Op-eds and Articles

Op-eds and Articles

Does 'South Asia' Exist?

The following article originally appeared on Foreign Policy's 'AfPak Channel'. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be accessed here

While a confusing construct, the term ‘South Asia' persevered in America's strategic consciousness, despite the inevitable dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Among non-specialists in the counterinsurgency era, it was often used as a casual and more politically-correct synonym for AfPak, marginalizing not just India, but also Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, all important countries in their own rights. I recall reviewing the syllabus of a graduate studies course on South Asia at a major American university two years ago, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that the India-Pakistan border constituted South Asia's eastern frontier.

A real concern is that a conceptual resurgence of ‘South Asia' -- especially as an outgrowth of ‘AfPak' -- could be accompanied by the conscious or subconscious rehyphenation of India and Pakistan, and the prolonged side-lining of other states in the region. As the anonymous genius behind the Twitter handle @majorlyp has caustically written:

Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being "South Asian" offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage.
Example: When faced with the question "Is radicalization a problem"? South Asians can reply with a straight face "Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized". Which sounds entirely reasonable.

The author writes in somewhat cruel jest, of course, but like the best parody, there is more than a grain of uncomfortable truth in what he says. Will U.S. discourse related to South Asia come to be dominated by the problems of terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation, and anti-Americanism at the expense of the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with dynamic economic growth, raucous democracy, immense social and cultural diversity, and broad support for a U.S.-led international system? Let's hope not.

Op-eds and Articles

Does 'South Asia' Exist?

The following article originally appeared on Foreign Policy's 'AfPak Channel'. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be accessed here

While a confusing construct, the term ‘South Asia' persevered in America's strategic consciousness, despite the inevitable dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Among non-specialists in the counterinsurgency era, it was often used as a casual and more politically-correct synonym for AfPak, marginalizing not just India, but also Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, all important countries in their own rights. I recall reviewing the syllabus of a graduate studies course on South Asia at a major American university two years ago, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that the India-Pakistan border constituted South Asia's eastern frontier.

A real concern is that a conceptual resurgence of ‘South Asia' -- especially as an outgrowth of ‘AfPak' -- could be accompanied by the conscious or subconscious rehyphenation of India and Pakistan, and the prolonged side-lining of other states in the region. As the anonymous genius behind the Twitter handle @majorlyp has caustically written:

Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being "South Asian" offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage.
Example: When faced with the question "Is radicalization a problem"? South Asians can reply with a straight face "Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized". Which sounds entirely reasonable.

The author writes in somewhat cruel jest, of course, but like the best parody, there is more than a grain of uncomfortable truth in what he says. Will U.S. discourse related to South Asia come to be dominated by the problems of terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation, and anti-Americanism at the expense of the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with dynamic economic growth, raucous democracy, immense social and cultural diversity, and broad support for a U.S.-led international system? Let's hope not.

Op-eds and Articles

Long Live the 'Pivot'

The following article originally appeared in The Business Standard on October 17, 2013.Ever since it was unveiled in October 2011 to much fanfare, the American policy described as the "pivot to Asia" has been beset by one problem after another. Two yea...

Op-eds and Articles

Long Live the 'Pivot'

The following article originally appeared in The Business Standard on October 17, 2013.Ever since it was unveiled in October 2011 to much fanfare, the American policy described as the "pivot to Asia" has been beset by one problem after another. Two yea...

Op-eds and Articles

The Weight of Expectations, The Perils of Complacency

The following article originally appeared in India Abroad on September 27, 2013. An excerpt is included below. The full text can be accessed here
In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously staked the future of his government on improved relations with the United States. But his visit to Washington — on what may well be his final trip to the United States as prime minister — will be clouded in a certain unshakeable sense of disappointment. Given the promising trajectory of US-India relations from May 1998 to December 2008, there has been a comparable lack of forward movement over the past five years. Not that there haven’t been any positive developments. US exports to India are booming. Defense commerce has grown and no longer elicits surprise or much comment in either country. Working level contacts between the two governments have improved, as have direct links between the Indian and American people. So, why the concern?
Today, the bilateral relationship faces two big problems. The first is expectations. The relationship now characterized by numerous dialogues, regular cooperation, and frequent official contact is unrecognizable from that of the 1990s, when India was a low strategic and economic priority for Washington and an outsider to the global non-proliferation order. But work clearly needs to be done as long as New Delhi takes umbrage at every perceived slight by the US government and Washington expresses it frustration whenever an Indian decision appears at odds with its wishes.
The second — and equally vexing — problem is complacency. In many quarters, there is now a sense that bilateral cooperation between India and the United States has reached its natural limits and that no further effort needs to be exerted on either side to improve ties. Those who call for more ‘realistic’ relations downplay the potential value of both countries to the other and underestimate the areas of true alignment. A basis of any strategy is a clear understanding of one’s goals. But better relations in and of themselves do not constitute a goal. So, within reason, what exactly are both sides’s objectives with regards to one another?

