India’s Quest for Global Ascent & U.S.

Growing bonhomie in Indo-U.S. relations will bolster India’s aspirations for global leadership. The true transformation in bilateral relationship of the two countries occurred in early 1990s when India implemented massive economic reforms. The Clinton administration started the cultivation of strategic partnership with India and George W. Bush further cemented that relationship by signing the 2008 Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. There was political opposition too. In 2007 Prakash Karat, the Indian communist leader said that as a result of the agreement, “India would be into a strategic tie-up which will have a long-lasting impact on India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy”.

However, the proponents of the deal contend that it has ended India’s nuclear isolation and permitted the conduct of civil nuclear trade with the U.S. This would have been unimaginable during the Cold War years as opined by Evan A. Feigenbaum. According to him the U.S. was treating India until 1990s as a regional power in South Asia exercising negligible international weight. India’s weak and protected economy was not globally integrated and hence had very little influence in world market.

As foreign policy is about priorities of a country, the U.S. administrations since Clinton’s have accorded special attention to relations with India after she liberalized her economy. With liberalized economy the trade flows between the U.S. and India went up significantly. In his 2010 Foreign Affairs article, Evan A. Feigenbaum writes that two-way trade more than doubled during the period of 2004-08 from just under $ 30 billion-$ 66 billion making India one of the U.S.’s fastest growing commercial partners. This is an epoch-making event seen against the background of complaint made by former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill in 2002 that U.S. trade flows to India were “as flat as chapatti”.

Indo-U.S. relations received a boost in November, 2010 when president Obama charmed the Indian elites through his address to the Indian parliament saying, “In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging, India has emerged”. He announced then a far-reaching initiative that allows India to import U.S. high-tech equipment and previously restricted commodities such as systems useful for defense and space applications. More importantly, Obama endorsed India’s bid to win the permanent membership of the world’s most exclusive club i.e. the UN Security Council.

Indian quest for global ascendancy gets bolstered by U.S.’s explicit support for UNSC membership but she is geographically constrained in its accomplishment. Not amazingly her neighbor and strategic rival Pakistan is opposing the Indian campaign. In the aftermath of Obama’s India visit its former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “U.S.’s unilateral support for India’s Security Council membership could “affect peace and stability of the region”.

Despite announcement of $ 10 billion in new trade deals last November, the recent decision of India not to buy 126 multi-role combat aircraft from the U.S. has emboldened the skeptics who argue that Indo-U.S. entente has proved hollow. Nevertheless, growing strategic partnership between India and the U.S. will continue. This is because India’s geopolitical ascent provides the ballast to new Asian order where China will not enjoy overweening power.

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