Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday comes at an awkward time. Both India and the United States suffer from unsteady leadership. Ambitions for a wide-ranging strategic partnership were easier to ascribe to when the United States, during George W. Bush's administration, pursued a coherent grand strategy of primacy and a dynamic India was growing at near-double-digit rates. Now that American foreign policy is less assured and India sinks into an economic morass of its own making, neither country is as attractive a partner to the other. The good news is that these trends in each country are temporary and reversible. The bad news is that it may take new political leadership in both to move the relationship to the next level.
In Washington, Obama has pivoted away from his own pivot to Asia, which should have ascribed a central role to India. His administration's 180-degree swings of policy in the Middle East -- supporting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak until it didn't, engaging the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo but not opposing the coup against it, preparing to bomb Syria only to make Bashar al-Assad a partner in disarmament -- inspire little confidence among friendly Asian countries, like India, looking for consistent projections of American power and purpose. Beyond U.S. foreign-policy zigs and zags, American domestic economic mismanagement, for which both political parties are culpable, plays into the hands of Indian skeptics on the left and right who believe their country should go it alone -- and see the United States as a power of the past rather than the future.
Meanwhile, Indian economic growth has plummeted below 5 percent, even as the government implements yet another expensive new welfare scheme that will do little to boost the country's competitiveness. Economic reforms are on hold until national elections next spring. Urban India is transfixed by the phenomenon of Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, who hopes to replace Singh in the prime minister's office. Superhuman hopes are vested in India's new central bank governor, Raghuram Rajan, given that India's elected leaders seem incapable of implementing even basic economic reforms. In foreign policy, India has taken a pass on Libya, Syria, and the Arab uprisings writ large. It executed a middling performance during a recent stint on the U.N. Security Council, leading many to ascribe a mismatch between India's aspirations to sit at the "high table" of world politics and its leaders' lack of clarity about what to do when it gets there.
To provide ballast to a bilateral relationship that remains important to both countries' strategic futures in a changing world, Obama and Singh should focus on a prosperity agenda. Indo-U.S. relations have been driven by cooperation in defense and strategic issues; today's terrorist attack in Kashmir demonstrates why intelligence and security coordination should remain at the center of the relationship. At the same time, economic malaise in both countries offers an opportunity to put in place a mutually reinforcing set of initiatives to boost growth.
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The National Intelligence Council's (NIC) just-released Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report identifies key meta-trends that will shape the future international system, including the explosion of the global middle class, the diffusion of power away from the West, and the rising likelihood of inter-state conflict. In no other region will these trends play a more decisive role than in Asia, where the NIC predicts China to emerge as the world's largest economy, India to become the biggest driver of middle-class growth on Earth, and conflict scenarios between a number of rising and established powers likely to put regional peace at risk. In no other region will the future of U.S. leadership in the international system be more decisively tested than in an Asia featuring rising giants like India and Indonesia, a fully emerged peer competitor in China, and the dramatic tilt in the international economy's center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
What kind of role Asia will play in the world, and how it will relate to the United States and other Western powers, in turn will be determined by what form of regional order is operative in 2030. My last post described four broad pathways Asia could take over the next two decades. This one sketches out a more granular set of scenarios for Asia's future, identifying seven distinct possibilities that could emerge by 2030. That there are these many pathways demonstrates how unsettled regional power dynamics are -- and how much uncertainty remains around China's trajectory, U.S. staying power, Japan's strategic re-emergence, and the nature of Asian regionalism.
Headline scenarios for Asia in 2030 include:
More specifically, three forms of multipolarity in Asia seem possible: (1) a cooperative-competitive multipolar order in which the United States is the strongest power; (2) a fundamentally competitive multipolar order in which China is the strongest power; or (3) a liberal Concert of Asia in which multiple strong states organize themselves around cooperation rather than competition.
Alternatively, three forms of bipolarity seem possible: (1) an Asia split into two competitive blocs led by the United States and China; (2) a region featuring a withdrawn United States pitting a grouping led by China against a contending one led by Asia's other great and regional powers; and (3) a Sino-American condominium in which a cooperative bipolarity orders the region.
Finally, one form of unipolarity is possible (and only one): a form of Chinese primacy that reduces other states to lesser status and effectively excludes the United States from playing a leading regional role.
From the vantage point of 2012, the most likely Asian strategic futures for 2030 appear to be, in descending order: (1) multipolarity with a U.S. lead, (2) U.S.-China Cold War, (3) multipolarity with a Chinese lead, (4) Asia-China Cold War, (5) concert of Asia, (6) Sino-American condominium, and (7) new Middle Kingdom.
The key variable will be what role the United States chooses to play in Asia with respect to continued military presence and diplomatic/economic leadership (which themselves will derive in part from the ability of the United States to revitalize its domestic power resources); defense of its allies and deepening of strategic partnership with India; and the nature of its relationship with China. Other decisive variables will be the scope and pace of internal political change within China; the speed of India's economic and military rise; and the future of Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
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There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
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South Asia contains one of America's most important long-term partners in sustaining a global order safe for the interests and values of free societies -- India -- as well as a fragile, nuclear-armed state in Pakistan whose weakening and radicalization could be more consequential for American security interests than nearly any other single contingency. The region also contains a country, Afghanistan, that may not be the center of Asia but is a center of strategic competition among key Asian powers and has cost the West a decade of war to defeat extremism and build lasting stability. Over the coming four years, U.S. leadership to shape this region will be essential, for both positive and negative reasons.
Positively, the consolidation of a wide-ranging strategic partnership with India could change the history of the 21st century by allying the United States with the world's largest democracy and budding economic powerhouse. Negatively, U.S. leadership is essential to prevent Pakistan's many pathologies -- state complicity in terrorism, weak institutions, a foreign policy that exports insecurity -- from spilling over in ways that undermine fundamental U.S. interests in the future of Afghanistan, non-proliferation, defeating terrorism, and dampening extremism.
India is still casting off its legacy of non-alignment and statist economic management. But its leaders have identified the United States as a vital partner for India for the long-term, just as American leaders pursued a revolutionary strategic partnership with India with an eye on shaping the longer-term balance of power and values in the international system. The United States and India share a convergence of interests across the spectrum. Both seek to balance Chinese power in Asia to encourage China's peaceful rise. Both want to defeat terrorism, moderate extremism, and promote democratic state-building in South Asia, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to ensure that responsible governments rule there with a focus on internal development rather than fomenting external insecurity. Both want to ensure freedom of the maritime commons in the Indian Ocean, across which most world trade in energy flows. Both want to strengthen an open and liberal international economy in ways that will fuel their knowledge, technology, and manufacturing sectors.
The next U.S. administration can reverse the drift in Indo-U.S. relations that has occurred since 2009, including by deepening the underdeveloped economic relationship between the two countries through a robust free trade agreement and supporting India's entry into APEC. Washington and New Delhi can also cooperate more intimately on Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, missile defense, maritime security in the Indian Ocean, East Asian security with partners like Japan, and in multilateral institutions like the U.N. The overall objective would be the construction of a preponderance of democratic power in Asia and the international system, with U.S.-India partnership at its core.
As the United States draws down forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan will lose the leverage it has held on U.S. policy by virtue of its control of the primary supply routes into Afghanistan. This creates the prospect for a more mature and balanced U.S.-Pakistan relationship in which U.S. policy concentrates not on buying off the Pakistani military but on strengthening the development of Pakistani civilian institutions. U.S. policy will need to focus more on strengthening Pakistan's economy and, in particular, its energy sector, as a way to offset the rise of radicalism associated with the country's chronic economic crises and to build goodwill among a population that is fervently anti-American. Liberalization of trade, including duty-free treatment of Pakistani textiles into the United States, will be as important (if not more important) than official assistance in this regard.
U.S. policy must not re-hyphenate India and Pakistan, but rather pursue independent policies towards both countries that do not allow one country to hold U.S. policy towards the other hostage. Prospects for Pakistan to benefit from India's economic growth and measured Indian steps to lift trade and visa restrictions on Pakistan could, in tandem with U.S. policy, help reconstruct Pakistan's moderate majority who opposes the militarization and radicalization of the state and its foreign policies.
In Afghanistan, the next administration will need to fill out the existing strategic partnership agreement with a commitment to keep substantial U.S. forces in-country - to train Afghan forces, contain Taliban attacks against state institutions, and ensure that neighboring powers with predatory designs do not fill a vacuum that would otherwise be left by U.S. retreat. Afghanistan's 2014 elections will be pivotal to the post-Western dispensation of the country, and U.S. engagement with allies will be key to ensuring that the gains the country has made over the past decade are sustainable. American support for Afghanistan will also be instrumental to helping it build a self-sustaining economy not dependent on foreign aid. Washington will want to coordinate much more closely with New Delhi than it has over the past decade given India's similar interests in sustaining a representative Afghan government that does not tolerate the export of violent extremism, and can serve as a gateway for South Asian trade and investment with Central Asia.
American policy, often working in parallel with India's, can play a critical role in the process of democratic state building and free-market economic growth in the other key South Asian states of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. All are underdeveloped, post-conflict societies in which the military plays a strong role. Bangladesh is especially promising as a partner for greater U.S. engagement -- it has one of the world's largest Muslim populations who are predominantly unradicalized, its economy has been growing very rapidly, it has worked with India and the United States to defeat home-grown terrorism, and its governance indicators have improved meaningfully over the past few years. Goldman Sachs has identified Bangladesh as one of its "N-11" economies or next-generation BRICS.* U.S. partnership will be critical to helping Bangladesh consolidate these gains and join India as part of a "South Asian miracle" of the kind East Asian economies have experienced.
American leadership will be essential to realize the promise of the troubled South Asian region. Wariness and even hostility among neighboring states remains high. This region (not the Arab Middle East) is the source of the world's most violent extremism. Western forces have fought for over a decade in Afghanistan to render it a regional source of stability rather than instability. Pakistan faces extraordinary development and governance challenges, and its support for terrorism could have explosive consequences, not just in Delhi and Kabul but in Washington and London. Rising India could recast the global balance of power and values by virtue of its success in realizing its extraordinary potential. U.S. partnership can help more of South Asia achieve its enormous economic potential, placing it alongside East Asia as a driver of global economic growth and American prosperity.
Editor's note: This piece originally stated HSBC was the group to identify Bangladesh, and it has been corrected to Goldman Sachs.