Op-eds and Articles

The Weight of Expectations, The Perils of Complacency

The following article originally appeared in India Abroad on September 27, 2013. An excerpt is included below. The full text can be accessed here
In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously staked the future of his government on improved relations with the United States. But his visit to Washington — on what may well be his final trip to the United States as prime minister — will be clouded in a certain unshakeable sense of disappointment. Given the promising trajectory of US-India relations from May 1998 to December 2008, there has been a comparable lack of forward movement over the past five years. Not that there haven’t been any positive developments. US exports to India are booming. Defense commerce has grown and no longer elicits surprise or much comment in either country. Working level contacts between the two governments have improved, as have direct links between the Indian and American people. So, why the concern?
Today, the bilateral relationship faces two big problems. The first is expectations. The relationship now characterized by numerous dialogues, regular cooperation, and frequent official contact is unrecognizable from that of the 1990s, when India was a low strategic and economic priority for Washington and an outsider to the global non-proliferation order. But work clearly needs to be done as long as New Delhi takes umbrage at every perceived slight by the US government and Washington expresses it frustration whenever an Indian decision appears at odds with its wishes.
The second — and equally vexing — problem is complacency. In many quarters, there is now a sense that bilateral cooperation between India and the United States has reached its natural limits and that no further effort needs to be exerted on either side to improve ties. Those who call for more ‘realistic’ relations downplay the potential value of both countries to the other and underestimate the areas of true alignment. A basis of any strategy is a clear understanding of one’s goals. But better relations in and of themselves do not constitute a goal. So, within reason, what exactly are both sides’s objectives with regards to one another?

Op-eds and Articles

Like US, can India ever take a tough stand on Syria, or any other global issue?

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on September 11, 2013.

As the US Congress debates the authorisation of force against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, there is a rare point of consensus in hyperpartisan Washington. Hawks and doves, realists and liberals agree that there are no good choices. A US failure to punish Assad's forces for using chemical weapons risks encouraging their crackdown, undermines American leadership in the region and around the world, and weakens an international convention. Furthermore, the longer the delay, the less effective any future action will be.

At the same time, even limited US-led military intervention, such as cruise missile strikes, is likely to cause more civilian casualties, be perceived as illegal in the absence of Chinese and Russian support at the Security Council, strengthen the hands of Islamist extremists, and risk perpetuating the Syrian conflict by emboldening rebel forces.

The shadow of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars means that American leaders remain extremely sensitive to the unforeseen consequences of any foreign intervention.

It's a Conundrum
Although Syria may be less crucial to Indian interests, New Delhi finds itself in a somewhat similar bind. A default view articulated by many Indian diplomats and commentators is that India ought to oppose any Western-led military action. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has unequivocally stated that India would not support a military option without the Security Council's mandate, a view reinforced by PM Manmohan Singh at the G20 Summit. Beyond its legality and justification — the jus ad bellum — India certainly has its reasons to oppose a US-led strike on Syrian targets.

Should American intervention contribute to Assad's fall, the primary beneficiaries could well be Sunni Islamist extremist groups, and India has long been at the receiving end of virulent militant Islamism. India has also shouldered the material costs of West Asia's destabilisation. Oil prices have risen over 20 per cent since the start of the Arab Spring. And it comes just as each rupee lost against the dollar adds an estimated Rs 8000 crores to India's annual oil import bill.

But the Syrian conundrum also raises the question of what world order India desires. While a West Asia marked by Islamist extremism and sectarian conflict is certainly not conducive to Indian interests, neither is one characterised by heavy-handed authoritarianism and chemical weapon use.
Further problems with India's position are exposed when considering the longer-term implications of the Syrian crisis. Even if Assad were to emerge victorious, he would hardly be let back into the fold of the international community. Barring the West, he appears to have burned enough bridges with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey — all countries with which India has important relations — to give New Delhi reason for pause.

