This analysis on Obama Presidency and India first appeared on the ORF website.
With the results of the US Presidential elections out, Senator Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to assume the highest office in the US. How does an Obama administration look to India and the region in general? There are three issues on which the Democrats can be thought to have a less pro-India policy as compared to the Republicans.
In general, Indo-US relations have not prospered much under Democratic presidents. More specifically, the pro-interventionist stance of the democrats could result in an Obama administration wanting to involve itself in trying to solve the Kashmir problem. Obama’s recent comments on the Kashmir issue and the reported consideration of Bill Clinton as special envoy on Kashmir are pointers to this pro-active stand that India has to be prepared for. He said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
The democrats have been more interventionists than republicans. Democrats have traditionally believed that the US should intervene in regional conflicts to protect human rights. During President Bill Clinton’s term, the US militarily intervened in a number of conflicts including Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Congo, Liberia, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. More specifically, the Democrats have generally taken a more interventionist attitude towards Kashmir, and Obama seems set to continue that trend. The Bush administration has taken a less active approach to Kashmir, and McCain could have been expected to continue that policy. Obama has paid greater attention to India policy recently, if only to seek the support of the Indian-American community. Some believe that a Kashmir-specific pro-active policy need not be necessarily bad, given Obama’s pro-India statements. But because Obama believes that solving the Kashmir problem is a pre-requisite for getting Pakistan’s support for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), New Delhi needs to be cautious.
Obama’s tough talk on Pakistan might be soothing to the ears of Indian policy makers. While Obama pledges huge military/financial aid to Pakistan in the war on terror, it is conditional. Pakistan has to prove that it is making considerable progress in eliminating training camps, evicting foreign militants/terrorists that are based on Pakistani soil, as well as preventing the Taliban/al Qaeda from using Pakistan as a base for attacks in Afghanistan. He was also categorical that if his administration has credible intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban/al Qaeda in Pakistan, the US forces will be sent into Pakistan to hunt them down. It is too early to say whether Obama will carry forward his tough stand on Pakistan once he assumes office.
Second, for the Democrats, the issue of non-proliferation has been so important that it sets limits to Indo-US friendship. The policies during the Clinton administration were a pointer to this. India’s nuclear tests of 1998 proved to be a setback, as it invoked series of economic and technological sanctions on India by the US and its allies, including Japan and Australia. India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) continues to be an important factor for the democrats. It does not seem to bother them that much that China violated the NPT, despite being an NPT member-state, especially with Pakistan. Though the US-India nuclear agreement received bipartisan support, most of the opponents were Democrats. Though he finally, reluctantly, supported the US-India nuclear deal, Obama had tried to introduce killer amendments to it. India should be prepared to see the Obama Administration and a Democratic-majority Senate reviving the CTBT issue, which has been comatose for a while, as well as the FMCT with vigour.
Third, the democrats have generally tended to have a stronger partnership with China as compared to India. This may not be palatable to India. In fact, President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin agreement in 1998 to “jointly manage South Asia” had angered India. It was President George Bush who managed to break that trend and establish a strategic partnership with India.
How the next administration would shape its policy towards Beijing will also influence the extent of India’s role in Asia. Obama has raised issues with regard to China, although his concerns are with regard to economic rather than military issues. Obama has said that while the US should have cooperative relationship with China, it should not hesitate from being “clear and consistent” if the US disagrees on issues such as manipulation of its currency, human rights violation, its economic and diplomatic policies with Sudan or Iran. However, trade troubles with China appear to be the focus and have emerged as a serious political issue in the campaign. Analysts believe that a bill aimed at levying punitive duties on Chinese goods supported by Obama indicates that the US would pursue a hardline approach towards Beijing on trade issues. Though close US-China relations, with South Asia being jointly ‘managed’ by the US and China, is an unappealing thought, a serious dispute or a US-China clash will have wider security consequences throughout Asia and will affect India also. We need neither.
On another important foreign policy issue, both candidates were critical of Russia, and this could put India in a tight spot. India does not want Russia to be written off; in fact, to the contrary, India believes that Russia will be one of the poles of power in the new Asian security framework.
Overall, though a Republican administration would have been better for India; New Delhi, however, needs to get ready to play with an Obama administration.