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The world's largest democracy is now suffering from the world's largest blackout. No one who knows India should be surprised. The country has long been choked by a bureaucracy that is still living in Jawarharlal Nehru's socialist neverland of the 1950s. Overstaffed and under-motivated, India's giant bureaucracy has rightly earned a reputation for being a mass producer of red-tape and little else. And it is complemented by a complex political system comprised of national and regional parties that has made it as difficult to pass legislation quickly through the parliament as to have it executed once passed.
As a result, India, despite its decade-and-a-half of impressive growth, remains stymied when addressing essentials for long term prosperity. These include, but are certainly not limited to: updating the electricity grid that has in the past few days left twenty states and 700 million people without power; upgrading a road network that is choked with too few driving lanes and too many vehicles ranging from camel carts to overstuffed buses; and fighting an illiteracy rate that still hovers around the 25 per cent mark.
And then there is the corruption. India seems to be plagued by corruption on a scale to match its size. In 2010 India ranked 87th on the world corruption index. Yet instead of cleaning up corruption, the government seems to have made it worse: India dropped to 95th on the 2011 index.
Billions have been lost in a multiplicity of scams that have kept India's office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) working non-stop. Prominent among these have been the so-called IGI Airport scandal in 2012 that, according to a CAG report in May, lost the government some $29 billion by leasing land to a private company at a bargain rate; various other recent land scams that total in the tens of billions; and the 2010 "2G spectrum" scam involving radio frequency allocation that cost the government anywhere from $5 to $32 billion and resulted in the arrest of A. Raja, then-Indian Minister of Telecommunications.
It should therefore come as no surprise that foreign investment in India has slowed to a crawl. Yet it could not come at a worse time for India. The country has been hit hard by the impact of the Euro crisis on its exports and has watched the rupee sink to its lowest level ever against the dollar.
Moreover, it is sad indeed that many businessmen and investors prefer to deal with authoritarian China than with democratic India. At least in China, they say, things get done, however brutal the government might have to be to get them done.
It was not all that long ago that econometricians were predicting that India's gross domestic product could overtake that of China by the mid-to-late 2040s. Those predictions presumed a level of steady growth built on the efforts and successes of India's rising and expanding middle class. But that growth will be impossible to sustain if India's executive and legislative branches do not change the bad habits that are the legacy of the immediate post-colonial era. Unless change takes place, India will remain a nation with two systems -- a booming private sector and a hidebound public sector, with serious consequences for the country's long term prospects.
There is little that outsiders can do to help India reform itself. Foreign meddling is especially unwelcome in New Delhi. Nevertheless, friends of India should not shy away from prodding their interlocutors, whether in the private or public sectors, to clean up the mess that stands in the way of a true long term Indian economic boom. For at the end of the day, a buoyant Indian economy not only would be good for India, but for her friends and partners throughout the world, not least of which is the United States.
Read more about the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership here.
Critics of the civilian-nuclear deal between the United States and India -- proposed in 2005 and ratified in 2008 -- have more recently charged that its supporters oversold the broader benefits of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. Their critique has been given unearned momentum by the Indian parliament, which passed nuclear liability legislation that does not meet international standards, effectively making it impossible for U.S. companies to build civilian-nuclear plants in India. Critics have also been emboldened by a certain drift in U.S.-India relations since 2009 -- for which both sides bear responsibility -- and by India's own lackluster economic performance, which diminishes its attractiveness as the pivotal U.S. partner in 21st century Asia. But these developments do not mean the relationship was oversold. The more accurate charge is that it has not yet been fully consummated.
The Obama administration sent decidedly mixed messages to New Delhi upon taking office in 2009. Bush administration officials had argued convincingly that a shared appreciation for managing the balance of power in Asia was at the core of the U.S.-India entente -- music to the ears of leaders in a country that has still not recovered from the psychological scars of a war with China in 1962. However, early in their tenure, senior Obama administration officials reportedly told Indian counterparts that the United States was no longer "doing balance of power in Asia," while senior U.S. officials, including the president and secretary of state, gave credence for a time to the notion of a Sino-American "G-2" condominium in Asian and global affairs.
This unnerved Indian officials who believed Washington had chosen New Delhi -- not Beijing -- as its privileged partner in rising Asia. Spurned Indian officials fell back on old non-alignment instincts and began speaking of "triangulating" between the United States and China. But events happily changed the discourse: China's militant assertiveness in 2010-11 reminded officials in Washington and across Asia of the growing danger posed by budding Chinese power. President Obama's self-declared "pivot" to Asia in 2011 moved the United States much closer to the Indian position of sustaining a regional equilibrium not tilted in China's direction -- a project of such immensity that India cannot achieve it absent close alignment, if not alliance, with the United States. Nonetheless, the early damage to a U.S.-India relationship whose central logic is rooted in the balance of power caused mistrust that still lingers.
More recently, Indians have been disappointed that the United States, after reassuring them for a decade that U.S. forces would finish the job they started in Afghanistan, will withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan through 2014. Beyond its intrinsic importance, Afghanistan was in fact a key test of the proposition that the United States, as a new strategic partner, could help India solve its toughest security challenge: the propensity of its neighbors to export terrorism into India, with state support. The Taliban's eventual return to control in at least parts of Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan's virulently anti-Indian security services as NATO forces draw down, will undermine Indian security in tangible ways. For many Indians, the United States' lack of staying power reconfirms old suspicions about American unreliability. It reinforces the conviction that India may have more to gain from collaborating with Russia and Iran to support Afghan groups committed to the Taliban's defeat than from relying on (and working with) the United States to do the job.
Americans, in turn, have been disappointed by India's apparent willingness, for a time, to risk its U.S. relationship over energy trade with Iran. The good news is that India has moved to reduce oil and gas imports from Iran, earning New Delhi a waiver from U.S. third-party sanctions set to take effect next month. This is particularly significant in light of India's energy-import dependence and its previous reliance on Iran as a top supplier. But American officials have spent precious time and energy over the course of several years urging India to cut back on its Iran trade -- time and energy that would have been better spent forging ahead on a wider agenda for Indo-U.S. cooperation, were it not for Indian reluctance to take American appeals to heart. New Delhi would have benefited more from early movement on this issue, rather than making a show of standing up to the United States even as India, out of concern for its own interests, systematically reduced its dependence on Iranian energy supplies.
Americans excited about the rise to great-power status of the world's largest democracy have also questioned how India's passivity toward the Arab uprisings has served Indian interests, much less prospects for partnership with both Washington and reformist Arab regimes. While India's election commission did assist in organizing Egypt's first democratic elections, New Delhi has been seriously behind the curve in Libya, Egypt, and Syria (though it has not blocked U.N. Security Council actions on the latter). It is Indian interests that suffer from such passivity, in the form of cool relations with post-revolutionary countries strategically positioned on its western doorstep. Such passivity has undermined the case, not just in Washington but internationally, that India is ready to provide global public goods and assume genuine responsibilities beyond its borders as a permanent member of the Security Council.
Nonetheless, over the past three years India and the United States have made quiet progress in consolidating their new relationship. India is the world's largest arms importer, and the United States is at the top of its list of defense suppliers -- notwithstanding American disappointment that India did not choose a U.S. fifth-generation fighter jet as part of its ongoing military modernization. Indian armed forces exercise more with U.S. counterparts than those from any other country -- a remarkable development for two countries that were on opposite sides of the Cold War divide. Intelligence-sharing is at historic highs; Washington and New Delhi cooperate more actively on counter-terrorism than ever before. The two countries are also more closely aligned on Pakistan as a result of the degeneration of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance over the previous three years. Perhaps most importantly, India and post-pivot America see eye-to-eye on the immense strategic challenge posed by China's ascendance; the Indo-American dialogue on East Asian security has been richly rewarding for both sides.
The hard truth is that Indo-U.S. relations would be better were India and the United States each doing better. India was a most attractive partner when it was growing at near-double digit rates annually, putting it on track to emerge as the world's largest economy before 2050. For many Americans today, India is a less attractive partner as economic growth slumps, the government stalls on key reforms necessary to unlock the economy's vast potential, populism trumps effective policymaking, and politicians seem unable to break partisan gridlock to govern effectively. Funnily enough, Indians could say exactly the same thing about America under President Obama.
I just returned from my third trip to India in four years. Every time I am struck by its confidence facing an ever more integrated world. Retaining relatively high growth rates, India has been relatively unscathed by the financial crisis. India's confidence about its future comes from a number of factors, including the success of the India diaspora across the globe and its definitive break with failed Indian- style socialism in the early 1990s. They have signed on to a model of development that requires increasing openness and they see the U.S.as a key partner.
The United States and India have many shared interests and much of the credit goes to former President Bush for successfully "resetting" the India relationship. After visiting Brazil and Russia in the last three months for a project at my day job, I conclude that a new President will have a most willing partner in India and a most able partner in Russia.
I met with senior officials of the U.S. and Indian governments, leaders in the NGO sector, and think tank scholars who were all very openly pro US. It was refreshing after meeting with Brazilians and Russians with a laundry list of "issues" about the U.S. relationship. The U.S.-India relationship benefits from the best "atmospherics" of the three. One senior Indian official described the United States as the "greatest country in the world" without hyperbole or sarcasm. These are people with whom we can do A LOT of business.
Some facts to think about as we look to the 2012 election:
The opportunities with India are immense and our assistance and other cooperation programs need to radically reposition our relatively small amounts of foreign aid away from social service delivery to a number of smaller catalytic activities that leverage Indian expertise, deepen the institutional relationships between the two countries, and export India expertise and innovation to third countries in line with Indian aspirations as a global player. USAID and the State Department have started to make some steps, but need to take much more aggressive steps over the next several years. It will be hard to justify an annual foreign aid program in India as it becomes wealthier, but there are a large number of opportunities to work together with India requiring small and shrinking amounts of foreign assistance over time.
A new Republican administration would do well to heed the following:
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivered yet another broadside against Pakistan yesterday, just before heading out to India for a state visit. He said "Pakistan has pursued a double game toward Afghanistan, and using terrorism as a means continues," closing out with a threat that "the government of Afghanistan has the responsibility to decisively fight against the enemies of independence and peace in Afghanistan."
Those are pretty bold words for a leader who can't govern his own country, much less win a war against Pakistan. While he's not wrong that Pakistan is interfering in Afghanistan, Karzai's attempt to shift blame across the border is just one more avoidance of responsibility for his corrupt and incapable government. Like most unsuccessful governments, Karzai's Afghanistan finds others to blame instead of working to improve what is in their power to fix. Pakistan sees a dysfunctional Afghanistan that the United States is about to walk away from, and is trying to create a buffer against its chaos seeping further into Pakistan or providing India a springboard for influence. Pakistan's strategy is not wrong in its assessment, but has chosen a means of influence that is ultimately self-defeating.
