The future of the United States and India, in broad terms, beckons largely from the same direction. Thus, it was encouraging to learn that a substantive meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in London recently went well. Obama called India a critical partner, and Singh described the president as a visionary who has given hope to oppressed people around the world. Could we be witnessing the cementing of a new lynchpin relationship?
If so, I would welcome it. The United States needs stable and reliable allies more than ever. If Washington and New Delhi plan properly and work cooperatively, theirs will become a defining partnership of the 21st century.
I had the opportunity to delve deeply into many facets of India and its foreign relations at the 2009 South Asian Studies Association conference, which was held in Orlando just a few days ago. Among the presenters was Ambassador Arun K. Singh, India’s deputy chief of mission in Washington. I listened to multiple presentations by him and, with each one, increasingly appreciated the depth and breadth of U.S.-India ties — along with their potential. That led me to think about how the partnership might develop in the coming decades.
The foundation clearly is solid. New Delhi’s move to open its economy in the early 1990s placed it on a path not only toward economic success but to a much-improved friendship with the United States. Already, the two were considerably in sync because of their democratic orientations. Indeed, as Yale University globalization specialist Amy Chua explains in “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — and Why They Fall,” “what is singular about India is that it is the world’s largest democracy, despite an extraordinary degree of ethnic and religious diversity exceeding even that of the United States. The fact that India exists at all — especially as a democracy — is a triumph of tolerance.”
That tradition of tolerance resonates particularly well with the Obama administration.
In addition, New Delhi poses none of the threats to the United States that can emanate from rising powers. It is pursuing a primarily economic agenda, although it can be expected to — and should — amass more political clout as time unfolds. For example, India deserves a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. The current U.N. arrangement, while understandable at the time of that body’s formation, no longer reflects international realities.
Some of the specific areas that would benefit from closer U.S.-India cooperation are:
1. The global economy. This issue provided the main context for the Obama-Singh meeting, and plainly it is urgent. Their commitment, along with that of the others at the G20 summit, to guard against protectionism was an exceedingly important outcome. We should never forget the history and folly of the alternative. Once the two nations move beyond the recession — and they will — there are multiple reasons for optimism. India has a young, well-educated population, along with strong creative sectors such as information technology and software, that will help lead the world back to prosperity.
2. Terrorism. The violent, transnational, ideological, revolutionary forces that threaten our way of life have left multiple scars on both countries, including America’s 9/11 and India’s 11/26 — last year’s attacks in Mumbai. Long before the present wave of terrorist atrocities, though, India had accumulated substantial experience in dealing with such behavior. Its expanded participation in counter-terrorism efforts will boost the Obama administration’s diplomacy-development-defense strategy to uproot extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also help to confront the scourge in other parts of the world. Joint U.S.-India efforts will hasten the day when the modern spate of terrorism ebbs.
3. Climate change. Just about everyone understands the significance of this problem; now the awareness must build to additional levels. It is not enough to acknowledge the immediately noticeable effects of climate change, such as more weather of mass destruction and flooding. We must prepare for other consequences, including forced migration and escalating political tensions. The United States and India can make a substantial, positive impact through consistent leadership, scientific cooperation and an unerring commitment to diminishing the impact of this world-changing phenomenon.
Formidable tasks? Yes, but I believe that the team of America and India is up for the challenge.
— John C. Bersia, who is a former editorial writer for the Orlando Sentinel, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida.