Foreign Hand shake
Like a novel where it is obvious from the outset that the two protagonists are meant for each other, but take hundreds of pages to get together, India and America should form a natural partnership yet are usually at odds. [The Economist]
As Joe Katzman puts it in an excellent post on Winds of Change, this ‘is a big deal. A very big deal’. Its immediate effect, of course, will be in the area of defence procurement. That the United States has effectively offered the latest Patriots bears testimony to how far it has come in its perception of India. That an Indian government that needs to kow-tow to those vocal anti-American communists on almost all issues has carried forward the good work of its predecessor in a business-like fashion bears testimony to how far it has come on its part. After years of misunderstandings and cruel ironies, it appears that the two star-crossed lovers have, finally, finally, entered into each others’ arms.
Beyond arms deals, the latest four-letter acronym adds a meaningful, practical form to the previous one. The broader effects of these four-letter acronyms will sharpen the contours of the Asian security balance — specially in the Indian Ocean region. Even if India and the United States do not end up securing basing rights in Viet Nam’s Cam Ranh bay, mere coordination of maritime efforts of the two countries can have a profound effect in the region. While this partnership will address China’s growing influence and tackle humanitarian crises, India’s traditional reluctance in projecting power in the littoral states will not give the countries of the region any cause for alarm. Unfortunately, this may include those thuggish rulers of Myanmar.
This deal, and the upcoming meeting between George Bush and Dr Manmohan Singh give much reason to celebrate. However, some irritants will persist. India will not appreciate American admonishments over its engagement of Iran, and its refusal to play along as the usual ‘ally’ will cause no little heartburn in Washington. On two key issues of global signficance — nuclear non-proliferation and UN reform — there are significant gaps between the official positions of the two countries. The good news is that those gaps are closing: the two countries have begun to co-operate on anti-proliferation measures; and the United States has been largely equivocal on India’s UNSC candidature. A closer bilateral relationship will certainly smoothen the way towards the resolution of these issues.
What is needed now is a quick, genuine success story that will cement the partnership and highlight its usefulness. There is no shortage of candidate cases in the South Asian region. India and the United States would do well to show that this deal does mean business. (If Mr Katzman will pardon the pun)