Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama and India

This analysis on Obama and India appeared first on the IPCS website.

Now that Barrack Hussein Obama has been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, what does it mean for India? Three factors are likely to determine how relations between the US and India will be under Obama.

Generally, Democrats have tended to be more interventionist than the Republicans, as they believe that the US should play a role in regional conflicts to both resolve such conflicts and to protect human rights during these conflicts. During the Clinton Presidency, the US militarily intervened in a number of regional conflicts including in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Congo, Liberia, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Obama appears to want to continue with that trend. Susan Rice, a key Obama advisor and Obama's nominee as UN Ambassador, stated in her confirmation hearing that the Obama Administration will continue to see the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world as an important goal.
The pro-interventionist stance of the Democrats has tended to be a problem in Indo-US relations. In the India context, this would involve the Obama Administration wanting to intervene and seek to solve the Kashmir problem. Obama's recent comments in interviews to Time magazine in October and December 2008 and the reported consideration of former President Bill Clinton as a special envoy on Kashmir are indicative of this pro-interventionist stance that India will witness increasingly in the coming years. Obama had said that the US "should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants." Some analysts have tended to believe that a Kashmir-specific pro-active policy need not necessarily be bad, given Obama's pro-India statements. It should be remembered that his pro-India stance in the recent past had more to do with seeking the support of the Indian-American community. The concern however is that Obama believes that finding a solution to the Kashmir issue is almost a pre-requisite for getting Pakistan's support for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), particularly in Afghanistan. New Delhi needs to be cautious of the US tendency of linking up Afghanistan's security with terrorism in Kashmir.
Obama's tough line against Pakistan might be heartening to Indian policy makers. The US has pledged huge military/financial aid to Pakistan, though this is conditional on Pakistan's cooperation on the war against terror. The Obama Administration, in its new foreign policy agenda document has made it clear that while the new administration "will increase nonmilitary aid to Pakistan," Pakistan will be held "accountable for security in the border region with Afghanistan." Earlier, Joe Biden, in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had introduced a legislation proposing to triple non-military aid to Pakistan in the next five years. The legislation authorised US$7.5 billion over next five years, mainly for building schools, roads and clinics. The bill, however, called for greater accountability and effective cooperation from Pakistan in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The second issue which could act as "spoiler" is nuclear non-proliferation. While the Democrats and Republicans have both adopted strong non-proliferation measures, the Democrats have tended to be much more rigid "non-proliferation ayatollahs." The policies during the Clinton Presidency are a pointer of this. India's Pokhran tests in 1998 proved to be a major issue for the Clinton Administration and it invoked a series of technological and economic sanctions on India. India not being a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) continues to be a major issue for the Democrats. Despite being a member of NPT, China has consistently violated the treaty and engaged in proliferation activities, especially with Pakistan, but the US appeared willing to overlook the issue because China is an NPT-member state.
The new foreign policy agenda document of the Obama Administration stated that it "will crackdown on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the NPT," while working simultaneously on nuclear disarmament. What is more important is how the US deals with states that are members of certain security architectures, yet engage in proliferation.
Thirdly, Indo-US relations will to a great extent depend upon how the US engages with China. Democrats have tended to have a more than favorable approach towards China, with Clinton's presidency being a case in point. A close Sino-US partnership, with South Asia being jointly 'managed' by the US and China, remains an unappealing thought, a US-China clash will have wider security consequences throughout Asia and will affect India also. We need neither. Lastly, how Russia is viewed by the Obama Administration will have serious consequences. Russia remains an important power in the emerging Asian strategic framework and it is important that both India and the US recognize this reality and adjust their policies accordingly.

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