year-more than any other country. Yet, the United States lags in taking advantage of India's higher-education system-even the world-renowned information technology programs. Cultivating awareness in both countries is essential for integrating the two world powers-one established, one rising. As Riedel puts it: "[We must] ensure that Americans understand that [India] is not a fleeting interest."

Regardless of the changes in foreign policy by the next U.S. administration, Riedel and Inderfurth stressed that U.S. policy toward India should continue down a bipartisan path-"the Policy Continuity Plus agenda." They stressed the importance of sustaining positive polices, while also enacting new ones that foster further cooperation and deepen ties. According to Riedel, "there is no more important partner than India" to confront the issues that matter most to Americans. Riedel noted that these important issues include: fighting terrorism, dealing with nuclear proliferation, promoting democracy, strengthening the economy, procuring energy and combating global warming. Inderfurth echoed this belief: "India will be one of the most important strategic allies as time progresses." In a notable example, Riedel lamented the U.S. decision to not enlist India's help in Afghanistan. He recommended forming a relationship between India and NATO based on "key democracies enhancing international security." Similarly, in pursuing its relationship with India the United States must deliberately "de-hyphen" India and Pakistan and pursue the alliance without connecting India to Pakistan.

Although both Inderfurth and Riedel rejected the notion that an alliance with India is motivated by China's rising influence, they acknowledged that "it would not be good for Asia to be dominated by one power." Inderfurth elaborated that "the task for all three [countries] is to manage ties as a cooperative, not a competitive triangle." He purported that the key to such a healthy relationship is to be transparent about the nature of each country's relationship and collaborations. The experts proposed expanding the G-8 to include India and China while also maneuvering for a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council. Both of these moves would help India become a greater world power and, consequently, a strong U.S. ally. "Strengthened U.S. ties with India have their own strategic logic and imperatives and should not be part of a containment strategy directed at China", explained Inderfurth.

Although a lofty goal, a free trade agreement between India and the United States is worth pursuing, said Riedel. Fostering bilateral trade, expanding investment opportunities, encouraging foreign direct investment and improving Indian infrastructure would help insulate the U.S.-Indian relationship from political shifts and tremendously benefit both economies. The proposed U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement currently in question would bring in $150 billion in the next ten years for nuclear power plants and improving infrastructure. Although the success of the agreement is currently in jeopardy, Riedel purported that regardless of whether the deal succeeds, it is imperative to carry on the rest of the U.S.-India agenda and "the [U.S.-India] relationship will forge ahead."


Caitlin B. Doherty is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.