Do we really want to be in the fast lane of diplomacy?

Do we really want to be in the fast lane of diplomacy?

Even two years after Obama’s remarkable victory in the presidential elections, Indians were yet to become comfortable with his presidency.

India continued to pine for George W Bush who changed the tone and tenor of US-India ties substantively by gifting India the civilian nuclear energy cooperation pact, thereby re-defining the global nuclear architecture and India’s place in it.

It was indeed a tall order for Obama to match Bush’s achievements vis-à-vis India. Moreover, Obama’s tryst with India started on a wrong note. The Indian prime minister apparently was not on the first list of leaders who received a call from Obama after his victory and Indian strategic elites, obsessed with symbolism in international diplomacy, took it as a sign that India was not being viewed as important by the new dispensation in Washington.

At least initially in office the only context in which Obama talked of India was the need to sort Kashmir out so as to find a way out of America’s troubles in Afghanistan. But in the last few months, the Obama administration has made a concerted effort at wooing New Delhi and his visit was an attempt at allaying some of Indian concerns.

India’s recent rise has been described by Obama as being in the best interests of both India and the US as well of the world. Interestingly, it is in India that Obama had to work the hardest in convincing that he does take Delhi and its interests seriously. He did that by embracing the idea of India as a permanent member of an expanded UN Security Council — a significant endorsement of India’s growing economic power and global aspirations. But he added some riders asking India to step up to the plate and share responsibilities in tackling issues like Iran and Myanmar.

He also delicately handled the issue of Pakistan in India by making American opposition to the safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan unambiguous. He was sensitive to the fact that India considers Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and maintained that “it is in the interest of India and Pakistan to reduce tensions between themselves and the US cannot impose solutions to these problems”.

During Obama’s visit, more than 20 deals worth $10 billion were signed by the corporate sectors of the two states. Other key agreements signed by Delhi and Washington include a pact on setting up joint clean energy research and development centre, MoUs on Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership, global disease protection centre and energy cooperation, and a pact on technical cooperation for the study of monsoon.

India and the US also agreed to work closely on agricultural development and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan as well as boosting joint efforts to promote a reliable information and communications infrastructure, with a goal of free, fair and secure access to cyberspace.

Reform programme

The two states also decided to put in place a four-part export control reform programme that includes American support for India’s membership in multilateral export control regimes, removing India’s defence and space-related entities from the American ‘Entities List’, export licensing policy realignment and cooperation on export control.

Of course, the issue that has most impressed Indian elites is the American support for United Nations Security Council’s permanent membership. It is clear that the expansion is not going to happen anytime soon given China’s objections. But India too has a problem. It still needs to convince the world that it has a legitimate claim to a permanent seat on the UNSC.

India now finds itself in the spotlight and its actions on critical global issues including Iran, Israel-Palestine, Sudan, North Korea and Myanmar will be scrutinised closely and critically. India will be forced to jettison its old foreign policy assumptions and will have to create a fine balance between the pursuit of its narrow national interest and its responsibility as a rising power to maintain global peace and stability.

India won’t be able to please all nations in the world as providing solutions to world’s problems involved making difficult choices. Merely suggesting that India will be the ‘voice of moderation and constructive engagement’ won’t help. India’s stint at the UNSC will, to a large extent, determine the type of great power India will emerge in the future.

New Delhi has always wanted to be taken seriously as a global power. Unfortunately, that means that everyone will be watching when it says something (or can’t figure out what to say) and they will care about what India decides to do. That’s life in the fast lane.

It’s not surprising therefore that many think that India is better off not being a permanent member of the UNSC. If India does become a member it would have to take position on various critical issues and given the fragility of Indian domestic politics, it might find it harder to accomplish than many anticipate.

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