Forging Fresh Bonds
Op-Ed, The Times of India
February 27, 2006
Author: Robert D. Blackwill, International Council Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
As President George W. Bush prepares to visit Indiaand intense bilateral discussions continue on the implementation of the historic July 18 civil nuclear agreement, let us examine from an American perspective the farther horizon of US-India relations.
Imagine a matrix, with America's most important national security concerns along one side, and the world's major countries along the other. Think first of the vital national interests of the US: prosecuting the global war on terror and reducing the staying power and effectiveness of the jehadi killers; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including to terrorist groups; dealing with the rise of Chinese power; ensuring reliable supply of energy from the Persian Gulf; and, keeping the global economy on track.
Now, consider the key countries of the world. Which of them share with the US these vital national interests and the willingness for their own reasons to do something about the challenges posed over the extended future? India may lead the list in the long haul.
With respect to terrorism, India in the past 15 years lost more people than any other nation in the world. Though cross-border terrorism has now receded somewhat in Kashmir, India remains an abiding target for terrorists and their supporters. New Delhi will need no urging from Washington to be with the US in word and deed to the end of the global war on Islamic extremism. At the same time, we need to discuss what is the right balance to counter terrorism between covert action and military activities on the one hand, and the competition of ideas on the other. These terrorist outrages will not continue indefinitely. We know this from The Ramayana, and many other holy books. Good does triumph over evil, although it sometimes takes more time than we would like. US-India cooperation will bring that moment closer.
Weapons of mass destruction are a pressing shared danger as well. Picture this: a group of terrorists has obtained a nuclear weapon and are debating where to detonate it. The number one target would almost certainly be in the US. But what would be the second most likely destination? New Delhi and Mumbai will remain pre-eminent potential WMD targets for these mass murderers because of the hateful place India occupies in jehadi ideology. This, too, will surely put India and the US together.
In addition, India is properly attentive to the rise of Chinese power. Let me make clear that this will not lead to joint US-India containment of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Worrying that this could be self-fulfilling, no Indian politician of any consequence supports such a policy. But it does mean that behind New Delhi's elevated rhetoric regarding relations between India and China, Indians understand that Asia is being fundamentally changed by the weight of PRC economic power and diplomatic skill. Which US ally, except for Japan, thinks about China in such a prudent and strategic way?
As for the protection of energy security, both the US and India are hugely dependent on sources from the Persian Gulf for their energy needs. About a quarter of the crude oil imported by the US is from the Middle East. India, meanwhile, imports nearly 75 per cent of its crude oil, much of which also comes from that region. Securing this energy at reasonable prices is at the top of both nations' agenda.
And then, there is world economy. US-India trade figures are currently small. But India today has a larger middle class than the combined population of France, Germany and Britain. And that middle class is rapidly increasing. The US is India's largest trading partner. US exports to India grew by 25 per cent in 2004 and are no longer, as I used to say while US ambassador to India, "flat as a chapatti". The US is also the largest cumulative investor in India, in both foreign direct and portfolio investment. More than 50 per cent of America's Fortune 500 companies now outsource some of their information technology needs from Indian companies. Both India and the US need high and sustained rates of economic growth in order to reach their domestic goals and promote vital national interests, so the prospects of rapid expansion of US-India trade are exceedingly bright.
Not only do these five vital national interests coincide, but we share common democratic values as well. The policies of the US and India are built on the same solid moral foundation. This has now become an even more central common element, given the march of freedom across the Greater Middle East. In sum, I cannot think of another nation with which the US shares in such a comprehensive way, and with the same intensity, these vital national interests and democratic principles, and the enduring determination to promote and defend them.
This does not mean that Washington and New Delhi will always agree on specific policies or tactics. But US-India collaboration should reach an ever higher standard over the years. If we follow Krishna's wise words, "Be thou of even mind", we will view President Bush's upcoming visit to Indiain this uplifting strategic framework.
USambassador to Indiaduring 2001-03, Blackwill is president of Barbour Griffith & RogersInternational, a Republican lobbying and consulting firm in WashingtonDC, and counsellor to the Council on Foreign Relations.
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