Much promise from the Obama visit

The three-day India visit of the US President Barack Obama ended after much high voltage activity from interaction with children to addressing the parliament and the business community. Did the visit yield any substantive gains for India and the Indo-US relationship?

The president’s speech in parliament and its reiteration in the joint statement clearly endorse India’s candidature for the permanent UNSC membership. To that extent, the US endorsement amounts to a first step in this politically and diplomatically uphill objective.

Another plus pertains to issue of export controls as a number of Indian organisations were on the Entity List of the US Export Administration Regulation (EAR) which controls exports of dual use technologies. The placement of various Indian atomic energy, defence and space agencies on the Entity List makes it difficult for them to acquire dual use technologies which delayed many projects till now.

Clear list

Though the joint statement gives an impression that all the Indian organisations have been lifted from the List, a US government fact sheet specified the organisations which are to become beneficiaries of Washington’s largesse.
These include various state owned organisations. However, several nuclear energy related agencies like the department of atomic energy appear to be retained on the Entity List.

Significantly the US has also supported India’s membership of multilateral export control regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls commerce of nuclear items, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that regulates space-related goods with implications for missiles development, the Australia Group that controls nuclear and biological agents and the Wassenaar Arrangement that controls conventional weapons and dual use technology.

However, the membership of these consensus-based regimes would require time.
Considering the US remains the sole superpower in the existing global security architecture for India to promote its national security and foreign policy interests without Washington’s supports proves almost impossible.

The membership of the NSG and the MTCR could be strategically very advantageous for India because it will provide New Delhi an opportunity to participate in global nuclear energy and space governance. The Indian entry into these informal bodies would help India into grasping the real dynamics of controls of nuclear and space related technologies. Besides, India will emerge an equal partner in shaping decisions on these technologies.

The two countries also decided to work on several science and technology areas that draw on expertise from both countries. Many of these areas are not in the sensitive technology domain; so, it does not attract similar attention as do export controls, the multilateral export control regimes, or for that matter, civil space and defence cooperation.

But India and its relationship with the US would be immensely benefited by the partnership for evergreen revolution, clean energy and other educational collaborations. These developments could create a silent revolution for the Indian economy and provides bedrock for the relationship.

However, there are some disappointments as the US policy on Pakistan sustains its status quoist approach, considering the Muslim state has proved to be a global liability that needs to be sorted out. Without properly settling the Pakistan question, the symbolic US approach to counter-terrorism proves meaningless. The refusal to acknowledge the harsh reality that terrorism emanates primarily from Pakistan rather than Afghanistan is the crux of the issue.

On the nuclear issue, Obama knows that the new Senate and his administration’s security policy establishment would not allow it to ratify the Test Ban Treaty. Similarly, the President knew that nuclear disarmament would not happen. Yet, he gave these issues unnecessary space in the joint statement. Instead of non-issues, he should have focused on more relevant issues.

Apart from some economic deals and science and technology agreements the visit was strong on symbolism. Even all the big ticket announcements still remain only an oral assurance. The Indian government may have to keep reminding the US Administration to formalise these assurances and eventually translate words into deeds.

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