Public Diplomacy

India and the US: 'One and One Make Eleven'!

September 24, 2013

By Archis Mohan*

It would be euphemistic to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama will meet in Washington D.C. in end-September at a crucial juncture in the context of international economic and political situation as also the India-US relations.

The Syrian imbroglio, the slowdown in the Indian as well as global economy and the imminent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan starting 2014 and its consequences on India are issues of immense gravity to New Delhi that would come up for discussion between the two leaders.

Instability in West Asia could impact India's energy security and its biggest source of foreign remittances. India gets 60 per cent of its crude oil from the region and six million Indians work in West Asia. Similarly, the pull out of Nato forces from Afghanistan would have repercussions on New Delhi's strategic space in the region.

But more important in the short term is India's need to look for investments to revive its economic growth. Business communities in both India and the US are hopeful the two leaders would spur their negotiators into inking important agreements that could pave the way for improved trade and investments, particularly in the civil nuclear energy and defence sectors.

The above would be the key concerns between the two sides in what has blossomed into a close and healthy relationship in the last decade. The India-US Strategic Dialogue agreed to in July 2009 broad based the India-US relationship. It focuses on the following areas - strategic cooperation, energy and climate change, education and development, economics, trade and agriculture, high technology, civil nuclear energy, health and innovation. Under this, the US and India have numerous institutionalized working groups which consult on nearly every aspect of their relationship.

The first Strategic Dialogue took place in 2010. The two sides concluded the fourth edition of their Strategic Dialogue on June 24 this year in New Delhi with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and US Secretary of State John Kerry leading their respective sides. The two sides have important Homeland Security Dialogue that cooperates on counter-terrorism measures, Energy Dialogue, dialogues in health, education, etc.

India is both an emerging market and a military power with the third largest standing army. It is also strategically located close to countries in which Washington has deep interest like China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics and Myanmar.The developing security architecture in South East Asia, particularly in view of the forthcoming East Asia Summit in Brunei that both leaders are slated to attend, would be a point of discussion and sharing of notes. The two sides have worked closely at the East Asia Summit, Asean Defence Ministers Plus Meetings (ADMM+), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

"India is a key part of the U.S. rebalance in Asia. And we are committed to that rebalance. I want to emphasize this point. Our security interests with India converge on a wide range of maritime and broader regional issues, and we value India’s role in our mutual efforts to ensure a stable and prosperous Asia," said US Secretary of State John Kerry at the fourth Indo-US Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi in June. Maritime security, freedom of navigation and peaceful settlements of maritime disputes in the region are important areas of consultation. India and the US also have a trilateral dialogue process with Japan aimed at promoting regional trade, transit, energy linkages strengthening regional economic activity.

On economic issues, the US President will, as he always does, keenly listen to the Indian PM's assessment of the world economic situation. The two share a good rapport. Obama called Manmohan Singh "Mr. Guru" at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit. In an interview to Time magazine in January 2012 Obama counted Singh as one among the few world leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, with whom he has forged "friendships and bonds of trust".

Prime Minister Singh was the first state guest of the Obamas at the White House in 2009. The US President visited India for a path breaking visit a year later. In an address to a special sitting of Parliament the US President expressed American support for India's aspiration to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and characterized the India-US relationship as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. He said Washington would support India's entry to the four multilateral export control regimes that is the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group and Wassenar Arrangement.

On his part, the Indian PM may raise India's concerns over the US Immigration Bill, which has proposed steep visa fees and penalties on foreign IT companies that employ non-Americans. The Indian side is also likely to broach the issue of the US opening up more employment and educational opportunities for Indians. There are over 100,000 Indian students in the US and three million Indian Americans.

The two sides would take steps to consolidate their economic partnership. India-US annual trade is nearly $100 billion, and total two way foreign direct investment nearing $30 billion. India and the US have set up an Economic and Financial Partnership to deepen their economic engagement where the US Treasury Secretary and Indian finance minister hold annual meetings to discuss issues of mutual economic interest, including areas of interest to New Delhi like attracting private investment into infrastructure financing.

In the nuclear energy sector, the US-India nuclear deal was a seminal event in the relationship of the two countries. The the now need to take it to the next level. They will attempt to take forward their negotiations on this issue. The US-India bilateral defence trade has expanded. The recent induction of the C-130J and C-17 aircraft into the Indian Air Force and of the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft into the Indian Navy have consolidated the relationship.

