U.S.-India Strategic Relations Getting Better All the Time 
by Melinda Tuhus

The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center
for International and Area Studies at Yale
Event Articles

U.S.-India Strategic Relations Getting Better All the Time
By Melinda Tuhus

“The relationship between our two countries has never been as good as it is today, and it’s getting better all the time.” That was the message Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador to the United States, delivered in his keynote address at the Symposium on U.S.-India Strategic Relations at the MacMillan Center on April 13, 2007.

Sen said the common wisdom is that things were bad between the two nations during the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, then steadily improved. “The reality,” he said, “is that it was good at times, bad at times, and mostly indifferent for long periods of time.” He noted a good beginning, when the U.S. was supportive of India’s struggle for independence, and said things continued positively under President Dwight Eisenhower, “especially when [Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles was not in the room.” Relations hit low points under the presidencies of Nixon and Carter, but revived during the Reagan years.

Sen called the visits of both President Bill Clinton and (separately) First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton “historic,” but noted the “jolt” to relations after India’s 1998 nuclear test. He concluded that positive relations have accelerated under the current President Bush “to a truly strategic partnership” – not on the basis of any one thing but on a whole range of issues. Cooperation has increased in nuclear technologies, communications, and defense technologies. “We have joint military exercises almost monthly,” he said, “which has led to greater mutual respect and trust.”

Sen pointed out that trade has been growing in both directions, although there is a trade imbalance that has led him to promote U.S. exports to India. “I’m glad that U.S. exports to India are growing more than Indian exports to the United States.” He said 2006 was the first year that Indian investments abroad exceeded investments at home.

One area that is lagging is agriculture. “We’ve embarked on a knowledge initiative in the field of agriculture,” he said, “and backed it with over $100 million for the next three years. We can do better than we have been doing and we hope this initiative will increase productivity, reduce shortages, and increase income to farmers.”

Another critical area is energy. “Of course the most visible has been the nuclear initiative, which is vitally important in both symbolism and substance. But it’s not restricted to nuclear cooperation; it includes exchanges in the field of oil and gas, coal and also in energy efficiency and new forms of energy. I think the biggest challenge India is going to face is infrastructure in general, but specifically in the areas of energy and water scarcity, which are interlinked.”

India is called “the world’s biggest democracy,” and Sen pointed to democracy promotion efforts undertaken jointly by his government and the Bush administration. He also noted cooperation in combating pandemics like HIV/AIDS and avian flu and joint efforts in the field of education – especially important since half of India’s population is under 25. “Many of our goals won’t be achieved unless we address the lack of educational facilities from primary grades to higher education,” he said.

Apparently gone are the days when the only Americans visiting India were hippies and missionaries. “The number of CEOs has tripled and the number of Congressmen has quadrupled in the past couple of years,” Sen said, adding that people-to-people ties between the two nations have always played an important role, including the visit of Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife, Coretta Scott King, at the invitation of President Nehru.

Sen listed five points that describe the current relationship between India and the U.S. He said even though the U.S. is the world’s only superpower, “it’s not a unipolar world. The U.S. cannot, on its own, handle the challenges and threats which have emerged.”

Second, “India is also changing; we’re not just the world’s largest democracy, but the world’s fastest-growing democracy and on track to be one of the world’s three largest economies.”

Third, India’s economic growth will be balanced. “Foreign trade will play a much bigger role [than currently], but our growth will come not so much from exports but from domestic demand.”

Fourth, “Our economic growth has demonstrated that development and democracy are not just compatible, but inextricably linked. In the longer term, globalization will be sustainable only if it is accompanied by greater democratization both within and between countries.”

Fifth, he said, India has long-term shared interests with the U.S. – around the issues of terrorism, preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and energy security, including reducing dependence on fossil fuels and stabilizing oil prices. Regarding the war in Iraq, he said, “We do not have differences in terms of objectives. We do hope – both India and the United States – that Iraq will emerge as a federal democracy. It will take time.”

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For more Information, please contact:
Marilyn Wilkes
The MacMillan Center
(203) 432-3413
marilyn.wilkes@yale.edu