More substance than hype has been witnessed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. However, the intangibles will culminate into tangibles only when the US doesn’t treat its commitments as rhetoric.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have broken his own record of earlier successful visits to the US this time, the first state visit since 2014 when he became the Prime Minister. By every parameter of foreign visits, this one takes the cake in making a new benchmark of success. This visit should be seen from three different perspectives, besides other aspects that are equally important.
The first is that unlike earlier times when India needed the US more, this time, going by global events, it appears that the US needs India even more. India is seemingly becoming important and it is seen as part of the solution to the varying global problems. The US seems to be banking on India as far as global events are concerned. This was reflected in President Biden’s ceremonial welcome address. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is draining the coffers of the US treasury. Recent surveys have shown that increasing number of Americans are tired of the US support for the war, which brings no immediate or distant advantages to them. The revival of the Cold War might be to the advantages of the arms lobby, but the common American would prefer respite from the domestic gun culture than bother about a distant war.
Much to the consternation of the Biden administration, New Delhi not only abstained ate the UNSC from voting to condemn Russia but advocated diplomatic negotiations between the conflicting parties to find an amicable solution. “This not the era of war”, said Prime Minister Modi while advising Russian President Putin to use restraint. After about 16 months of unending and unproductive war, the US probably needs India to play a greater role to end the war and bail the US out.
Another factor that adds significance to Prime Minister Modi’s state visit is the unprecedented rise of China and the challenge it poses to the supremacy of the US in global affairs. It is US foreign policy advisors who are to blame for allowing China to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two countries torn apart by religion, culture and civilisation. The Shia-Sunni camaraderie negotiated by Beijing was one of the many steps to subvert US’ hold over West Asia and its resources and geopolitical accoutrements. It is here that the Biden administration wants to use India’s shoulder from where to fire at Beijing. Even as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was bending over backwards in Beijing in a damage control exercise, President Biden referred to Xi Jinping as a “dictator”. So much for the diplomatic bankruptcy and political impoverishment of the Biden administration. India, though, will be guarded in terms of evolving any strategy in this regard.
New Delhi might have its own problems cut out with China. Beijing is not happy with the Quad and looks at it as an “Asian NATO.” The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) has been dubbed a rival institution aimed at wrecking RCEP, perceived as a China sponsored trade body in Asia. India-China relationship has to spin around cooperation, competition and conflict. But at no time can New Delhi behave as an ally of the US and link its foreign policy to that of the US. Washington should appreciate and respect India’s independent foreign policy approach and recourse to strategic autonomy to protect its national interests.
The third important aspect of this visit are the economic woes of the Western world in the post-pandemic economic reconstruction of supply and value chain mechanisms. For too long a period the Western world, pressurised by America, has been totally dependent on China for consumer goods and supply chain systems. Even as Europe was slowly coming out of this mirage, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has further complicated their economic revival process, nixing their recovery calculations. Both energy supply chain and food supply chain would require a new push by India and the United States together.
The India-US business deals would be a game changer at this juncture. India offers a huge market, excellent investment destination and fairly good infrastructure support, which, needless to say, requires greater attention and improvement. No American corporate would want to set up business in India with its structural problems and slow pace of administrative response to industry’s urgent requirements. The process of setting up production facility in India becomes even more painful after spending a few years in a business friendly atmosphere in China. The Prime Minister will have to work harder than what he did in the US to realise the benefits of his visit.
However, more substance than hype is being witnessed in Prime Minister Modi’s visit. The intangibles will get culminated into tangibles only when the US won’t treat its commitments as rhetoric. For a change, the US will have to change its stance and reflect a consistency between rhetoric and action. America’s 21-gun salute to Prime Minister Modi will have a greater meaning when the US helps India realise all the agreements. Technology sharing by the US will remain pivotal to India-US bilateral interests. GE Aerospace signing an MoU with HAL may sound as optics, but this time the US has to go beyond its mirror image. The various defence deals obviously will take India and the US a step forward. The rest of the world has been watching these developments and it will be up to India and the US to show how much they together will share the responsibilities in leading the world affairs and shaping the nature of the global order.
There are limitless possibilities in India-US relations. How both India and the US harness each other’s potential will depend on their commitment to shaping new realities. The world is waiting to see this happens for a better future and global peace and stability.
Dr Arvind Kumar is Professor at School of International Studies, JNU.
Dr Seshadri Chari is Professor Emeritus at Savitribai Phule Pune University.