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Inherent values and substance bind India and the United States

Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastav is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • August 24, 2010

    As India prepares to welcome President Obama in early November 2010, it would be worth deliberating upon the nature of the burgeoning strategic partnership between India and the United States. India and the United States are natural strategic partners because of their shared values as well as shared interests. Democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, freedom of expression and practice of religion, multicultural society, protection to minorities etc. are values which they share. However, democracy is the most crucial binding factor between the two nations. It is the shared value of democracy between the societies and peoples of India and the United States which will ensure a long lasting mutual understanding and partnership. The two democracies do not only share values but are also engaged with each other through deep business interests and strong diasporic linkages (India has more than a two million strong diasporic presence in the United States). Recently, celebrating India’s 63rd Independence Day, a bipartisan resolution was introduced and passed in the US Senate which acknowledged the contributions of Americans of Indian descent to society in the United States. It stated, "Americans of Indian descent continue to enrich all sectors of public life in the United States, including as government, military, and law enforcement officials working to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to protect all people in the United States." In fact, shared values work as a lubricant as well between the two strategic partners and help in developing a high level of trust, clear understanding and vision in the partnership. They also help considerably in reducing frictions in the partnership.

    However, some may argue that at the time of cold war, the two democracies did not gel well and rather nurtured suspicious attitudes towards each other. It must be clarified here that for developing an enduring strategic partnership between two nations, shared values alone are not enough but solid substance, shared goals and willingness to come together are all essential for the partnership.

    India’s growth and development in the areas of economy and trade, defence, energy, agriculture, human resource development, science, technology and innovation have provided the much needed strong substance to the strategic partnership. According to International Macroeconomic Data Set compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, India’s GDP in 1990 was US$ 322.31 billion at 2005 prices; it rose to $1018.29 billion in 2009 at the same prices. Similarly, according to the SIPRI military expenditure database, India’s military expenditure in 1990 was $14.88 billion whereas it has reached $ 36.60 billion in 2009. At present India is the second fastest growing economy in the world. In the fiscal year 2009-10, India’s GDP growth rate was 7.4 per cent despite the ongoing global economic crisis which indicates to India’s strong fundamentals. This growth has been achieved through significant progress in critical sectors i.e. manufacturing, agriculture, services etc. among others.

    India-US trade and economic ties, which form the bedrock of the strategic partnership, have been growing stronger though the adverse impact of the economic crisis is evident in recent trade figures. According to the US Census Bureau, total trade between India and the US in 2009 was $37.64 billion as compared to $43.38 billion in 2008. But a similar trend is also visible with regard to US trade with China and other major trading partners. US total trade with China in 2009 was $365.98 billion whereas it was $407.50 billion in 2008. However, total trade figures between India and the US from January to June 2010 has been $23.57 billion, which indicates a faster growth compared to the figures for the same period in 2009 which stood at $17.61 billion. This also indicates the ongoing recovery from the global economic crisis.

    Defence ties between India and United States have been getting stronger with each passing year. India’s total defence equipment imports from the United States since 2008 in terms of contracts signed stands at $3.1 billion. In early June 2010, on the eve of the inauguration of the first strategic dialogue between India and United States at Washington D.C., the US Congress approved the sale of ten C-17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft for India through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, with a maximum package value of $5.8 billion. If the contract is signed in its present form, then the amount of total defence equipment imports from the US since 2008 in terms of contract signed would reach $8.9 billion, which would be an unprecedented growth level in defence trade between India and United States. Similarly, the United States has conducted more joint military exercises with India than with any other country since such contacts were resumed in 2002.

    In the education sector, India-US cooperation is getting stronger as already more than 100,000 Indian students are studying in various educational institutions in the US. India has the top position in terms of place of origin for international students in the United States. Given that India is the second most populous nation in the world and that approximately 60 per cent of them are youth, cooperation in the education sector between India and the United States could be very significant. Realising the importance of cooperation in education sector, the two sides have decided to form an India-U.S Higher Education Forum under the auspices of the U.S.-India Business Council apart from taking several other initiatives. Similarly, India-US cooperation in other areas of critical significance such as health, energy, agriculture, science, technology and innovation have been growing steadily.

    When shared values are combined with substance, then the strategic partnership becomes an enduring one and it crosses the artificial and short lived boundaries of symbolism and goes much deeper.