By contrast, India has been making incredibly smart choices in Afghanistan. And at no small cost: their embassy in Kabul was bombed in 2008 and 2009, killing scores. A developing country itself, India has provided $1.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan, predominantly for road building, medical treatment, training government bureaucrats, and now expanding to training of anti-terrorism police. They have worked cooperatively with the U.S. to help Afghanistan without provoking Pakistan, restraining the visibility of their efforts at our request.
Karzai lashing out at Pakistan increases the risk for India, both by connecting India more closely with a government that has not succeeded in gaining democratic legitimacy at home and by stoking Pakistan's paranoia about Indian influence. Expect the Afghan-Indian summit these next two days to have Indian Prime Minister Singh emphasizing "civilizational ties," while Karzai trumpets security cooperation.
The respective approaches of Pakistan and India in Afghanistan illustrate the potential problem of President Obama's shift to stand-off military strikes from a presence-heavy counterinsurgency. While Pakistan relies on proxy military power in the form of aiding insurgents to affect political developments in Afghanistan, the Indian government is showing a positive agenda of helping Afghans increase their capacity to deal with their problems. It's the difference between a strategy overly reliant on drone strikes and a counter-insurgency that builds support from within the society we are trying to affect. In its rush to the exits of Afghanistan, the Obama Administration might want to consider the respective attractions of the approaches undertaken by Pakistan and India in Afghanistan.
Is Pakistan an ally or an adversary of the West? The answer, as with so much in Pakistan, is ambiguous. It remains clear that Pakistan and the United States need each other. But it is also evident that the terms of their relations need to change in light of Pakistani support for terrorism. Many of those who know Pakistan best, including leading Western and Pakistani experts convened by the German Marshall Fund, the Institute for Security and Defense Policy, and the French Ministry of Defense for a transatlantic workshop on Pakistan last weekend, have concluded that key elements of Pakistan's military/intelligence combine were complicit in sheltering bin Laden.
How should the West respond to a long history of Pakistani double-dealing? At least we know what doesn't work. In the early 1990s, after a close partnership with Islamabad to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States slapped sanctions on Pakistan and effectively walked away. What followed was the rampant nuclear proliferation of the A.Q. Khan network and Pakistan's creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan also began to fall apart as a state during this period of isolation from the West, with the result that General Pervez Musharraf's 1999 coup was welcomed by many Pakistanis and Western leaders alike. In light of this record, cutting Pakistan off today might be emotionally satisfying, but it would not serve Western interests.
Another option would be pursuing a threat-reduction strategy that reassured Pakistan on its eastern and western frontiers. This would include rapidly drawing down NATO forces in Afghanistan, giving Pakistan the lead role in shaping an Afghan political settlement, and using American leverage to force India to come to terms with its quarrelsome neighbor.
The problem here is that predatory Pakistani behavior in Afghanistan pre-dates Western military involvement there after 9/11. Geography and history may mean that the Pakistani military's obsession with "strategic depth" in Afghanistan can never be satisfied. Indeed, it is more likely that a strong, sovereign Afghanistan with long-term Western partners and capable institutions of security and governance would do more to alleviate Pakistani insecurities than a weak Afghanistan unable to control its territory or govern its people. Hence the argument that one of the best things the West can do for Pakistan is to help the Afghan people build a state that can be a good neighbor to Pakistan -- rather than a chronic source of insecurity that tempts Pakistani adventurism.
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India has decided not to buy American F-16's or F/A-18's for the biggest defense tender in its history -- a pending $10 billion-plus contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. Following field trials, it has instead shortlisted the Rafale, made by France's Dassault, and the Typhoon, produced by a European consortium. Skeptics of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership view this as yet another Indian snub to the United States, arguing that the promise of Indo-American entente that was to follow from the historic civilian-nuclear agreement of 2008 has proven hollow.
The charge is that American proponents of closer cooperation with India have oversold India's willingness or ability to partner with the United States. India is unreliable, they argue -- just look at its failure to enact liability legislation that would bring the 2008 civilian-nuclear agreement into force. For the skeptics, Indian foreign policy, rather than tilting in a more pro-American direction, remains guided by non-alignment and an abiding concern for strategic autonomy -- if not an outright hostility to the West, as in the bad old days of the Cold War.
While India's decision is certainly disappointing, this analysis is flawed.
First, the United States has a national interest in Indian strategic autonomy, because one important consequence of India's geopolitical ascent is the ballast it provides to an Asian order not subject to China's tutelage. From an American national interest perspective, it is vital that India retain strategic autonomy by growing its internal capabilities and building external partnerships with a range of important powers, including not just America but also Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and European states.
The civilian-nuclear deal, advanced U.S. defense sales to India, technology-sharing, and other American initiatives have been designed to build Indian strength and promote Indian development. The mercantilistic idea that the ultimate goal of American policy towards India is creating a lucrative new market for American defense companies is not credible.
Second, India is not non-aligned, whatever the results of one defense sale. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh submitted his government to a no-confidence vote in 2008 over the nuclear deal with the United States -- risking the leadership of his coalition over the future of relations with the United States. India's military exercises more with America's armed forces than with any other, and the United States has emerged as a leading arms supplier to India, successfully selling it reconnaissance aircraft, transport aircraft, naval vessels, and other advanced platforms. Beyond the United States, India's growing set of partnerships are almost entirely with states along the Indo-Pacific littoral that fear the consequences of overweening Chinese power and seek to balance it.
India's double-digit annual defense budget increases, and India's emergence as the biggest arms importer in the world, aren't directed at the United States, or Europe, or Japan. They are undertaken with an eye on China first and Pakistan second. Yes, India's prime minister recently attended a BRICS summit -- though an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman made clear beforehand that India vests more importance in the IBSA grouping (India, Brazil, South Africa) of developing democracies -- because they share common values. The BRICS, of course, do not.
Third, it's worth considering the perspective from New Delhi on the aircraft sale. Despite considerable progress in recent years, the United States historically has not been what Indians would call a reliable supplier of military hardware. To the contrary: It has sanctioned India repeatedly, cutting off sales of military platforms, technologies, and spare parts over several different periods. The United States has also provided advanced weaponry to India's key rivals (Pakistan since 1954, China during the 1980s).
Politically, an Indian government under frequent attack for moving closer to Washington stands to benefit from insulating itself against yet more charges of favoritism towards America by buying U.S. fighters. Another core political objective in this context is to avoid the kind of corruption scandals that have marred previous Indian defense purchases (most notably the Bofors scandal of the 1980s, which brought down an Indian government). The possibility for a potential scandal over the role of American political pressure should India buy American is a charge the country's political masters are keen to avoid, and are now immune from.
A related political factor is the what my Indian colleague Dhruva Jaishankar describes as "the general drift" in U.S.-India relations, which "has only increased both countries' resolve to drive harder bargains. This period of drift was initiated by the Obama administration's early missteps on China and Afghanistan and has persisted despite the president's visit to India last November as a consequence of political developments in both capitals." The underperformance of the bilateral relationship over the past two years is manifested in this week's decision on the aircraft tender.
Fourth, India's decision not to shortlist the American combat aircraft was a technical determination. India's existing fleet of Russian and French aircraft, and the ground-based support infrastructure for air operations, are not closely compatible with American combat aircraft. Some argue that European fighter aircraft are more advanced than older models of U.S. combat aircraft; it is reported that several performed better in flight trials over Indian territory than their U.S. competitors. The American planes are certainly more expensive, which matters in a country with more poor people than in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Indian cabinet will make the ultimate political decision on the tender.
This is no defense of India's decision. The great benefit of a U.S. company securing the contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft wasn't the immediate benefit of a lucrative defense sale. It was the establishment of a long-term supply and training relationship between the air forces of the world's biggest democracies, great powers with the capability to fundamentally shape security order in Asia over the coming century.
India will do fine with its Rafales or Typhoons. But it's a shame longer-range, strategic considerations didn't seem to drive this decision. Leaders in Beijing and Islamabad are probably smiling, even as those of us in Washington are not.
The Obama administration had a relatively good year in Asia (relative, that is, to its disastrous first year), but it still must follow up and break bad habits, as my colleague and former State Department official Randy Schriver likes to say. They stood up to China's bullying in the South China Sea, declaring that freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes are American "core interests." They finally signed the most significant free trade agreement since NAFTA, with South Korea. When President Obama went to India he removed barriers to high-technology exports and pressed for more business-to-business ties. In Indonesia, he signed a number of agreements that should help both trade and defense relations. The administration accepted an invitation to the East Asia Summit, which is very important to Southeast Asians and will make it easier to forge lasting bonds in the region.
Now for the critique. The administration seems ready to go wobbly on North Korea, and in the process China. It has shifted from supporting whatever tough measures President Lee Myung-bak wanted to take to nudging him back to the failed six-party talks and congratulating China for its diplomacy in getting North Korea to signal agreement to talk. This is the worst of the bad habits in Asia we must break. The North did not just test a missile this time; they twice killed South Koreans in cold blood last year. No president can allow his people to be killed without responding. We seem not to understand that. The first task for the U.S. and South Korea is to re-establish deterrence, which could well mean proportionate retaliation against the North.
Instead, we are falling back on the same old failed patterns. The North commits an act of aggression and eventually China urges their ally back to the table. Washington then falls over itself complimenting China for its diplomatic skill. This will not get the North to denuclearize or stop its aggression. And it is dangerous. North Korea can continue to commit acts of war with impunity while China simply looks the other way. It will only lead to more attacks on South Korea and is more likely to lead to conflict -- South Korea will eventually have to strike back. Instead, we should thank China very much for its efforts, cut Beijing out of any future talks we wish to have with North Korea, re-establish deterrence, and implement a number of coercive measures against the North to rebuild our negotiating leverage. Not only would direct talks backed up by coercion put us in a more powerful position with North Korea, if carefully orchestrated with our allies, but China might fear being excluded from future arrangements on the peninsula and pressure its friends in Pyongyang to abide by international rules.
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I am not as sure as my Shadow Government colleague Paul Miller is that the Obama administration's decision to publicly endorse India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council was so laudable.
The problem is not in offering the quid. As I argued earlier, this is actually a clever concession to give to India. The problem is in the quo. What did we get for this?
