Breaking More Naan with Delhi: The Next Stage in U.S.-India Relations

By Inderfurth, Karl F.; Riedel, Bruce | The National Interest, November-December 2007 | Go to article overview

Breaking More Naan with Delhi: The Next Stage in U.S.-India Relations


Inderfurth, Karl F., Riedel, Bruce, The National Interest


FIVE CENTURIES ago the lure of doing business in India was so strong that a generation of bold and adventurous Portuguese navigators and sailors changed the map of the world in order to get there. Vasco da Gama and his compatriots discovered the sea path around Africa just to get access to Indian spices and peppers. Half his fleet and less than half his men returned to Lisbon from that first journey in 1499, but the world was transformed by the adventure. Portugal took control of the Arabian Sea from the likes of the Ottomans, creating the first modern European colonial empire with trading stations and forts from Goa to Muscat to Macau. Not only were the African continent and the Indian subcontinent opened to Europeans for the first time, but along the way an obscure Italian sea captain found America by mistake while looking in the wrong direction for a shorter way to India.

We are now at the cusp of another great Western adventure with India. Americans have become "India struck"--and we are not the only ones.

Visions of fabulous new markets for everything imaginable are again entrancing businessmen and entrepreneurs around the globe. Some of the statistics are indeed amazing. With a population of over a billion, Indians are a sixth of mankind. More than half are under 25 years of age. India has enjoyed growth rates of 9 percent and 9.4 percent in the last two fiscal years, and its economy is now the third largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. India has a middle class of a quarter billion people. Some five million new subscribers sign up for mobile phones every month in India today.

Moreover, the lure of the Indian marketplace is complemented by the attraction of its politics. India is the largest democracy in the world and since independence has had a history of freedom almost unique in the post-colonial world. This despite the searing impact of partition sixty years ago in which more than a million died, despite divisions along caste, ethnic, linguistic and religious lines, and despite the pressures of four wars with Pakistan. India's military has never sought political power. No two other major countries in the world are as natural partners in democracy and freedom as India and the United States. Yet for too long we were divided by the Cold War, opposing economic models and an agenda dominated by nuclear-proliferation issues. That is over.

The overwhelming bipartisan support for the U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement that President Bush signed last December reflects the consensus of American foreign-policy strategists that India will be one of America's most crucial partners in the 21st century. Indeed, the current state of relations between the two countries is an example of something all too rare in U.S. foreign policy, namely "Policy Continuity" (PC). This PC agenda was elucidated by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns in April when he noted,

   President Bill Clinton's efforts led to the first
   great opening in our relations. In 2001 President
   Bush launched an even more ambitious
   drive, culminating in impressive agreements
   regarding civilian nuclear power, trade, science
   and agriculture with India's reformist
   prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

And there is every reason to believe bipartisan support for strengthening U.S.-India ties will continue into the next administration, Democratic or Republican. But as Ronen Sen, India's ambassador to the United States, has said, "We have not reached the point where the relationship can be placed on auto-pilot. It still needs to be nurtured."

Already, the effort to finalize the nuclear deal is entering its third year, in part because of the inertia of a U.S. administration preoccupied by Iraq. Opponents in Washington and New Delhi are hoping the clock will expire on a lame-duck Bush Administration before it is able to obtain final congressional approval for the agreement. …

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