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Indian Prime Minister's Visit to the US (November 2009)-Strategically Reviwed

Introductory Observations

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s ‘State Visit’ to the United States was hailed as a momentous event in that the Indian Prime Minister was the first foreign dignitary to be hosted by President Obama in his first year of office.

Going by the statements of President Obama and the Indian Prime Minister and especially the one made at the Joint Press Conference on November 24, 2009. the impression that one gets is that the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington has been high on symbolism but deficit in substantial strategic content.

Retrospectively, it can be asserted that the Indian Prime Minister’s visit should have been timed much later. Coming soon on the heels of President Obama’s sway through the Asia Pacific and his seeming deference to China and China’s strategic demands on the United States, the United States had nothing to offer to India in strategic terms.

Reaffirmation by both leaders of the US – India Strategic Partnership is nothing new. It is a periodic affarmation made by leaders and officials of both nations.

The US – India relationship was termed as the defining one for the 21st Century. On review, one fails to understand as how defining in global terms such an evolution will be if the emphasis by President Obama, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the US Security of State (at a Luncheon) on areas of cooperation were spelt out as non-proliferation counter-terrorism, education development, trade, agriculture, science and technology, clean energy and climate.

Surely India’s status as the regional power in South Asia and emergence as a global player cannot be sustained by a list of cooperation which is comprehensive but short in strategic and security content,

The Indian Prime Minster stated he was very satisfied with his discussions with President Obama on the security issues that India raised. However, there was no strategic content or any alluding to strategic issues in the public statement of both leaders. The Indian Prime Minister may be satisfied, but India is not.

While India’s political pundits, economics czars scientific community (including those from agriculture) and cultural czars may draw comfort from the cooperation agenda spelt out, issues of vital strategic concern were omitted.

Strategically reviewing the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, the following aspects need to be examined:

United States Fails To Offer Strategic Assurances To India. US – India Strategic Partnership: How Strategic? India – US Civilian Nuclear Deal: Why The Delay? United States Fails to Offer Strategic Assurances to India

In the few months preceding this US visit by the Indian Prime Minister, India’s security environment has become even more embattled. The United States is not unaware that India’s threat perceptions and attempts to strategically destabilize India arise from China and Pakistan. The United States is also aware that China’s collusive strategic nexus with Pakistan is the root cause for the South Asia instability.

Lately China has resorted to more belligerent postures against India. Pakistan despite America’s much professed pressures on it, continues with her proxy war and terrorism against India.

The India Prime Minister in the period preceding his visit USA and while in USA prior to his discussions with the US President stressed heavily on these issues. Surely, Indian concerns on these security issues would have stood projected in diplomatic discussions when finalizing the agenda for the leaders discussions.

However, the Joint Press Conference was deafeningly silent on India’s security concerns articulated as above. The only strategic reference that was made by President Obama was that the United States would not interfere or be a third party in the Kashmir issue. India in any case has never been ready to talk with third party mediators.

Fully comprehending United States compulsions presently not to give any direct strategic assurances to India referring to China and Pakistan, the United States in its Joint Statement would have gained a lot of political mileage had President Obama chosen to assert the following:

United States Expects India To Maintain Peace And Stability In The Indian Ocean Region. United States Would Appreciate A Greater Indian Strategic Role In South East And East Asia. United States Recognizes That India Has Legitimate Strategic Interests In Afghanistan. Statements on such lines could have offset the damage done in India by President Obama’s utterances on South Asia in China and conceding China a role in South Asia.

US – India Strategic Partnership: How Strategic Is It?

Implicit on both sides, though not publicly articulated, was the fact that the conclusion of the US – India Strategic Partnership was prompted by China – centric concerns of both the United States and India. Implicit directly form the Indian side and an Indian signaling to the United States was the expectations that India by forging the US- India Strategic Partnership would gain US restraining influence on Pakistan.

India’s strategic expectations form USA, on both counts form the US- India Strategic Partnership which were critical to India’s national security stand unattended by the United States.

Nor are there any indications available that the coming unfolding of India – US relations hold much promise that the United States would contribute substantially towards dilution of India’s threat perceptions on China and Pakistan.

India – US Civilian Nuclear Deal: Why The Delay?

This Deal was the center – piece of the US – India Strategic Partnership. The Deal was pushed through with great personal persistence by former President Bush despite a lot of resistance from vested interests un USA.

The Obama Administration has been in office for close to a year now. At the Joint Press Conference. President Obama reaffirmed that his Administration stands committed to the Deal. If that be so, then why the delay? President Obama could have added the same impetus to the Deal as President Bush did.

If it was being said then at the highest level in USA, that the aim of the Deal was to contribute to India’s emergence as a global player and as a de-facto nuclear power and insure India’s energy security, then how have any doubts arisen this year?

Concluding Observations

Asian security dynamics inevitability points in the direction that China is headed towards a domineering role in Asia. China on all accounts will attempt to impede India and Japan as the other rising Asian powers to emerge as global players. This will bring China into conflict with both India and Japan.

Strategically, for United States continued embedment in Asia, it needs to decide that whether it could do so only with the help of China and discount India and Japan. The Indian Prime Minister’s current state visit to the United States and his summit level discussions with President Obama seem to be totally deficit in strategic content which could assure India that the United States in its policy formulations does indeed perceive an equal strategic role for India in Asian Security.

(Coutrtesy- South Asia analysis Group. The writer, Dr Subhash Kapila, is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:

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