Surely, the administration did not give our support in exchange for the modest trade deals President Obama signed? We have some very serious "asks" of the Indians on urgent national security matters: helping ease Pakistan's paranoia in Afghanistan and helping ratchet up pressure on Iran. Did the administration get anything from India on those issues? If we did not get any firm commitments in advance, is the hope that making this preemptive gift will win us subsequent favor?
Until I hear satisfactory answers to these questions, I am going to remain skeptical about this deal. I am glad the trip made the administration focus on the importance of the Indian file. But we still have not seen as much progress as needed in forging a real, action-oriented, results-oriented strategic relationship.
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The biggest disappointment of President Barack Obama's Asia trip was his failure to strike an agreement on the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement in Seoul. His biggest success was his embrace of a transformative partnership with India. The president can now claim ownership of a relationship that has been on the rocks since he took office, and he deserves considerable credit for arguing that India's rise and success as a future democratic superpower is a core interest of the United States.
The president's vision of a far-reaching partnership with India -- to manage global diplomatic and security challenges, tie the two countries together in a mutually beneficial economic embrace, and promote freedom and rule of law in Asia and beyond -- was bracing. Obama's warm reception by the Indian parliament, commentariat, and public bodes well for future ties between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies.
In New Delhi, Obama made a strong case for strengthening Indo-U.S. ties -- and to create an "indispensable" partnership that would help define the course of the 21st century:
Now, India is not the only emerging power in the world. But the relationship between our countries is unique. For we are two strong democracies whose constitutions begin with the same revolutionary words -- the same revolutionary words -- "We the people." We are two great republics dedicated to the liberty and justice and equality of all people. And we are two free market economies where people have the freedom to pursue ideas and innovation that can change the world. And that's why I believe that India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time… The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality… [P]romoting shared prosperity, preserving peace and security, strengthening democratic governance and human rights -- these are the responsibilities of leadership. And as global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century.
Obama's expressed ambitions for Indo-U.S. ties came just in time to check a growing chorus in Washington of pessimism toward the relationship. Most prominent among the skeptics is George Perkovich, the esteemed vice president for studies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose foundational book on India's development of nuclear weapons was an inspiration for this author, and many others, to embrace the study of India. Dr. Perkovich was an India expert long before it was popular, so his arguments carry great weight. That is why his recent Carnegie report arguing that India cannot be the partner the United States wants it to be -- and that ambitions of the kind Obama expressed for the relationship are actually harmful to it -- deserves attention.
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The criticisms of President Obama that seem to have the most resonance with broad swaths of the American electorate and the center-right commentariat is as follows: Obama has too much faith in the state to guide the economy; he is equivocal about free trade and free markets; he is ambivalent about the idea that America is an exceptional nation that has played an exceptional role in the world; he has internalized the "Hyde Park" or professoriate value system that believes that a president must apologize for a sinful America's past support for "right wing colonial powers" in the name of anti-communism; he is uncomfortable with the military and military power.
If his speech in India is an indication of the sobering and education of a president, then some of these criticisms may be put to rest. President Obama unequivocally embraced the power of free trade and open markets, crediting those forces for Delhi's success. Ironically, as he is rightfully criticized at home for growing the government sector, he even make a connection between India's unshackling of its market from state control and its high growth rates. Possibly for first time in his presidency, as the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens pointed out, Obama stated that democracy itself is the target of terrorists. He also pushed for closer defense ties to help check China's military power and keep the Indian Ocean safe and secure.
While in Asia, then, Obama does not sound like a president ambivalent about free trade or free markets, the value of democratic allies or the continued need for military power to keep the world safe.
He is now in Indonesia and will continue on to Japan and South Korea. Indonesia was a Cold War ally ruled by a succession of anti-communist dictators. And it received substantial American support mostly motivated by Washington's Cold War policy. But Jakarta is now a Muslim-dominated democracy with a real chance for sustained success. While credit goes to the Indonesians themselves, the United States certainly played a role in Indonesia's transformation by providing economic and security aid and occasionally prodding its leaders to reform.
The same is true in Japan and South Korea. Obama is visiting allies whose success is inextricably tied to the very American policy that is criticized by the particular intellectual world of which Obama is a product. While that policy was never perfect -- Indonesians and South Koreans had to endure their share of autocratic rule and corruption -- Washington helped make those countries better off than they otherwise would have been. How? Washington encouraged its allies to join the liberal international system that post-World War II America created, pushed for democratic change and provided a strong military guarantee.
Obama's critics certainly have a point about the president's philosophical predilections. But as he may be learning during his sojourns to Asia, it is one thing in the abstract (or as a professor in Hyde Park) to question American exceptionalism, its leadership in free trade, or whether or not its overwhelming power is "imperial." But as a president traveling to an Asia where liberal values and American strength have made -- and will continue to make -- the difference between security and chaos, the academic debate of which he was once a part, becomes, well, academic. In a part of the world where military power still matters, and where China is straining the liberal system, Obama is put in the somewhat incongruous position of reassuring Asia that U.S. exceptionalism is here to stay: Our leadership is necessary to defend our friends and our (and their) principles. Maybe in the end Asia will change Obama.
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I'd like to take a short break from my running critique of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy to laud him for supporting India's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. I don't know what the administration's rationale was for the shift in U.S. policy, but I think there is a strong realist case for expanding the Security Council to include not just India, but also Japan, Germany, and Brazil.
International institutions like the United Nations are mostly useless. At their best, they oversell their relevance. They do not exert much independent influence on world events distinct from the states that comprise their membership. What needs doing gets done by states, not by institutions. At their worst, institutions waste time and money on ill-advised causes. But institutions do serve a purpose. They provide regularity to the interaction between states. They enshrine norms and patterns of behavior. They provide a reliable talk-shop. They make it easier to conduct multilateral talks and negotiations. They (sometimes) provide a credible, neutral, third-party voice. They can become useful stores of expertise and data on highly specialized issues.
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Within a week of suffering the biggest midterm drubbing in generations, President Barack Obama will depart on a trip to India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. How the president handles this trip will speak volumes about how he sees his agenda for the next two years and how much of an international president he really is.
The first test will be whether he takes the trip at all. Democratic Party strategists and other influential pundits have already begun questioning why he would go abroad and let Republicans seize the narrative at the most crucial point in his presidency. On CNN, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, David Gergen, warned the White House against making the same mistake Clinton made when he went abroad in the wake of Republican midterm victories in November 1994. Will they cancel? The president has already put off previously scheduled trips to India and Indonesia because of domestic political developments. On the other hand, the White House likes to claim this is the first "Pacific president," because Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii (though other presidents like William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy had plenty of experience in the Pacific as well, of course), and that the United States is "back" in Asia (though commentators across the region are asking when the United States ever left). All of this spin -- the first "Pacific president" and the "we're back in Asia" mantra -- would go flying out the window if the president cancelled his trip. Clinton was right not to cancel his international travel in 1994 -- it would have made the presidency appear even weaker. That would have been disastrous politics and worse geostrategy. So odds are pretty good that the president will go on the trip (fingers crossed).
The next test will be how the president handles ten days of hounding from the press about electoral defeats while he is in Asia. And the press will hound -- no doubt about it. Maybe if North Korea fires artillery across the DMZ during the G-20 summit in Seoul or China attacks the Senkaku Islands while the president is in Japan, the press corps might be distracted from domestic U.S. politics to focus briefly on international events. Or maybe the president will dig deep into his oratorical tool box to help shift the media's focus to U.S. interests in Asia -- the continent projected to contribute 60 percent of global GDP in our lifetime. He will have real occasion to look presidential again if he avoids the trivia of fact sheets and joint statements and presents a vision for international U.S. leadership. The visit to Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim nation and one that proves Islam and democracy coexist-- could be a moment for articulating a real message about the compatibility of democratic values and Muslim faith. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama would be the place to remind Americans that over 50 percent of our trade is with this dynamic region, and that the United States can and must compete. The stops in India, Japan and Korea would be the right settings for explaining why investing in our strategic partnerships and alliances will pay dividends in terms of tackling the challenges we face internationally. The president must not re-fight the midterm, appear defensive, or make the narrative about himself (the last of these being the default narrative of the White House on foreign trips thus far). He must ignore what John McCain would call the "ground noise" and talk about the United States and Asia. The press might just listen. The region certainly will.
The third test will be on trade. If there is one area where the White House should be able to work with a more Republican Congress, it is on trade. And if there is one policy area Asia is watching to see if Washington is committed, it's trade. The president has said that he wants the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) ready to present to Congress (again) by the end of the year, but the administration has done no heavy lifting to get to that point (all the action has been aimed at pressing the Koreans to make further compromises). Fair enough -- there were elections coming up, and it may have been unrealistic to expect a Democratic White House to take on its labor union base when turnout was so critical to their electoral strategy. This trip is the time to demonstrate not only the hope that KORUS will be introduced this year, but the intention to do so in partnership with Republicans willing to work for its passage. It would set a tone that Asia would welcome and that Americans desiring more bipartisanship in Washington would be thankful for.
The president's Asia trip should not be seen by the White House as an unfortunate distraction, but instead as a real test of presidential leadership -- one that will help the president and the country if he approaches it the right way.
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The Center for a New American Security has just released an important report laying out a concrete vision and action agenda for the future of U.S.-India relations. Co-chaired by former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, and guided by CNAS senior fellow Richard Fontaine, the study group (on which I served) that produced the report seeks to provide a blueprint for the Obama administration as it considers how to reinvigorate relations with India, which have drifted over the past 22 months. As the report puts it:
The transformation of U.S. ties with New Delhi over the past 10 years, led by Presidents Clinton and Bush, stands as one of the most significant triumphs of recent American foreign policy. It has also been a bipartisan success… Many prominent Indians and Americans, however, now fear this rapid expansion of ties has stalled. Past projects remain incomplete, few new ideas have been embraced by both sides, and the forward momentum that characterized recent cooperation has subsided. The Obama administration has taken significant steps to break through this inertia, including with its Strategic Dialogue this spring and President Obama's planned state visit to India in November 2010. Yet there remains a sense among observers in both countries that this critical relationship is falling short of its promise.
The stakes are high: the United States has a compelling interest in facilitating democratic India's emergence as a global power to help shape a world order conducive to our common interests and values. More particularly, as the report notes, U.S. interests in strengthening ties with India are premised on:
- Ensuring a stable Asian and global balance of power.
- Strengthening an open global trading system.