Finally, India's stated position of not supporting an international military intervention in the absence of a Security Council mandate is troubling. Rather than grounded in Indian interests, its policy is effectively at the mercy of the P5; so much for the worthy goal of an independent foreign policy.

India's default stance also raises doubts about India's international leadership aspirations. An absence of a cogent defence of India's position, whatever it may be, is one reason why India's concerns are not regularly taken into consideration on issues it does consider important. In other words, India's studied silence on seemingly remote matters of global importance may have come at a cost closer to home, whether on Iran, Afghanistan or Myanmar. For the time being, India can afford to live with its contradictions because its direct stake in the Syrian conflict is relatively marginal and because its ability to affect outcomes is still rather limited.

Op-eds and Articles

Like US, can India ever take a tough stand on Syria, or any other global issue?

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on September 11, 2013.

As the US Congress debates the authorisation of force against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, there is a rare point of consensus in hyperpartisan Washington. Hawks and doves, realists and liberals agree that there are no good choices. A US failure to punish Assad's forces for using chemical weapons risks encouraging their crackdown, undermines American leadership in the region and around the world, and weakens an international convention. Furthermore, the longer the delay, the less effective any future action will be.

At the same time, even limited US-led military intervention, such as cruise missile strikes, is likely to cause more civilian casualties, be perceived as illegal in the absence of Chinese and Russian support at the Security Council, strengthen the hands of Islamist extremists, and risk perpetuating the Syrian conflict by emboldening rebel forces.

The shadow of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars means that American leaders remain extremely sensitive to the unforeseen consequences of any foreign intervention.

It's a Conundrum
Although Syria may be less crucial to Indian interests, New Delhi finds itself in a somewhat similar bind. A default view articulated by many Indian diplomats and commentators is that India ought to oppose any Western-led military action. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has unequivocally stated that India would not support a military option without the Security Council's mandate, a view reinforced by PM Manmohan Singh at the G20 Summit. Beyond its legality and justification — the jus ad bellum — India certainly has its reasons to oppose a US-led strike on Syrian targets.

Should American intervention contribute to Assad's fall, the primary beneficiaries could well be Sunni Islamist extremist groups, and India has long been at the receiving end of virulent militant Islamism. India has also shouldered the material costs of West Asia's destabilisation. Oil prices have risen over 20 per cent since the start of the Arab Spring. And it comes just as each rupee lost against the dollar adds an estimated Rs 8000 crores to India's annual oil import bill.

But the Syrian conundrum also raises the question of what world order India desires. While a West Asia marked by Islamist extremism and sectarian conflict is certainly not conducive to Indian interests, neither is one characterised by heavy-handed authoritarianism and chemical weapon use.
Further problems with India's position are exposed when considering the longer-term implications of the Syrian crisis. Even if Assad were to emerge victorious, he would hardly be let back into the fold of the international community. Barring the West, he appears to have burned enough bridges with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey — all countries with which India has important relations — to give New Delhi reason for pause.

Finally, India's stated position of not supporting an international military intervention in the absence of a Security Council mandate is troubling. Rather than grounded in Indian interests, its policy is effectively at the mercy of the P5; so much for the worthy goal of an independent foreign policy.

India's default stance also raises doubts about India's international leadership aspirations. An absence of a cogent defence of India's position, whatever it may be, is one reason why India's concerns are not regularly taken into consideration on issues it does consider important. In other words, India's studied silence on seemingly remote matters of global importance may have come at a cost closer to home, whether on Iran, Afghanistan or Myanmar. For the time being, India can afford to live with its contradictions because its direct stake in the Syrian conflict is relatively marginal and because its ability to affect outcomes is still rather limited.

Op-eds and Articles

The Case for India's Nuclear Weapons

The excerpt below is from an article published by The National Interest on September 7, 2013. The full text can be accessed here.

