Hillary Clinton's Visit to India
July 23, 2009
Q1: What did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accomplish during her trip to India?
A1: Her main objective was to give the Obama administration and the newly elected Indian government “ownership” of a relationship that both consider vitally important. She certainly did that, with a four-day blitz of high-profile media and serious official meetings. She hit all the high points that she had defined as “pillars” of the relationship, engaging with business leaders and showcasing visits to one of India’s premier women’s development organizations and to India’s first environmentally certified building. She signed two important new agreements, a Technical Safeguards Agreement permitting U.S.-licensed components to be used on Indian civilian spacecraft, and an agreement creating a $30-million endowment to fund science, technology, and innovation. The Indian government settled the end-use monitoring arrangements needed to permit major military sales from the United States and pledged to designate two sites for U.S. companies to build nuclear facilities. She launched a strategic dialogue with Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, which should be the instrument for more serious consultations on foreign policy issues, including both regional issues affecting South and East Asia and the big global issues that will shape the future of the world.
Q2: The Indian environment minister had some tough words for her on climate change. How serious are these disagreements?
A2: The United States and India have very different views on how to deal with climate change. India’s priority is to protect its economic growth and its ability to lift its population out of poverty. It will not be easy to reach agreement among the world’s major countries on the way forward. But India needs to be part of the solution, and the only way to find the solution is to work through these differences. This visit was the first step down that road.
Q3: The defense agreement provoked an opposition walkout in the Indian parliament. Is India really prepared to work more closely with the United States?
A3: The U.S.-India relationship has been built by both major parties in both countries. India has always been vigilant about protecting its strategic autonomy and avoiding what it considers intrusion in its internal government processes, so the U.S. requirement for verifying the end use of military equipment was bound to be controversial. But there is a very broad consensus in India, including everyone except the leftist parties, that a strong relationship with the United States is critical to India’s effort to play a stronger leadership role in global affairs. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is part of that consensus; they participated in the walkout because, as the main opposition party, they wanted to challenge the way the government is managing ties with the United States. This relationship won’t ever be an alliance, but it can be a good partnership.
Q4: Why is the relationship with India important to the United States?
A4: India has the largest navy in the Indian Ocean and the fourth-largest army in the world. It is one of the two rising powers in Asia. From the U.S. perspective, it is important that no single country have undisputed dominance of this huge area, and the United States needs to work with all its major players—Japan, China, and India. In this region, India’s interests largely dovetail with those of the United States.
In the next few years, India and China will be the major sources of economic growth in the world. This will not only shape the global financial debate; it also makes India a critical market for Americans as they struggle to fix their own economy. Without India, the United States cannot address the major global issues on its agenda.
Finally, India is a country with nuclear weapons in a troublesome neighborhood. U.S. policy toward India in the past few years has been led by its hopes for a more stable region and world, but we can’t ignore the downside risks.
Q5: What impact will Secretary Clinton’s trip have on the unsettled situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
A5: Both countries brought each other up to date on their interests and concerns in this important region. Neither India nor the United States wants to have India too closely associated with U.S. involvement in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. But India’s interests have important points of convergence with those of the United States. India has provided aid for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and wants to see a stable Afghanistan emerge. On Pakistan, Indian policy is based on the premise that a stable Pakistan government is in India’s interest. The most important event on India-Pakistan ties was the meeting of the two countries’ prime ministers in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, just before Secretary Clinton arrived in Delhi.
Teresita C. Schaffer directs the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of the recently released, India and the United States in the 21st Century (CSIS, 2009).
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