- Protecting and preserving access to the global commons.
- Countering terrorism and violent extremism.
- Ensuring access to secure global energy resources.
- Bolstering the international nonproliferation regime.
- Promoting democracy and human rights.
- Fostering greater stability, security and economic prosperity in South Asia, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
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President Obama will visit India on a state visit in early November. I recently returned from New Delhi, and it was a trip that revealed a mix of hope and ambivalence that awaits the president's arrival.
On the positive side of the ledger, developments over the past few months have diminished India's sense that U.S. diplomacy has neglected Asia's key rising democracy after a bad stretch early in the Obama administration. Undersecretary of State Bill Burns delivered a terrific speech in June that declared America's vital interest in India's rise and Washington's desire to facilitate it -- a geopolitical vision that has been lacking since President Bush left office. Counterterrorism cooperation has intensified since the United States allowed Indian officials to interrogate captured terrorist suspect David Headley and explore his connections to Pakistani militant groups. The Obama administration has softened its line about dramatically drawing down troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, encouraging Indians and others to hope that the president will see the mission through to some minimally satisfactory conclusion.
With regard to Indians' closely watched northern neighbor, Sino-American relations appear to have stabilized after Washington's flirtation with the G2 condominium concept last year, followed by a period of military and diplomatic tension that has led to stronger U.S. pushback on Beijing's revisionist claims in maritime Asia. The U.S. administration is engaging in a concerted push to lift remaining technology sanctions on India -- a legacy of America's 30-year effort to contain Indian power when the countries were estranged by Cold War and proliferation tensions -- and to more broadly revise American export control laws in ways that catalyze technology trade and investment. The Obama administration is considering declaring its support for India's permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council -- an overdue change of American policy if it occurs. All these developments have been welcomed in New Delhi.
However, India's strategic community remains concerned about (and in some cases, alarmed by) the president's approach to Pakistan; his strategy for Afghanistan; his willingness to pursue a more robust Asia policy that raises the costs of Chinese assertiveness; the absence of American leadership on trade; and his commitment to treating India as a key power and partner in world affairs in a way consistent with Indians' own sense of their country's rising stature and capabilities.
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I have a few more musings on the
the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the
Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the
outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don't have specifics, but I
can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box things to
think about. In the spirit of stimulating the strategic policy planners
who have better access to the information necessary to do this exercise right,
here are some considerations.
General Design Features
The absolutely essential element is explicit quid pro quo. It is fine for us to offer intangible, mood-setting quids, but their quo better be tangible and clearly spelled out in advance. The entire deal would not have to be public; indeed perhaps some elements would have to stay confidential. But the deal would have to be worth it to risk the inevitable leaks and set-backs and it is only worth it if Pakistan delivers concrete action.
The United States would also have to be willing to step back from the deal if
the other players are not doing their part. This is harder to do than it
sounds because, once established, every "deal" develops political
inertia and American leaders can be reluctant to break it off even when it is
clearly not delivering.
What should we ask for?
I would let General McChrystal draw up the list of asks, but I am pretty sure it would involve the movement of sizable Pakistani military units to put pressure on the areas that most affect the Taliban's freedom of movement as well as the sharing of intelligence that would substantially change the local balance of power on either side of the Durand line.
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Is the "China Fantasy" starting to get deflated by reality? Three years ago, Jim Mann's provocative book of that title identified the "China Fantasy" as the dogmatic belief of many Western political and commercial elites that China's economic liberalization and growth would lead inevitably to democracy at home and responsible conduct abroad. The operative word was "inevitably" -- the assumption being that China's remarkable economic success would automatically produce a middle class that demanded greater political rights, and that China's growing integration with the global economy would produce benign and responsible international behavior. Based on this assumption, the corollary policy prescription for the West was to pursue a policy of engagement and encouragement towards China's rise.
This paradigm seems to be shifting. I recently participated in a conference in Europe on China, attended by a cross-section of policy, academic, and commercial leaders from Europe, the United States, and China, and came away struck by palpable attitude changes in at least three dimensions. Taken together, these are signposts that the previous conventional wisdom on China is coming under question:
The erosion of the "China fantasy" does not mark from a precise date, but a watershed moment ironically may have been the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Anticipated as China's grand arrival on the global stage, the Olympics were by many measures a major success -- and not just for people named "Michael Phelps." Yet surrounding the Olympics were constant reminders of Beijing's authoritarianism, whether the petulant rhetorical attacks on Tibet supporters, the draconian efforts at pollution reduction, the omnipresent surveillance, and the tight control on any voices of dissent. Put it this way -- as obnoxious are those %&*!@ vuvuzelas at the World Cup, they are also the sound of a free society. You can bet they would have been banned in Beijing.
The end of the "China fantasy" does not necessarily prescribe a wholesale shift in the free world's posture towards China -- just a more realistic one. For the United States, this has several policy implications:
None of this precludes continued bilateral cooperation with China on important issues, or continued support for sound investment in such a vast market. The "China fantasy" was based more on hope than experience, but the benefit of recent experiences with state capitalism is the chance to replace hope with prudence.
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My last post for Shadow Government elicited some concern from friends in the Obama administration that our criticism of the President's Asia policy was overblown. I stand by what I wrote, but this pushback is fair. Not all the problems in U.S. relations with important Asian powers can be laid at Washington's door. And the Obama administration has taken some constructive early steps.
On the positive side of the ledger, President Obama can claim credit for intensifying U.S. outreach to Indonesia -- although formalization of a new Comprehensive Partnership remains unfulfilled given the postponement of the President's trip there to launch it. President Obama also deserves plaudits for committing the United States to exploring membership in the East Asia Summit, meeting with ASEAN heads of state, and fostering strong relations with key ally South Korea. Here again, however, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, whose implementation should be a centerpiece of the relationship, remains stalled; President Obama seems unwilling to push Congress to ratify it. In another welcome trade-related move, the President has expressed his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is a worthy minilateral trade initiative, but it excludes Asia's big economies and is no substitute for a wider Asia-Pacific trade liberalization agenda. These are all early steps in the right direction, but they do not amount to strategic accomplishments.
On the negative side of the roster, there is no question that President Obama has been dealt a particularly difficult hand in relations with core Asian ally Japan -- where a veritable political revolution last August deposed America's staunch allies in the Liberal Democratic Party and brought to power a new and untested government. It has defined itself in office in part by opposing a previously agreed plan to realign American forces in Okinawa, leading to growing concern over the future of the alliance. The U.S. administration has struggled with how to handle this unresolved conflict -- which has been badly mismanaged by Prime Minister Hatoyama and his colleagues. Resolution may be in sight, but the whole affair risks tarnishing the alliance at a time when Chinese and North Korean assertiveness is intensifying.
Indeed, President Obama has been on the receiving end, until recently, of an increasingly sharp-elbowed China's projection of its power and influence in world affairs, which has created the rockiest period in Sino-American relations since the EP-3 incident of 2001. Here, a firmer and more balanced approach to China early on -- one that prioritized U.S. relations with allies in Asia a little more and reassured China a little less -- could have paid strategic dividends. But the administration's recent recalibration of its policy promises a sturdier defense of American interests and values and, by extension, a more stable relationship. It may even result in a Chinese decision to allow the renmimbi to appreciate. This would be an important accomplishment indeed -- one that China should take in its own interests, given its overheating economy. It would be welcomed by India, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and other U.S. partners in Asia whose competitiveness has suffered from China's artificially cheap currency.
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American success in Asia depends critically on three fundamentals. First, Washington must attend to the health of its network of alliances and partnerships; second, we need a favorable military balance of power; and third, w e must create conditions conducive to prosperity through free trade and economic liberalization. If the Obama administration is strong on these fundamentals, it will also have a more productive relationship with China. The Obama team must remember that China respects power foremost.
The key node in the network of alliances and partnerships is Japan. But there is little doubt that the change in government in Tokyo has caused confusion and sometimes hysteria in Washington. The Obama team should be at least as patient with Japan as it has been with Iran. The Japanese people voted to change an increasingly bureaucratic and unresponsive government. Many members of the newly ruling DPJ are novices in politics and foreign policy. But that does not make them reflexively hostile to the alliance. We are in danger of falling into a trap - we may make an anti-alliance stance popular in Japan. The people of Japan voted to end Japan's economic stagnation. They also want their country to become more "normal," which means less dependent on the United States and less restricted in military operations. The Obama team can tap into the aspirations of Japan by articulating a truly sustainable alliance for the 21st century, based on shared economic growth, more equal relations, and a role for Japan in international affairs commensurate with its power. Pushing hard for a seat on the Perm 5 would be a good start.
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In 2010, President Obama would be well-advised to shift from an "inside-out" to an "outside-in" Asia policy. Rather than taking an approach to this dynamic region that starts with Beijing, raising fears of a Sino-American condominium, he could follow former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's maxim that "getting China right means getting Asia right."
The spectacle of a junior Chinese official scolding the president in Copenhagen symbolizes a troubling turn in relations with a country rendered overconfident by excessive U.S. deference. At the same time, Washington's ties to Asia's other principal powers -- Japan and India -- have deteriorated, further encouraging China's new assertiveness toward both America and its neighbors.
An "outside-in" Asia strategy would accept that China will determine its own course, but that the United States continues to possess the power and influence to shape China's peaceful rise. Washington could usefully stop framing the U.S.-Japan alliance around a narrow dispute over the relocation of American forces on Okinawa, giving Tokyo the space to pursue vigorous domestic reform that will ultimately strengthen the vitality of Japan and, by extension, the alliance. President Obama could begin to take India as seriously as did Presidents Clinton and Bush, acting on the premise that a U.S.-India partnership in Asian and world affairs holds far greater potential, by virtue of common values and shared strategic perspectives, than does any Sino-American G2. Obama could oversee the kind of historic breakthrough in U.S.-Indonesia relations that characterized U.S.-India relations under Bush.
Building on Secretary Clinton's welcome recent endorsement of U.S.-Japan-India trilateral cooperation, the Obama administration could invest in deepening regional concerts among Asia-Pacific powers grounded in common values and shared security perspectives. Finally, Obama could pursue an Asian trade policy rooted not in bilateral protectionism against Chinese products but in pan-regional trade liberalization, starting with the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama must ensure that America remains at the core of the Pacific century, not relegated to its fringes.
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One way to judge President Obama's speech announcing (another) new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is by how it fares among those on the front lines. As one senior official in Kabul puts it in today's Wall Street Journal Asia, "We couldn't solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in 18 months? I don't see how it could be done."