India’s decision to pursue a nuclear weapon capability—which resulted in preparations being made for a nuclear test in 1995—arose from the confluence of several factors, including security threats, a hostile international nuclear regime, domestic politics, and the country’s promising economic trajectory. Of the two primary external impulses, Keck correctly identifies the first, which was the latent threat of Chinese aggression dating back to the 1950s. But this threat was by no means static. As John Garver details in his book Protracted Contest, China withdrew its proposal to accept the territorial status quo in October 1985. This would have involved recognizing Indian control of Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for India’s recognition of China’s claims to Aksai Chin. In Garver’s telling, “China for the first time began actively asserting its claim to the southern slope” of the Himalayas. Moreover, Indian government reports have recently indicated a changing of ground realities. The People’s Liberation Army’s incursion earlier this year in Ladakh—where Beijing’s territorial objectives were thought to have been achieved—had little to do with its continuing claims to Arunachal Pradesh, and may have signaled an even more ambitious statement of intent, in line with Beijing’s newfound approach to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea.

More significantly—and Keck’s omission here is glaring—China pursued a policy until the early 1990s of supporting Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program, a move very much directed at containing India. In fact, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons with Chinese assistance proved an impetus for India’s nuclear-weapon pursuit, not the other way around. Indian and Western intelligence agencies believed that China conducted a test in 1990 for Pakistan’s benefit, effectively granting it a nuclear-weapons capability. Testifying before the Senate in 1993, then CIA director James Woolsey said, “Beijing, prior to joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, probably provided some nuclear weapons related assistance to Islamabad.” As far as Indian security planners were concerned, their country was by 1990 bordering not one, but two, nuclear-armed states with irredentist claims to Indian-controlled territory.

As with his casual dismissal of China’s ambitions, Keck characterization of Pakistan’s objectives vis-à-vis India as purely territorial is a gross oversimplification. Pakistani adventurism directed at India was not enabled by a nuclear deterrent, but in fact predated it. It began just after the two countries’ independence in 1947, when Pakistan backed mujahideen raiders against Jammu and Kashmir. Then—and in 1965 and again after 1989—Pakistan employed proxy forces working closely with its military to undermine Indian security. Pakistan’s provocations occurred despite the power asymmetry in India’s favour and one humiliating defeat at India’s hands, and continue not only against nuclear-armed India but against nonnuclear Afghanistan. Keck’s argument that India’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry allowed Pakistan to provoke it from under a nuclear umbrella simply does not hold water.
Given its adverse security environment in the early 1990s, India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against Chinese and Pakistani adventurism would have appeared not only wise but necessary, particularly when considered in conjunction with the relatively low costs of a nuclear program, a multilateral order that threatened to recognize China’s nuclear status in perpetuity while denying India entry, and an enabling domestic political environment.

Keck is correct in asserting that nuclear weapons are ill-suited for addressing certain security threats and that low-level violence against nuclear-armed states is still possible. Yet India’s experience is by no means unique in this respect, for it mirrors that of other countries facing chronic provocations by state and nonstate actors. When nuclear weapons have not deterred Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, or North Korean provocations against U.S. forces in South Korea, why should India’s struggles against Chinese infantry patrols and Pakistan-based terrorists be singled out for condemnation?

Op-eds and Articles

The Case for India's Nuclear Weapons

The excerpt below is from an article published by The National Interest on September 7, 2013. The full text can be accessed here.

India’s decision to pursue a nuclear weapon capability—which resulted in preparations being made for a nuclear test in 1995—arose from the confluence of several factors, including security threats, a hostile international nuclear regime, domestic politics, and the country’s promising economic trajectory. Of the two primary external impulses, Keck correctly identifies the first, which was the latent threat of Chinese aggression dating back to the 1950s. But this threat was by no means static. As John Garver details in his book Protracted Contest, China withdrew its proposal to accept the territorial status quo in October 1985. This would have involved recognizing Indian control of Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for India’s recognition of China’s claims to Aksai Chin. In Garver’s telling, “China for the first time began actively asserting its claim to the southern slope” of the Himalayas. Moreover, Indian government reports have recently indicated a changing of ground realities. The People’s Liberation Army’s incursion earlier this year in Ladakh—where Beijing’s territorial objectives were thought to have been achieved—had little to do with its continuing claims to Arunachal Pradesh, and may have signaled an even more ambitious statement of intent, in line with Beijing’s newfound approach to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea.

