Goodbye, Obama: The US President's Legacy on US-India Ties

 
 

Narendra Modi will visit the United States in early June 2016 for the fourth time in his two years as prime minster of India. This clearly indicates the deepening process of engagement between India and the United States; both sides are developing a deeper understanding on wide range of bilateral and global issues and constantly moving forward.

This is U.S. President Barack Obama’s final year in office. Modi’s visit to Washington will be an occasion to pay tribute to Obama for what his administration has done to deepen the India-U.S. strategic partnership.

The best tribute to Obama’s legacy would be for both sides to clearly articulate a vision for the India-U.S. strategic partnership for the long term. Thereafter, they must strive to implement those policies and plans that have been committed to on paper during Obama’s term.

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For Obama, Modi’s visit is a chance to articulate his long term vision for the India-U.S. strategic partnership and how he would like see this partnership flourish in the future, under his successors. Modi will have a golden opportunity to do the same. During this visit, the Indian prime minister will have the honor of addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress on June 8, 2016. As Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn, co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, the only country-specific caucus in the U.S. Senate, said in a joint statement, the invitation for “Modi to address Congress demonstrates the growing commitment to strengthening the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India.” This will be an historic opportunity for Modi. As he addresses the U.S. Congress, he should clearly enunciate his vision for India, its role in regional and global affairs, and the long-term future for the India-U.S. strategic partnership.

During this visit, Modi should also meet with the top leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States in order to build a personal rapport with them. It’s worth noting that no matter which candidate wins the White House for the next four years, India-U.S. ties will continue to grow because there is a deeper realization in both nations that the strategic partnership is based on shared values, shared interests, and shared challenges. That is why there is bipartisan support in both nations for enhancing this vital strategic partnership between world’s two largest democracies.

Obama has elevated the India-U.S. strategic partnership to higher levels. As president, he visited India twice, the only U.S. president to do so. During his tenure, India-U.S. ties expanded and transformed into a global strategic partnership. India-U.S. defense ties in particular have deepened over the years. Bilateral defense trade has reached about $14 billion. The Malabar naval exercises are a regular annual feature, and India conducts more military exercises with the United States than with any other nation. There is also deeper collaboration on coproduction and codevelopment of defense equipment under the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), which suits the visionary “Make in India” program launched by Modi very well.

Last year, in June, India and the United States renewed their defense framework agreement for another 10 years, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited India. Carter attaches great importance to India, which he has called “an anchor of global security,” and has visited several times during his short tenure as U.S. secretary of defense. There is a deeper understanding between both the sides on three foundational defense agreements: the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). The LSA, now in form of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA), has been agreed to “in principle“ and is expected to be signed by both nations soon. India and the United States also held their first maritime security dialogue in New Delhi on May 16 this month.

Other than defense and security, India and United States must constantly work closely on all other vital areas as well, as the India-U.S. strategic partnership is very comprehensive and broad-based. On the economic front, efforts must be made to enhance bilateral trade, which is still very low compared to the vast capabilities and resources of the world’s two largest democratic nations. Both sides must strive hard to take bilateral trade to $500 billion in the years to come, as currently trade is just above $100 billion per year.

Education, agriculture, energy, healthcare, space, science and technology, research and development, and climate change are all equally vital areas of cooperation for both nations. These aspects of the strategic partnership must always be given as much attention and importance as defense and security issues; India and the United States must not lose sight of these crucial areas for cooperation at any point. The true potential of this India-U.S. strategic partnership can only be realized when there is wide ranging cooperation in all vital strategic areas. It is of the utmost importance that both nations help in enhancing each other’s capabilities.

The vision for this strategic partnership should be about building secure and prosperous societies and nations as well as the world. It should be focused on enhancing the lives of both peoples, societies, nations, and the world. This forward-looking vision must constantly guide leaders and policymakers of both nations, which will ensure a momentum in the partnership. The India-U.S. strategic partnership, as Obama has said, is set to shape the Asia-Pacific region and the world in the 21st century.

During Obama’s visit to India in January 2015, a remarkable joint statement on the Asia-Pacific region was issued, which indicated the greater commitment of both nations to collaborate and cooperate in the most vital region of the world today. Deeper collaboration between India and the United States in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere in the world can only be done if both nations work to enhance each other’s internal strengths and capabilities wherever it is required. This will give them the necessary confidence to jointly operate at regional and global levels. While doing so, India and the United States must not convey the message that they are coming together against China. In fact, it must be made amply clear that the India-U.S. strategic partnership is not about containing any third country, but it is about working closely to build a secure and prosperous future for their people, the region, and the world.

Sanjeev Shrivastav is a researcher at North America Center at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi.

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