What about the promise of training and equipping Afghan forces to replace Western troops in Afghanistan within two years? The same newspaper quotes a Marine lieutenant who trains Afghan troops as saying, "We're still not at the point where the Afghans can either stand on their own, or at least lead or plan missions. I'd say we are at least four, five years away from that." And the outgoing U.S. commander for police training says its development is "still four to five years beyond the army's." By such reckonings, the United States and its allies have a long way to go before they can responsibly leave Afghanistan to its government and security forces, as is currently underway in Iraq.
Perhaps we can hope that President Obama's declared date for drawing down U.S. forces is the kind of deadline that President Clinton repeatedly imposed on the U.S. military mission in Bosnia in the mid-to-late 1990s to reassure Congress that he had an "exit strategy" -- only to repeatedly extend the annual deadline as the troops' success defused domestic political pressures for withdrawal. By this logic, the president is buying time for his strategy, assuaging his domestic critics while hoping that the success of the West's mini-surge in Afghanistan creates a political and strategic environment conducive to a sustained U.S. military presence -- one increasingly focused on partnering and training with Afghan forces -- beyond 2011.
Setting aside the domestic politics of Obama's decision, it's worth asking what is so necessary about removing U.S. forces from Afghanistan by a date certain. U.S. troops remain in Japan and South Korea 60 years after they first arrived there, and their presence retains the support of strong majorities in both countries. This is also true in Europe. A defining moment of my political education occurred when Germany's then-Foreign Minister, the Green Party leader and former (anti-U.S.) student radical Joshka Fischer, emotionally lobbied my old boss John McCain not to support then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's plan to withdraw significant U.S. military forces from Germany more than a decade after the demise of the Soviet Union.
The politics of the Islamic world are different, but polling shows clearly that a majority of Afghans remain willing to support the presence of international forces if they provide the security that Afghans crave. To the extent that foreign forces in Afghanistan are increasingly unpopular with segments of the Pashtun public, it is because of their manifest failures to improve security -- not the fact of their presence. A surge that reverses the erosion of human security in large swathes of Afghanistan would restore the legitimacy of the Western troop presence in the eyes of an Afghan majority that has no love whatsoever for the Taliban. Yet Obama's suggested "exit strategy" will raise doubts about U.S. reliability among the Afghan public -- and among the Taliban leadership, who can afford to wait out Western forces. As one Taliban foot soldier famously told an U.S. journalist several years ago, "You have the money but we have the time."
Might there be more to the president's new strategy than meets the eye? Some Indian strategists hope so. K. Subrahmanyam, the dean of India's strategic community, asks in today's Indian Express how the United States can possibly hope to train sufficient Afghan security forces to begin drawing down in only 18 months. His answer is that Washington may look to New Delhi -- which has vital equities in preventing the return of the Taliban by strengthening the Afghan state -- to help train and equip Afghan security forces, just as India has been training Afghan civil servants, building roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure as the country's fourth-largest bilateral donor.
India is a natural ally of a non-Talibanized Afghanistan. It has as much to lose from the Taliban's resurgence -- and the clear and present danger it would pose both for destabilizing Pakistan and exporting terrorism into India -- as anyone. New Delhi has considerable influence in Afghanistan in both traditional hard-power and in soft-power terms: Afghanistan is a natural part of India's economic backyard, Afghan citizens can get Indian visas on demand, and Indian movies, music, and food are pervasive in Afghanistan, many of whose elites were educated in India. It would seem natural for India's armed forces to train Afghan counterparts -- were it not for Pakistani paranoia, real or imagined, about "encirclement" by their Indian adversary.
That said, given the links between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and the resulting spread of violent extremism in Pakistan's heartland, at the end of the day a Talibanized Afghanistan would destabilize and endanger Pakistani security more than would a minimal Indian security presence that effectively expanded the capacity of the Afghan state to defend itself against Islamist insurgents. If President Obama is willing to gamble on a shortcut to exiting Afghanistan, he may indeed be tempted to turn to India for the assistance its government is all too keen to supply.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
What should we make of the kerfuffle over the Indian Prime Minister's state visit to Washington today? Manmohan Singh's summit with President Obama, scheduled in part to offset the president's unfortunate decision not to visit India on his first Asian tour, has been plagued by disappointment in Delhi. India does not enjoy the pride of place in America's foreign policy agenda granted it by President Bush and even by President Clinton in the last years of his administration. Why not?
This U.S. administration, unlike its predecessor, appears to disfavor values-based cooperation as an organizing principle of American foreign policy, diminishing policymakers' appreciation of India as the world's largest democracy and subjecting cooperation with both India and China to an unsentimental cost-benefit calculation as to whether Asia's largest democracy or soon-to-be-largest economy should be Washington's privileged partner on any given issue. Yet this interest-based calculus itself reflects a misreading of the many congruent national objectives and ambitions between Washington and New Delhi. Even an Obama-esque judgment of American interests over the coming decade -- one that is cool, hard-headed, and dispassionate -- argues in favor of elevating India to the top tier of American partners in Asia and the world.
Let's briefly, and unsentimentally, review the main facts and trends. The CIA has labeled India the key "swing state" in international politics. It predicted some years ago that India would emerge by 2015 as the fourth most important power in the international system. Goldman Sachs predicts that, within just a few decades, the world's largest economies will be China, the United States, India, and Japan, in that order.
The United States has an enormous stake in the emergence of a rich, confident, democratic India that shares American ambitions to manage Chinese power, protect Indian Ocean sea lanes, safeguard an open international economy, stabilize a volatile region encompassing the heartland of jihadist extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and constructively manage challenges of proliferation, climate change, and other global issues. And even by purely material standards of market access and national security, the United States has a definitive interest in investing in India's success to prove to all those enamored of the Chinese model of authoritarian development that democracy is the firmest foundation for the achievement of humankind's most basic aspirations.
India possesses the world's second fastest-growing major economy and has defined a compelling interest in preserving the gains from globalization by liberalizing international flows of trade, investment, services, and human capital. India's rapidly expanding middle class, currently the size of the entire U.S. population, is expected to constitute 60 percent of its billion-plus population by 2020. Domestic consumption constitutes two-thirds of India's GDP but well under half of China's, giving it a more sustainable, less export-dependent economic foundation for growth. While India's 400-milllion strong labor force today is only half that of China, by 2025 those figures will reverse as China's population "falls off a demographic cliff," in the words of the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, with dramatic implications for India's economic development. India is expected to bypass Japan in the 2020s as the world's third-largest economy, and to bypass China in the early 2030s as the world's most populous country.
India is the kind of revisionist power with an exceptional self-regard that America was over a century ago. America's rise to world power in the 19th and 20th centuries is, in some respects, a model for India's own (peaceful) ambitions, partly because both define their exceptionalism with reference to their open societies. As Indian analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it, Indians have "great admiration for U.S. power" and want their country to "replicate" rather than oppose it. How many strategists -- in China or among Washington's European allies -- share such sentiments?
So let's put to bed the myth that America has more in common with China, or Washington needs Beijing's interest-based cooperation more than New Delhi's, on issues as diverse as Afghanistan and Pakistan (both countries in India's backyard whose destabilization hits India first and hardest), terrorism (which has killed more Indian civilians than those of any other nation not at war), the international economy (whose primary structural imbalance results from China's manipulation of its currency and the trade distortions that result from it), nonproliferation (China actively assisted another state, Pakistan, in developing its nuclear arsenal, which India has never done), energy security (the basis for the unprecedented Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear partnership as well as for greater Indo-U.S. naval cooperation), space (where the countries' ambitions and technology-trade arrangements argue for expanded joint cooperation), and even the difficult issue of climate change (which is predicted to hit India harder than any other major Asian economy).
It goes without saying that Indo-U.S. cooperation promises to reshape the Asian balance of power in ways that conduce to America's hard security interests. As Singaporean elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew has cogently asked, why is no one in the Asia Pacific fearful of India's rise even as they quietly shudder at the implications for their autonomy and security of a future Chinese superpower?
President Obama would do well to ponder that question today as he sits down with Prime Minister Singh to sketch out what we must hope is an ambitious and sustained agenda for expansive Indo-U.S. cooperation over the coming years.
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Before President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao released their joint statement, Obama's Asia trip was underwhelming. But after the statement, Obama's foray into Asia went from empty to harmful.
Before Obama arrived in China, the trip's policy successes were minimal at best. He showed up to a major trade forum, APEC, with no trade policy. If, as Evan Feigenbaum has said, the "business of Asia is business," without a trade policy Obama is putting America out of business in the world's most economically dynamic region. And then he was stiffed by Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama's outright rejection of the American proposal for a high-level dialogue to resolve basing issues on Okinawa. Not exactly a sterling performance by the new team.
But then came the joint statement after talks with President Hu. Two items in the statement struck me: one about Taiwan, the other in regard to India.
On Taiwan, the statement says:
The two countries reiterated that the fundamental principle of respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity is at the core of the three U.S.-China joint communiqués which guide U.S.-China relations. Neither side supports any attempts by any force to undermine this principle. The two sides agreed that respecting each other's core interests is extremely important to ensure steady progress in U.S.-China relations.
The three communiqués do indeed mention respect for territorial integrity. But it is highly arguable that "respect for ... sovereignty and territorial integrity" represent the "core" of the understandings that led to Sino-American rapprochement. The Taiwan issue was treated more delicately by earlier American statesmen. Their basic idea was that we would acknowledge, without accepting, the position that Taiwan is part of China. We would continue strong, unofficial diplomatic ties with the island and we would provide for its security through the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). We thus found a way to normalize relations with China without letting China have its way with Taiwan. Both sides of the Strait have prospered since the U.S. rapprochement with China and the signing into law of the TRA and relations have been more or less peaceful.
Now consider the situation across the Strait today. China has built a military capable of destroying the island if America does not assist Taiwan. Though obligated by law, the Obama administration has not sold a single weapon system to Taiwan. There is in fact no U.S.-Taiwan agenda under the Obama administration. It is even more dangerous, then, to stress the parts of the Sino-American normalization documents that most appeal to China. Of course China wants us to reiterate that our respect for "territorial integrity" and "sovereignty" is at the core of the three communiqués. Beijing wants us to accept its argument that Taiwan is part of China and that we should respect their sovereignty over the island. Obama has thus far done so through deed. With the joint statement he comes closer to officially accepting the Chinese claim of sovereignty.