More significantly—and Keck’s omission here is glaring—China pursued a policy until the early 1990s of supporting Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program, a move very much directed at containing India. In fact, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons with Chinese assistance proved an impetus for India’s nuclear-weapon pursuit, not the other way around. Indian and Western intelligence agencies believed that China conducted a test in 1990 for Pakistan’s benefit, effectively granting it a nuclear-weapons capability. Testifying before the Senate in 1993, then CIA director James Woolsey said, “Beijing, prior to joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, probably provided some nuclear weapons related assistance to Islamabad.” As far as Indian security planners were concerned, their country was by 1990 bordering not one, but two, nuclear-armed states with irredentist claims to Indian-controlled territory.

As with his casual dismissal of China’s ambitions, Keck characterization of Pakistan’s objectives vis-à-vis India as purely territorial is a gross oversimplification. Pakistani adventurism directed at India was not enabled by a nuclear deterrent, but in fact predated it. It began just after the two countries’ independence in 1947, when Pakistan backed mujahideen raiders against Jammu and Kashmir. Then—and in 1965 and again after 1989—Pakistan employed proxy forces working closely with its military to undermine Indian security. Pakistan’s provocations occurred despite the power asymmetry in India’s favour and one humiliating defeat at India’s hands, and continue not only against nuclear-armed India but against nonnuclear Afghanistan. Keck’s argument that India’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry allowed Pakistan to provoke it from under a nuclear umbrella simply does not hold water.
Given its adverse security environment in the early 1990s, India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against Chinese and Pakistani adventurism would have appeared not only wise but necessary, particularly when considered in conjunction with the relatively low costs of a nuclear program, a multilateral order that threatened to recognize China’s nuclear status in perpetuity while denying India entry, and an enabling domestic political environment.

Keck is correct in asserting that nuclear weapons are ill-suited for addressing certain security threats and that low-level violence against nuclear-armed states is still possible. Yet India’s experience is by no means unique in this respect, for it mirrors that of other countries facing chronic provocations by state and nonstate actors. When nuclear weapons have not deterred Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, or North Korean provocations against U.S. forces in South Korea, why should India’s struggles against Chinese infantry patrols and Pakistan-based terrorists be singled out for condemnation?

Op-eds and Articles

Re-engaging Washington

The following article originally appeared in The Indian Express on August 19, 2013.

Has the United States forgotten about grand strategy? All indications point, for the moment, to US grand strategy being on the backburner. However you slice it, President Barack Obama's preoccupations, the secretary of state's travel schedule and the Republican rhetoric suggest that Washington has only two real policy priorities today.

The first is jobs. The US economy may be recovering, but decreasing unemployment from the current 7.4 per cent to pre-crisis levels of 4.5-5 per cent is at the core of Obama's political agenda. Strategic matters — defence partnerships, nuclear commerce, and international trade and economic agreements — have been subordinated to job creation. India is bearing the brunt, whether on intellectual property rights, market access, migration, nuclear liability or defence sales, and New Delhi is now a prime target of criticism not just from the White House, but from narrowly focused department bureaucracies and the US Congress.

The second US priority is counter-terrorism (CT), as exemplified by the recent closure of US missions from Pakistan to Mauritania, and the administration's response to revelations about its surveillance activities. Military operations in Afghanistan are now seen primarily through a CT lens. Barring an attack on American targets or interests, a US withdrawal from Afghanistan is deemed acceptable, regardless of the consequences for regional stability or Indian sensitivities.

India must appreciate that these are the current realities of US engagement, however distasteful. But rather than contributing to bureaucratic gridlock, these ought to provide India with leverage. Few other countries offer the US the ability to alleviate both its near-term economic and security concerns. India remains among the largest potential destinations for US exports and investment, and shares US desires to disrupt terrorist activities post-2014.

But it is important to acknowledge that Washington's obsessive focus on unemployment and terrorism is also temporary. The present circumstances have been brought about by a combination of economic realities, political and military constraints, and personnel, all of which are ephemeral. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gets set for his valedictory visit to the US next month, he ought to be focused on overriding short-term differences while keeping the long-term picture in mind.

What does that long-term picture look like? If the past 60 years are anything to go by, it is one in which the US bounces back stronger. Book publishers and television talk shows may still be peddling stories of inexorable American decline, but the US has rebounded from much more adverse circumstances in the past. It has unique demographic advantages among developed states, which, when coupled with its institutions, entrepreneurship and natural resources, offer it a remarkable ability to preserve its leadership position in global affairs. Under the right circumstances, that could play to India's advantage.

