We may not be friends indeed but we are friends in need.
India and the United States, the world's largest and the oldest democracies, which at one time were not considered even compatible enough to go on a date, have developed immense liking for each other and it seems that a very long term relationship is inevitable. I would try to analyze the relationship from a historical perspective and see if it has a solid foundation or is it like a fairy tale courtship with a lot of music and dance, but unfortunately, without any element of commonality, and is bound to fail.
Despite being one of the pioneers and founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, India developed a closer relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. India's strategic and military relations with Moscow and strong socialist policies had an adverse impact on its relations with the United States. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and during the tenure of the Clinton and Bush administrations, relations between India and the United States blossomed primarily over common concerns regarding growing Islamic extremism, energy security and climate change.
Historically, the relationship between India and the United States has been very strong. This is reflected in the visit of Swami Vivekananda who introduced Yoga and Vedanta to America in 1893. Vivekananda was the first known Hindu Sage to come to the West, where he introduced Eastern thought at the World's Parliament of Religions, in connection with the World's Fair in Chicago. Here, his first lecture started with the line "Sisters and Brothers of America". This salutation caused the audience to clap for two minutes, possibly because prior to this seminal speech, the audience was always used to the opening address: "Ladies and Gentlemen". After Indian independence until the end of the cold war, the relationship between the US and India was often thorny. Dwight Eisenhower was the first US President to visit India in 1959. During John F Kennedy's period as President, he saw India as a strategic partner against the rise of communist China.
When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Indian Prime Minister, he authorized a nuclear weapons test in Pokhran. The United States strongly condemned the test, promised sanctions, and voted in favour of a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning the test. United States President Bill Clinton then imposed economic sanctions on India. These sanctions were very ineffective and India was experiencing a big economic growth and US, at this point realised, that if you can't beat them, join them. The sanctions were soon lifted. I feel that this was a turning point in the relationship and paved the way for all kinds of agreements signed between them and '˜I don't trust you attitude' made way for '˜Let us work together, we are good for each other'. Long considered a 'strategic backwater' from Washington's perspective, India emerged in the 21st century as increasingly vital to core US foreign policy interests.
Nirupama Rao, India's new ambassador to Washington, says that India is open for business, and the good news is that many in the United States agree with her. Bilateral trade has grown rapidly, more than doubling from 2004 to around $60 billion in goods and services trade in 2009. The investment story is positive too. In 2008, US foreign direct investment in India was $16.1 billion, a 10.8 per cent increase over 2007, while Indian FDI in the US totalled $4.5 billion, a 60.4 per cent increase from 2007.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Aspen Institute India (Aii) have cosponsored a US-India Joint Study Group to identify the shared national interests that motivate the United States and India. The group released its conclusions from meetings held in New Delhi, and Washington, DC. Its recommendations are:
- The United States express strong support for India's peaceful rise as a crucial component of Asian security and stability
- The United States and India endorse a residual US military presence over the long term in Afghanistan beyond 2014, if such a presence is acceptable to the government of Afghanistan
The group comprised business, policy, and thought leaders from the United States and India, and was co-chaired by Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger, senior fellow for US foreign policy, and Naresh Chandra, chairman of National Security Advisory Board.
In 2009, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Singh met in Washington to open a new chapter in relations between two nations. The two leaders emphasized our countries' shared values - pluralism, tolerance, openness, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights - and noted how these values are increasingly important for securing global security and sustainability. In their joint statement, Obama and Singh resolved 'to harness these shared strengths and to expand the US-India global partnership for the benefit of their countries, for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, and for the betterment of the world.'
US visa issuances to Indians are another good indicator of the thriving relations. For the past four years, Indians have received about half of all H1-B visas issued worldwide, and more than 44 percent of all L-1 intra-company transfer visas. 650,000 Indians traveled to the United States in 2010 '“ an 18 percent increase over 2009. And of course, India has historically been one of the largest sources of international students in our colleges and universities with over 100,000 students coming here to study last year.
I very strongly feel that the relationship between the two countries is standing on very firm ground. It is based on economic necessities and political realities. They are not only complementing each other in many areas including trade, military etc. but would also check China which is good for both the countries. China is an economic and political rival for both the countries. India also has to face the challenge as a rising economic power to find ways to cultivate pro-India forces in East Asia through concrete trading and financial tools. Unless the Indian economy develops a significant manufacturing and exporting segment, New Delhi will find itself locked out of the innovative economic regionalism that China is spearheading in its neighborhood. India should also work with US to put more pressure on Pakistan to stop anti-India activities. In today's global economy, it might be counter productive if India attacks Pakistan without taking into consideration the confidence of other countries. Let us hope that India and US are just not infatuated with each other and this relationship would do wonders for both countries. Both countries should remember that they may not be friend indeed, but they are friend in need of each other.