On India, the joint statement says:
The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.
Here, President Obama broke new ground in ways harmful to both American and Indian interests. India and Japan are the two countries within Asia that can check China's desired dominance. For now, China has less to worry about with Japan as the Hatayoma government sorts through its foreign policies. But India is a different matter. It stood firm against China's pressure when the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian territory claimed by China. Delhi was sending two messages. First, do not interfere in India's internal affairs; the Dalai Lama is free to visit anywhere in India. Second, Arunachal Pradesh is India's territory. China had been putting military pressure on the border region but the Indians did not back down. Delhi is also standing firm in its maritime competition with China in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy will not allow China to build a sphere of influence in that maritime region.
Beijing's India strategy is to tie it down in South Asia to stop it from breaking out as a major power. The strategy has three basic pillars. First, Beijing has supported Pakistan's nuclear and conventional military programs. Second, China wants an acknowledged sphere of influence in South Asia. And third, Beijing wants to resurrect the so called "hyphenated" approach to India. It thus needs the United States to again think of India as part of an India-Pakistan problem, rather than as an emerging great power.
During the Bush and Clinton administrations, Delhi and Washington negotiated an arrangement that acknowledged Delhi's global role and increasing influence. This arrangement is of mutual benefit. Pakistan matters less to India as Delhi expands its strategic horizons. As Pakistan's importance to India lessons, so will Indian-Pakistani tensions. But as India frees itself from the weight of its Pakistan problem it has greater maneuverability to increase its influence in East Asia. China is threatened by that.
Thus, China won a diplomatic victory by getting Washington to agree to "cooperate" on issues of peace and development in South Asia. If China and America work together on South Asian issues, such as peace between India and Pakistan, then China is the great power while India is simply another South Asian country that needs help from others to solve its problems. With the joint statement, Obama officially accorded India junior status in Asia.
We should not be surprised by China's
is surprising -- and extremely problematic -- is that on these key issues Obama
is acquiescing in them.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
By Will Inboden
If one year ago on Election Day someone would have told me that the same President Obama whose campaign promised to repair America's global image would spend his first year in office visibly rejecting human rights and democracy promotion, I would not have believed it. Though I and many others have commented on this previously, it still ranks as the biggest surprise (and biggest disappointment) of his foreign policy thus far. Especially since America's historic commitment to human rights and democracy promotion has been one of its greatest soft power assets and sources of global goodwill.
One thing worthy of praise is the administration's emerging Africa policy. President Obama's speech in Ghana was an admirable call for improved governance, reduced corruption, growth through enterprise, and African responsibility for Africa's future -- and it could not have been delivered by a more effective messenger.
One growing worry is the Obama administration's shaky relations with the Great Powers which -- whether from poor personal chemistry or divergent interests -- could significantly hinder U.S. leverage going forward on several fronts. U.S.-Japan relations are near their worst in a generation (though the Obama administration was dealt a tough hand with the DPJ's election victory). The chill between Sarkozy and Obama is also hurting U.S. relations with France. Russia has thus far offered no significant reciprocal gestures for the U.S. capitulation on missile defense. Obama enjoys little chemistry with Gordon Brown (though to be fair, few leaders do) and has signaled indifference towards the U.S.-UK Special Relationship. U.S.-Germany ties are strong but will soon be tested by Germany's economic relationship with Iran. The Obama administration's China policy is too focused on financing U.S. debt while not pressing China to play a more constructive role on North Korea and Iran's nuclear weapons programs. And while the administration is atoning for its early neglect of India by hosting Prime Minister Singh soon for a state visit, the U.S.-India relationship will need consistent and high level attention in order to reach its potential -- attention that it is not clear the White House will maintain, especially if doing so incurs China's displeasure.
MICHEL EULER/AFP/Getty Images
By Dan Twining
The Indian elections beginning today will be the largest organized activity in human history (always true of Indian elections given the country's growing population). As many as 714 million eligible voters will be marking ballots for a new Indian parliament that will convene in June. The scale of this election is staggering: There are close to 1 million polling stations, 6 million deployed security personnel, and over 1,000 registered parties whose candidates are contesting 543 parliamentary constituencies.
Given democracy's roots in the ancient Greek republic, with its limited franchise and minuscule population, a national election on this scale is historic. It is also normal and unsurprising. It is hard to imagine how else India could be governed, given its scope and diversity (as opposed to its equally big northern neighbor, where 90 percent of the population is Han Chinese).
The history of Indian elections shows that prediction is a fool's game; Indian voters have constantly surprised pollsters, politicians, and pundits alike, and they may well do so again this time around. With that in mind, here are a few markers by which to make sense of this election and what to expect from it.
National vs. regional parties
India's pan-national Congress party has been in secular decline. Since 2004 it has governed India with just over a quarter of seats in Parliament thanks to alliances with smaller regional parties. The other national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is polling at or below this threshold. This means that for either party to govern will require alliances with regional parties, with varying and diverse agendas and a focus on leveraging their roles as kingmakers.
One way to predict whether Congress or the BJP will govern is to assess the prospects of their likely coalition partners. At the moment, the BJP's regional allies look to be in more trouble than those of Congress. But Congress bears the burden of incumbency: The BJP was predicted to win the elections in 2004 but lost power in part because of voters' desire for change, a pattern that recurred in state elections last November. And despite the impeccable pedigree of its prime minister, the Congress-led government has utterly failed to implement further economic reform, calling into question its governing credentials.
A Third Front?
If regional parties do too well, India faces the prospect of a government led not by one of the national parties but by a coalition of regional parties. In one scenario, such a coalition would enjoy the support of Congress or the BJP. In a more interesting scenario, such a coalition would exclude either national party.
The primary pretender to lead what is called a Third Front in the second scenario is Kumari Mayawati, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (population: 185 million), and a Dalit outcaste whose ascendancy would be revolutionary in a political system where upper-caste, Western-educated elites have dominated. Interestingly, India's foreign policy would likely not change much in such a scenario given the strength of the bureaucracy. But the impact on the Indian economy could be significant -- and negative -- if a Mayawati-led government pursued a populist agenda of extending government affirmative-action programs into the private sector.
Rural vs. urban India and the question of economic reform
India's economy has grown at an average annual rate of 9 percent since 2004, a growth rate that produces dramatic social change. Indeed, The Economist and other observers judge the Indian middle class to be as large as the population of the entire United States. Redistricting also makes this national election the first in which India's expanding urban population will punch its weight electorally. The BJP's modernizers have attempted to redefine the party's identity away from an exclusive Hindu nationalism toward one that emphasizes economic reform and competence, appealing to the urban middle class that values these qualities. In some respects, Congress has moved in the opposite direction, putting in place extensive rural welfare schemes and showering money on Indian farmers.
This is astute, because 65 percent of Indian voters still live in rural areas. It was rural voters that turned the BJP out of office in 2004 in a backlash against its "India Shining" campaign: How can India rise as a world power when it has more people living in absolute poverty than all of Sub-Saharan Africa? On the other hand, widespread, rapid economic growth premised on aggressive liberalization and infrastructure development is more likely than government welfare schemes to pull rural India out of poverty.
Beyond pocketbook issues and local concerns, security threats -- Indians are the world's leading victims of terrorism -- could impact the elections. Conventional wisdom that the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack would benefit the BJP's harder line on security was upended when multiple state elections held only days later saw the BJP underperform and Congress do rather well. On relations with Pakistan, the hard-line BJP can claim a Nixon-to-China quality: it was the last BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who launched Indo-Pakistani rapprochement at a groundbreaking summit in Lahore in 1999, and it was current BJP leader L.K. Advani who recently was savaged within his party for going back to Lahore to praise the vision for peace of Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
In its favor, the current Congress government made important progress in back-channel negotiations with Islamabad before the Mumbai attacks, which emanated from Pakistan, and has shown remarkable restraint thereafter. But militant attacks across the Line of Control in Kashmir have tripled this spring, and cities like Mumbai and Delhi are braced for election-season terrorism. The Naxalite insurgency that afflicts vast tracts of the Indian heartland, identified by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's gravest national security challenge, could also affect the vote: Only yesterday, insurgents conducted a "triple strike" in Jharkhand and Bihar that Indian's Home Minister described as an attempt to disrupt the elections. Which political party can best claim to boost Indians' prosperity while strengthening their security against these dangers?
What's not on the table
As important as what Indian political candidates are running on is what they aren't. U.S.-India relations are not an election issue, reflecting the widespread consensus among all but the far left of the political spectrum that a cooperative relationship of equals with the United States can only benefit a rising India. Polling shows that the civilian-nuclear deal was popular even in rural Indian villages -- not because farmers understood the technical details but because partnering with the United States to make India more prosperous and powerful is inherently attractive at all levels of society.
Nor is Islamic extremism a compelling election issue in the sense that radical Islamist parties are contesting the elections on platforms of sharia law and anti-Westernism/anti-modernism of the kind that impact elections in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia. Such parties are absent from the Indian election outside Jammu and Kashmir, and there, Islamists either boycott elections -- or lose them.
Nonetheless, big issues are at stake in India's elections. A weak coalition government will find it hard to move on economic reform, potentially condemning the Indian poor to another generation of grinding rural entrapment and constraining India's great power rise. A government of ideologically and politically diverse parties will find it hard to define an agenda that makes India an active leader in international politics -- rather than a country that remains, in some respects, insular and unwilling or unable to assume international responsibilities on issues like climate change.
A Congress-led government in which Manmohan Singh serves only as a placeholder leader until the ascendance to the prime ministership of Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's first family, will reinforce the dynastic quality of Indian political life. A BJP-led government in which the party's sectarian warriors rather than its economic modernizers hold the upper hand could foment communal discord within Indian society in ways that artificially and ahistorically divide its Hindu and Muslim communities, creating an opening for radicalization and sectarian violence.
Amid all this uncertainty, however, one thing in clear: When the votes are counted on May 16, not only Indians will be watching; the world will be too.
By Dan Twining
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Lhasa uprising. Much of the associated commentary suggests that Tibet is, at most, an internal human rights issue in China, albeit one that impacts China's foreign relations with Western democracies who care about the plight of the Tibetan people. Indeed, the Dalai Lama's admission that Tibet is part of China, and that he seeks true autonomy rather than actual independence for his people, reaffirm this view. There is also, however, an external dimension to the Tibetan crisis, one that implicates core national security interests of nuclear-armed great powers.