In 2005, when India was a nuclear pariah led by a loose coalition and had an economy 40 per cent of its current size, the US took a gamble on its future. It did not seek immediate returns, but calculated that a more robust India was both inevitable and served American interests. That, in turn, led to a conscious decision to facilitate India's rise. That calculation overrode the objections and doubts of naysayers within the US government and across the international community.

India now has an opportunity to reciprocate. Amid its own economic difficulties and political uncertainty, it faces a choice. It can continue drawing red lines in various on-going bilateral negotiations with Washington, playing for time while hoping for more favourable terms down the road. But if it believes that an American resurgence is likely and beneficial to Indian interests, it cannot afford to be bogged down in bureaucratic tu-tu-main-main.

Op-eds and Articles

Re-engaging Washington

The following article originally appeared in The Indian Express on August 19, 2013.

Has the United States forgotten about grand strategy? All indications point, for the moment, to US grand strategy being on the backburner. However you slice it, President Barack Obama's preoccupations, the secretary of state's travel schedule and the Republican rhetoric suggest that Washington has only two real policy priorities today.

The first is jobs. The US economy may be recovering, but decreasing unemployment from the current 7.4 per cent to pre-crisis levels of 4.5-5 per cent is at the core of Obama's political agenda. Strategic matters — defence partnerships, nuclear commerce, and international trade and economic agreements — have been subordinated to job creation. India is bearing the brunt, whether on intellectual property rights, market access, migration, nuclear liability or defence sales, and New Delhi is now a prime target of criticism not just from the White House, but from narrowly focused department bureaucracies and the US Congress.

The second US priority is counter-terrorism (CT), as exemplified by the recent closure of US missions from Pakistan to Mauritania, and the administration's response to revelations about its surveillance activities. Military operations in Afghanistan are now seen primarily through a CT lens. Barring an attack on American targets or interests, a US withdrawal from Afghanistan is deemed acceptable, regardless of the consequences for regional stability or Indian sensitivities.

India must appreciate that these are the current realities of US engagement, however distasteful. But rather than contributing to bureaucratic gridlock, these ought to provide India with leverage. Few other countries offer the US the ability to alleviate both its near-term economic and security concerns. India remains among the largest potential destinations for US exports and investment, and shares US desires to disrupt terrorist activities post-2014.

But it is important to acknowledge that Washington's obsessive focus on unemployment and terrorism is also temporary. The present circumstances have been brought about by a combination of economic realities, political and military constraints, and personnel, all of which are ephemeral. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gets set for his valedictory visit to the US next month, he ought to be focused on overriding short-term differences while keeping the long-term picture in mind.

What does that long-term picture look like? If the past 60 years are anything to go by, it is one in which the US bounces back stronger. Book publishers and television talk shows may still be peddling stories of inexorable American decline, but the US has rebounded from much more adverse circumstances in the past. It has unique demographic advantages among developed states, which, when coupled with its institutions, entrepreneurship and natural resources, offer it a remarkable ability to preserve its leadership position in global affairs. Under the right circumstances, that could play to India's advantage.

In 2005, when India was a nuclear pariah led by a loose coalition and had an economy 40 per cent of its current size, the US took a gamble on its future. It did not seek immediate returns, but calculated that a more robust India was both inevitable and served American interests. That, in turn, led to a conscious decision to facilitate India's rise. That calculation overrode the objections and doubts of naysayers within the US government and across the international community.

India now has an opportunity to reciprocate. Amid its own economic difficulties and political uncertainty, it faces a choice. It can continue drawing red lines in various on-going bilateral negotiations with Washington, playing for time while hoping for more favourable terms down the road. But if it believes that an American resurgence is likely and beneficial to Indian interests, it cannot afford to be bogged down in bureaucratic tu-tu-main-main.

Op-eds and Articles

US-China bilateral relationship talks still lack strategic depth

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on July 17, 2013.

When the top diplomatic and economic leaders from the US and China met last week for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, there were few significant breakthroughs. But the annual official jamboree provided a good opportunity for both sides to take stock of their complex bilateral relationship, one that has become increasingly relevant for the rest of the international community.

Over the past year, cyber security has assumed greater salience in US-China relations. Although Washington has shied away from criticising Beijing for government snooping — the US is, after all, on weak ground in this respect, following revelations concerning the NSA's elaborate surveillance programme — it has complained about the theft of trade secrets. This was a point US President Barack Obama brought up in his meeting with Chinese representatives.

What About the Pivot?

