The Corner

President Obama in India: Promise and Peril

President Obama’s three day visit to India has come to a close. Despite some churlish commentary in some antediluvian elements of the Indian press, his visit must be seen a success for both sides. From the standpoint of America’s national interests, he has done well. He managed to secure $15 billion in Indian corporate investments. These hold the promise of at least 50,000 new jobs in the United States. He also did not shy away from bringing up U.S. strategic concerns in India’s neighborhood. To that end, he specifically sought India’s assistance in ensuring that Iran’s clandestine quest for nuclear weapons is brought to a halt. Most tantalizingly, and without much elaboration, he suggested that India should now play a wider role in East Asia. This last suggestion has left many Indian commentators a bit bemused. Some have openly wondered if it is a broad hint that India join the U.S. in a hedging strategy against an increasingly assertive People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The visit also brought smiles to most Indian policymakers (barring those on the hard left). He promised to remove a host of Indian public and private companies from the invidious U.S. “entity list.” This policy shift will now enable these companies to obtain a host of dual-use high-technology components from the United States. He has also promised to seek India’s inclusion in a number of multilateral export control regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Finally, the joint communiqué does not state that India and the U.S. have managed to settle their differences on a recently passed civilian-nuclear-liability bill. However, it does convey the distinct impression that their respective positions are far closer post-visit.

For those Indians who yearn for the halcyon days of Pres. George Bush, when the Indo-U.S. relationship soared, this visit was more subdued in both tone and substance. That said, more sober commentators have argued that sustaining such a high-wire diplomatic act is impossible. Indo-U.S. relations are now coming down to earth, and it is still a soft landing.

Sumit Ganguly is a professor of political science at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.

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