This is the role Tibet's dispensation plays in the conflict between China and India. Indian strategist C. Raja Mohan puts it bluntly: "When there is relative tranquility in Tibet, India and China have reasonably good relations. When Sino-Tibetan tensions rise, India's relationship with China heads south." Although not widely recognized in the West, the nexus of Tibet and the unresolved border conflict between China and India ranks with the Taiwan Strait and Korean peninsula among Asia's leading flashpoints.
Contrary to Chinese propaganda, Tibet was not traditionally a part of China. Over the centuries, relations between China and Tibet were characterized by varying degrees of association spanning the spectrum from sovereignty to suzerainty to independence. The People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet in the middle of the last century precisely because Tibetans did not consent to Beijing's rule.
For its part, prior to Indian independence, then-British India vigorously supported Tibetan autonomy and sponsored the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh to create an expansive geographic buffer between China and the subcontinent. John Garver's excellent history of Sino-Indian rivalry contains useful maps depicting a rump China and an expansive Indian subcontinent separated by a vast, autonomous Tibet, demonstrating how far apart were India and China geographically until Chinese unification by the Communist Party several years after Indian independence gave them a common border.
That common border has since been a source of conflict. As is well known, India and China went to war over their territorial dispute in 1962, ending the era of what Indian Prime Minister Nehru called "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai" ("Indians and Chinese are brothers"). What is less well known in the West is that China, while subsequently resolving 17 of its 18 outstanding land border disputes with neighboring countries, has kept the territorial conflict with India alive, at times appearing to inflame the issue as a source of leverage over New Delhi.
Over the past two years, Chinese officials have publicly asserted Chinese claims to the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which some Chinese military advisors and strategists refer to as "Southern Tibet." Chinese forces have periodically engaged in small-scale cross-border encroachments, destroying Indian military bunkers and patrol bases in Ladakh and Sikkim.
At the same time, China has been systematically constructing road and rail networks across the Tibetan plateau in ways that tilt the balance of forces along the contested frontier in China's favor; India has responded with infrastructure projects of its own, including roads and air fields, to enable military reinforcement of its border regions, but has failed to keep pace with its northern neighbor. China has also positioned large numbers of military and security forces on the Tibetan plateau, mainly with an eye on suppressing popular unrest. But the possibility of using them to "teach India a lesson" (as in 1962) remains.
Indian pundits note that public reminders from Beijing of China's decisive victory over India in the 1962 war have spiked over the past year, sending what Indians believe is a clear signal to New Delhi at a time of rising tensions. Combined with China's reported deployment in Tibet of nuclear missiles targeting India, officials in New Delhi feel increasingly alarmed in the face of Chinese provocation. In striking statements little noted in the West, both Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and respected former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra recently warned China against any attempt to seize Indian-held territory along their contested border.
Surging border tensions may be related to worries in Beijing over the Dalai Lama's succession. Some of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, including the sacred monastery at Tawang, are in Indian-held territory. The Dalai Lama, who has been in poor health, has said that he would not feel obligated to nominate a successor from, or be reborn in, Tibet proper, raising the possibility that the next Dalai Lama could be named outside China -- in the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India into Bhutan and Nepal.
Some Indian strategists fear that China may act to preempt, or respond to, an announcement of the Dalai Lama's chosen successor in India - particularly in Tawang -- by deploying the People's Liberation Army to occupy contested territory along the Sino-Indian border, as occurred in 1962, creating a risk of military conflict between the now nuclear-armed Asian giants.
Although China enjoys the dominant military position in the Tibetan plateau, India still has cards to play. It hosts the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in Dharamsala, enabling Tibet's representatives to keep their cause alive in the court of world opinion. And unlike Britain -- which last October withdrew its recognition of China's "suzerainty" (in favor of "sovereignty") over Tibet in a failed effort to placate Beijing, leading one scornful Singaporean commentator to note that China was "bringing Europe to its knees" -- India continues to recognize only Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, rather than full and consensual sovereignty. This creates the possibility that New Delhi could play a "Tibet card" in its relations with Beijing in the same way that China accuses the United States of playing a "Taiwan card" to keep it off balance.
What do Sino-Indian border tensions linked to the Tibetan cause mean for the United States?
First, the U.S. has a compelling interest in preventing conflict between one of its largest trading partners and its newfound strategic partner.
Second, historic U.S. support for the cause of human rights in Tibet, in addition to Washington's growing military ties with New Delhi, mean that the United States would find it difficult to be a neutral arbiter in such a conflict.
Third, India's continuing political and moral support for the Tibetan government-in-exile demonstrates that it shares with America a set of ideals in foreign policy, creating the basis for greater values-based cooperation between Washington and New Delhi - a prospect that has not gone unnoticed in Beijing.
Fourth, given China's development of military capabilities designed to threaten U.S. access to the Western Pacific and Southeast Asian waterways, Chinese pressure on U.S. friends including the Philippines and Vietnam to back down on claims to contested islets in the South China Sea, and Chinese harassment of the U.S. Navy in Asian waters, Washington has an important interest in making perfectly clear to Beijing that the use of force to resolve contested territorial claims or limit freedom of the seas is unacceptable -- and could upend rather than facilitate China's peaceful rise.
By Dan Twining
In 1998, President Clinton flew over Japan without stopping to spend nine days in China. This led to acute concern in Tokyo over "Japan passing" -- the belief that Washington was neglecting a key Asian ally in favor of the region's rising star, China. Is the same thing happening today -- not with Japan, destination of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first overseas trip, but with India?
The construction of a strategic partnership with India was arguably President Bush's signal foreign policy accomplishment. Decades of estrangement between the world's largest democracies gave way to a strategic breakthrough akin to President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Senior Bush administration officials believed that India could emerge as America's most important international partner over coming decades, given India's growing capabilities and a congruence of interests in defeating global terrorism, managing China's rise, sustaining an open global economy, and securing our common values.
For its part, the government of Manmohan Singh literally put its survival on the line for the United States, subjecting itself to a confidence vote in parliament in order to move forward with the civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Few other countries -- including America's closest allies -- have passed such a test.
But signs of trouble in U.S.-India relations emerged early on Barack Obama's road to the White House. As a Senator, he offered a killer amendment to restrict nuclear fuel supply to India during consideration of the civilian-nuclear agreement, which the Bush administration and India's supporters in Congress had to work hard to defeat.
During the presidential campaign, he revealed that he had asked Bill Clinton to consider serving as a special envoy for Kashmir in an Obama administration, alarming Indians in the way that Americans might be alarmed if the European Union offered to send a senior envoy to mediate between Mexico and the United States over the status of Texas.
Candidate Obama also pledged, if elected, to push for U.S. ratification and global entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This issue, more than any other, divided the United States and India in the 1990s, especially when the United States and China -- which had helped sponsor Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs targeting India -- ganged up on India at the United Nations to press it to accept the test ban.
Following Obama's election, Indian officials lobbied hard to exclude India from inclusion in Richard Holbrooke's mandate as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (first "and Kashmir," then "and related matters" were dropped from his notional title with Indian prodding). Senior officials in New Delhi worried that formally including India in Holbrooke's Afghanistan-Pakistan portfolio would lead to inevitable U.S. pressure on India (intensified by Holbrooke's talent as a negotiator) to make concessions to Pakistan even as elements of its security apparatus were judged to have been complicit in the 11/26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
India's worries were intensified when the new administration excluded India from its inaugural list of foreign policy partners and priorities, despite references to other Asian powers, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and China. And Indian diplomats were dumbfounded when Prime Minister Singh was not among the first two dozen world leaders to receive an introductory phone call from President Obama. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese President Hu Jintao, among others, did.
Secretary Clinton deserves enormous credit for making her inaugural official trip to Asia. But the original Policy Planning Staff transition memo suggesting such a visit included India along with Japan, South Korea, China, and Indonesia in its recommended itinerary. What happened? No senior U.S. official can go everywhere, especially across the vast expanse of Eurasia. But skipping New Delhi only reinforced an Indian perception of U.S. coolness.
The Bush administration made a conceptual and bureaucratic breakthrough in considering India to be part of wider Asia, rather than relegating it to its tough neighborhood on the subcontinent. As Senior Director for East Asia at the NSC, Mike Green included India in his portfolio as part of a conscious strategy of making India a key player in East Asia's evolution. To his credit, the current Senior Director, Jeff Bader, reportedly has done the same thing, although, because he is a China specialist, Indian elites do not expect his equal attention.
So who will have the India account in the Obama administration? Arguably, in the ancien regime, Bush himself was India's biggest booster, which in turn led Secretary Rice to devote considerable time and energy to building the relationship, with day-to-day management by Undersecretary of State Nick Burns and then his successor, Bill Burns. In the current line-up, the president does not appear to hold a particular brief for India. Though her presidential candidacy enjoyed strong support from the Indian-American community, Secretary Clinton seems focused on East Asia. At a traveling press conference this week, her press secretary reportedly dismissed one reporter's inquiries with the declaration, "No questions about India."
Does this mean that the Obama administration is putting India back into its subcontinental box? Undersecretary of State Bill Burns in theory still has the India account at State. But he has lost his office space in the Secretary's suite to Deputy Secretary Jacob Lew, and there are reports of early tussles with Holbrooke over seniority and access. Indeed, Holbrooke was the first senior American official to visit New Delhi. In addition to praising Indian restraint after the Mumbai attacks, he again called for India to reduce tensions with Pakistan.
The Obama administration is right to frame the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan in their regional context. But India can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. India has enormous equities in the construction of a democratic state in Afghanistan. It has contributed substantial development assistance, built infrastructure, and trained Afghan civil servants. New Delhi has long wanted to do more, but Washington's Pakistan-centric bureaucracy resisted. Given the growing challenge of getting Afghanistan right, it may be time to ask India to step up, in police training and other areas.
More generally, it's worth keeping in mind that the Bush administration's de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan policy, after decades of Pakistan-centricity in the U.S. approach to South Asia, created a range of new strategic possibilities -- including the most substantial progress ever made between India and Pakistan in back-channel negotiations over a Kashmir settlement.
Today, victory in Afghanistan is critical, as is preventing Pakistan's Talibanization or economic collapse. But democratic India, destined to surpass China as the world's most populous country and to emerge as the world's third-largest economy within several decades, is the region's big strategic prize, an essential partner for the United States in promoting a more peaceful, prosperous, and liberal world. India's people also hold the United States in high regard. As the Obama administration finds its feet, it will want to invest in this potentially transformative relationship, even as it necessarily fights fires elsewhere in South Asia.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.