Opportunities abound in Indian prime minister's visit to U.S.

November 20, 2009|By Dinshaw Mistry

Next week, India's prime minister will be the first international leader to make an official state visit to the United States since President Barack Obama's inauguration. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit affirms that, while Washington is preoccupied with other countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea - the strategic partnership with India furthers several U.S. foreign policy objectives.

First, India is an emerging economic partner for the United States. Trade between the two countries totaled $40 billion in 2008, and as India's economy increasingly opens and grows, it will offer hundreds of billions of dollars in trade and investment opportunities for U.S. firms over the next decade.

Second, on strategic grounds, a stronger India can counter a rising China and maintain the balance of power in Asia. More immediately, as home to one-sixth of the world's population, India represents a significant zone of democracy and stability in a region of instability. Also, Washington has a vital interest averting conflict between Pakistan and India as it pursues the war in Afghanistan. Further, India is a major contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations that help stabilize conflicts around the world.

Third, on military issues, India has begun purchasing arms from the United States, and the American and Indian militaries regularly hold joint exercises. In the next two decades, India will acquire tens of billions of dollars worth of additional arms, and a significant share could go to the U.S. defense industry. Deeper U.S.-India defense ties would advance their common interests and broader security objectives. One such objective is securing the Indian Ocean sea-lanes - the U.S. and Indian navies have central roles in patrolling these vital trade and oil transit routes.

Fourth, India is critical to addressing the global challenges of climate change and nuclear nonproliferation.

On climate change, Washington and New Delhi must coordinate efforts to bridge the gaps among industrialized states, large rising economies and developing countries. Here, a political compromise can be furthered by financial incentives and technology transfers. India could then increasingly adopt cleaner nuclear, solar and wind energy sources to fuel its growing economy. This will provide large investment opportunities for U.S. and foreign firms, while considerably limiting India's greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, Indian firms can be important suppliers of equipment to global clean-energy industries and thereby be part of the worldwide expansion of these sectors, which will further limit global greenhouse gas emissions.

On nuclear issues, Washington and New Delhi overcame years of tension to negotiate a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. This built a bridge between India and the nonproliferation regime and can make New Delhi more confident about participating in key aspects of the regime.

Thus, while New Delhi might not act on the test ban treaty until the Senate ratifies it, New Delhi could still maintain its moratorium on nuclear testing. Also, New Delhi can work with Washington to complete a treaty ending the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Further, India has a good record of safeguarding its nuclear assets and has blocked North Korean aircraft and vessels transporting, or suspected of transporting, missile technology to other states - thereby furthering international efforts to lock down and interdict transfers of dangerous nuclear and missile technology.

Thus, a strong partnership with India enhances a number of U.S. economic and security interests. Prime Minister Singh's visit to Washington is an opportunity for the United States and India to substantially advance their strategic partnership by working together to tackle the world's major environmental, economic and security challenges.

Dinshaw Mistry is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. His e-mail is din shaw.mistry@wilsoncenter.org.

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