Strategic Partners in the Asia Pacific


Ashok B Sharma finds out why the US looks towards India as a valuable partner in the Asia-Pacific region

It is abundantly clear that the United States needs India more than the latter needs the former. The US has forged strategic partnership with India in the region of its particular geopolitical interest – the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. One of the main intentions of Washington is to checkmate the Chinese ambition in the region.

The document – US-India Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region – inked during the visit of President Barack Obama has spelt out the ambition for partnering support in the region extending ‘from Africa to East Asia.’ Further, the document talks of infrastructure connectivity and economic development linking South Asia, South-East Asia and Central Asia. It calls for ‘safeguarding maritime security’ and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, particularly in South China Sea.

To strengthen its hold in the region, both India and the US have spelt out the ambition for partnering with third countries in the region, apart from strengthening regional fora, where both the countries are associated with. The US has supported India’s interest in joining the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended his ambition further by saying that through his Act East Policy, he views the western shores of United States.

There is no doubt that President Obama could not have found a more suitable strategic partner in the region to fulfil US’ ambition of acting as a ‘pivot’ and seeking to ‘rebalance’ in Asia-Pacific. This has prompted the US to break the logjam in the implementation of the decade old India-US Civil Nuclear deal, without seeking to dismantle India’s civil liability law.

The US has, thereby, recognised India as a responsible nuclear power even though the latter is not yet a party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The trust reposed by Obama on India and the visit of Modi to the US in September 2014 gave added momentum, leading to the contact group meetings twice in London and once in Geneva.

The US has finally agreed to provide electricity from the reactors built by its technology and through its cooperation in India, without any changes in India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act. It has given up its proposal of tracking its equipment and materials to be used in the nuke power plants and agreed to the monitoring by IAEA as suggested by New Delhi.

India’s civil nuclear liability law was a matter of concern for several international investors. However, President Obama has cleared the apprehension by paving the path for US investments in this sector. The US agreed to the concept of India’s Nuclear Insurance Pool that is compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which India has already signed. It is also convinced that India’s Nuclear Damage Act is in tune with the convention. It is now up to the business parties to decide upon how to proceed taking into consideration the cost of investment.

The administrative arrangements for the 123 Agreement signed way back in September 2008 have also been finalised in consonance with bilateral legal provision and as well as practices on IAEA safeguards.

The US knows for certain that already the French and the Russians are partners in India’s nuclear power sector. Japan and Canada are likely to enter. Canada, which was insisting upon monitoring of its equipment and materials, will now have to leave the onus to IAEA. Australia has already agreed to supply uranium for India’s nuclear power plants. In such an emerging situation, the US companies would have lost the opportunity of doing such business in India, had President Obama not cleared the logjam over the implementation of India-US Civil Nuclear deal.

That the US, now relies upon India as a responsible nuclear power, is clear from its support for India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.

The US knows for certain that India, being under constant terrorist attacks, is very much concerned over non-state actors accessing nuclear knowhow and materials. Although not party to the NPT, New Delhi has been an ardent supporter of developing an effective nuclear non-proliferation regime. Similarly, it is not a full-fledged member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) but it has taken part in many of the exercises as an Observer. India joined the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). It is one of the few countries to ratify the July 2005 Amendments, which were made to plug some of the loopholes in the original legislation. This is the only legally binding treaty for the physical protection of civil nuclear energy facilities. However, this amendment is yet to come into force after ratification by requisite number of countries.

India also supports the fifth revision of the recommendations in the Information Circulars of the IAEA. It is also a party to the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and supports the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources. India has always argued for strengthening the central role of IAEA on nuclear safety and is a party to Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Similarly, President Obama agreed to four ‘pathfinder’ defence projects for co-development and co-production - next generation Ravin Minis UAVs, roll-on-roll-off kits for C-130s, mobile electric hybrid power source and Uniform Integrated Protection Ensemble Increment-II. Two of these projects will have US companies as partners and in the other two, the US Administration would be partners. Attempts will also be made to explore the possibilities of technology sharing and design of aircraft carrier and co-development of jet engine technology, which would be much broader than the Cauvery programme of much longer standing.

India offers a lucrative market for defence products. Russia is a top supplier of defence platforms and equipment. About 70 percent of India’s defence platforms are from Russia. Obama certainly would not like US companies to lose out in this game. The Russians were the first to begin co-production and co-development, the Americans are just following suit.

Obama has also expressed to participate in India’s ambitious 100 GW solar energy programme, development of smart cities, Digital India programme, work out bilateral investment treaty and relaxing business visa regime under a proposed totalisation agreement.

The US wants to seek India’s help in the forthcoming climate talks scheduled in Paris, this year. Its eagerness to support clean energy programme in India is a welcome step, but it should not be at the cost of India’s diluting its position in the climate negotiations. India has the responsibility of representing the voice of the developing world that must have the same opportunity for development as the developed world already enjoyed so far. Hence the Kyoto Protocol is defined as ‘equal but differentiated responsibilities’ for the developing world. The developed world has the onus for making massive cuts in their emissions, while the developing ones may announce voluntary cuts, which many including India have already done.

Allaying the apprehension that India may compromise with US as China has done, Prime Minister Modi had clarified to the media in the presence of President Obama by saying: “It is my feeling that the agreement that has been concluded between the United States of America and China does not impose any pressure on us. India is an independent country and there is no pressure on us from any country or any person.” However, Modi admits that ‘climate change itself is a huge pressure’ and there is a need to leave a cleaner world for the future generation.

Similarly, in matters of multilateral trade negotiations under WTO, India should insists upon developed countries to commit to making massive cuts in all forms of farm subsidies before beginning a meaningful talks on Agreement on Agriculture or taking up the issue of India’s food security law. They should also remove protective barriers in the form of high tariff, non-tariff barriers, technical barriers to trade and politically motivated sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) measure that keep off the exports from the Third World.

President Obama was pleased to note that India-US bilateral trade has increased in recent times by 60 percent to $100 billion a year, but it is miniscule as compared to US-China bilateral that is at $560 billion a year. American exports to India are only one percent of its total exports. President Obama has, therefore, planned $1 billion financing for ‘Made in America’ exports to India and a new scheme to allow Indian-Americans to invest in India. It is with the commercial interests in mind that the India-US Strategic Dialogue has been elevated to Strategic and Commercial Dialogue.

Among other things, President Obama offered support for converting Vishakhapatnam, Ajmer and Allahabad into smart cities, cooperation in railways, roads, airports and broadband connectivity and space and health sector, support to IIT, Gandhinagar, $1 billion support for SMEs and cooperation between Indian and US universities. But the export control-related trade in homeland security technologies still remains to be resolved.

Despite Prime Minister Modi’s appeal not to differentiate between terrorists, the US agreed to identify only few outfits like al-Qaeda, ISIL, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company and Haqqani network as terrorist groups. However, US expressed its intention to work with India in Afghanistan.

With such engagements, the US looks towards India as a valuable partner in the Asia-Pacific region.

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