Beyond the cyber realm, security competition between the US and China has taken on greater complexity due to a combination of Chinese assertiveness, the American response, and leadership transitions in both countries. China's new leadership under Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang has indicated a willingness to repair tense relations with neighbours. But sceptics argue that their conciliatory gestures mark a tactical shift rather than a sincere move, pointing to such incidents as the PLA's incursion in Ladakh in April.

The US, for its part, appears to be conflicted about the "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia it announced two years ago. The pivot comes just as the US seeks to cut its military budget, and American officials have recently emphasised its non-military aspects, including a greater diplomatic presence and a more active role in Asian economic integration. Even these policies have been criticised for being too feeble.

Some have noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry seems far more intent on addressing thorny diplomatic problems in Middle East than on pursuing American objectives in Asia. Others have pointed to the Obama administration's lukewarm approach to international trade liberalisation. The political and military contradictions in China and the US also echo ambiguities in the economic space.

American leaders understand that a consumption-driven model may not be sustainable and that their economy will need to adapt to keep pace with new technologies and competitors. China's leaders, meanwhile, know that their country faces complex challenges associated with avoiding a middle-income trap and coping with decelerating growth. Many experts in the US and China believe that the answer lies in redressing the imbalances in the two economies.

The US needs to expand its manufacturing sector and cut its current account deficit, while China must transition away from exports and consume more. The decision by Chinese negotiators to drop some of their opposition to a bilateral investment treaty with the US could be seen in this light. But others question the merits of such an approach, believe that mutual interdependency will continue to prove politically stabilising, or simply think that such a rebalance will be impossible to achieve.

Given new leaderships in both countries, the fifth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue could not have realistically provided either side with much greater clarity about the other's intentions. This is not reassuring for the rest of the world, for whom the relationship between the two most potent economic and military powers will have important consequences.

Op-eds and Articles

US-China bilateral relationship talks still lack strategic depth

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on July 17, 2013.

When the top diplomatic and economic leaders from the US and China met last week for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, there were few significant breakthroughs. But the annual official jamboree provided a good opportunity for both sides to take stock of their complex bilateral relationship, one that has become increasingly relevant for the rest of the international community.

Over the past year, cyber security has assumed greater salience in US-China relations. Although Washington has shied away from criticising Beijing for government snooping — the US is, after all, on weak ground in this respect, following revelations concerning the NSA's elaborate surveillance programme — it has complained about the theft of trade secrets. This was a point US President Barack Obama brought up in his meeting with Chinese representatives.

What About the Pivot?

Beyond the cyber realm, security competition between the US and China has taken on greater complexity due to a combination of Chinese assertiveness, the American response, and leadership transitions in both countries. China's new leadership under Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang has indicated a willingness to repair tense relations with neighbours. But sceptics argue that their conciliatory gestures mark a tactical shift rather than a sincere move, pointing to such incidents as the PLA's incursion in Ladakh in April.

The US, for its part, appears to be conflicted about the "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia it announced two years ago. The pivot comes just as the US seeks to cut its military budget, and American officials have recently emphasised its non-military aspects, including a greater diplomatic presence and a more active role in Asian economic integration. Even these policies have been criticised for being too feeble.

Some have noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry seems far more intent on addressing thorny diplomatic problems in Middle East than on pursuing American objectives in Asia. Others have pointed to the Obama administration's lukewarm approach to international trade liberalisation. The political and military contradictions in China and the US also echo ambiguities in the economic space.

American leaders understand that a consumption-driven model may not be sustainable and that their economy will need to adapt to keep pace with new technologies and competitors. China's leaders, meanwhile, know that their country faces complex challenges associated with avoiding a middle-income trap and coping with decelerating growth. Many experts in the US and China believe that the answer lies in redressing the imbalances in the two economies.

The US needs to expand its manufacturing sector and cut its current account deficit, while China must transition away from exports and consume more. The decision by Chinese negotiators to drop some of their opposition to a bilateral investment treaty with the US could be seen in this light. But others question the merits of such an approach, believe that mutual interdependency will continue to prove politically stabilising, or simply think that such a rebalance will be impossible to achieve.

Given new leaderships in both countries, the fifth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue could not have realistically provided either side with much greater clarity about the other's intentions. This is not reassuring for the rest of the world, for whom the relationship between the two most potent economic and military powers will have important consequences.