It is, however, unlikely that there would by any dramatic breakthroughs. The relationship is in a phase of consolidation where the two sides would look at finding common ground on facing existing challenges in Afghanistan, West Asia and on the economic front. The silver lining is that both India and the US continue to engage with the realisation that the two nations share a common DNA in many respects.

US Secretary of State Kerry summed up the relationship and its future aptly as he ended his speech at the fourth India-US Strategic Dialogue in Delhi: "Ek aur ek gyarah hote hain...One and one make 11".


The US-India Factsheet

  • Framework agreement for the India-US civil nuclear deal signed in July 2005
  • Strategic Dialogue - set up July 2009, first edition in 2010 and fourth in June 2013
  • Strategic Dialogue has 26 working groups to discuss strategic cooperation, energy and climate change, education and development, economics, trade and agriculture, science and technology, health and innovation
  • Homeland Security Dialogue launched in May 2011, first edition held in 2012 and second in 2013
  • US-India Financial and Economic Partnership to strengthen bilateral engagement on macroeconomic, financial, and investment-related issues launched in 2010
  • The India-US Trade Policy Forum (TPF) to discuss trade related issues established in July 2005, the last and seventh meeting in Washington in 2010
  • Agreement on Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment signed in March 2010
  • Agreement for Cooperation on Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre to help development of critical technologies for renewable and clean energy signed in November 2010
  • The Joint Working Group on Civil Space Cooperation set up in 2004, fourth meeting in Washington in March 2013
  • 'Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative', a fund to support higher education set up in November 2009, first series of funding in 2012
  • India-US Higher Education Dialogue, second edition held in June 2013 in Delhi
  • MoU on Earth Observations and Earth Sciences in 2008 to study the monsoon, climate change, etc
  • India-US Agricultural Dialogue started in 2010, set up a "monsoon desk" at the US National Center for Environmental Prediction for improved monsoon prediction
  • US and India entered into Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations since 2008, last round in June 2012
  • A Commercial Dialogue since 2000 to discuss intelligent transportation systems, public awareness on Intellectual Property Rights, sustainable manufacturing practices, support for small and medium enterprises, etc
  • U.S. Commercial Service has opened 12 American Business Corners in India
  • US-India Aviation Cooperation Programme (ACP) - fourth India-US Aviation Summit in October 2013
  • Information and Communication Technology Working Group set up in 2005, meets twice a year to discuss cooperation on equipment security, manufacturing incentives, cloud computing, and enhanced cooperation in ICT-related innovations
  • U.S. Antitrust Agencies and Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Competition Commission of India (CCI)) signed an MoU in September 2012 towards technical cooperation and consultation on competition policy and enforcement
  • U.S.-India CEO Forum
  • Ministry of Culture and the Metropolitan Museum Art, New York , signed an agreement in February 2013 to enhance cooperation in areas of conservation, exhibition, etc
  • The India-US Energy Dialogue launched in 2005 to promote increased trade and investment in the energy sector
  • India -U.S. Climate Change Dialogue
  • USAID and the Planning Commission of India signed a Statement of Principles forming a new Joint Working Group on Sustainable Growth in May 2012
  • Shale Gas Feasibility Studies agreement singed in May 2013
  • US-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) launched in 2009
  • USAID/India's Disaster Management Support project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs launched in October 2012 with the aim to reduce the vulnerability of eight Indian cities to climate change-related disasters
  • US-India Health Initiative/Dialogue launched in 2010 has four working groups in the areas of Non-Communicable Diseases, Infectious Diseases, Strengthening Health Systems and Services, and Maternal and Child Health
  • Agreement to set up the Global Disease Detection- India Centre signed in November 2010
  • The United States and India are cooperating to facilitate missions to recover the remains of U.S. service members from World War II
  • Active cooperation in space, planetary science and heliophysics, potential future missions to the moon and Mars. The India-US Civil Space Joint Working Group held its fourth meeting in Washington, DC, on March 21, 2013.
(* Archis Mohan is a Free Lance journalist based in New Delhi. The views expressed above are the personal views of the writer)


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