Shadow Government

Why Obama needs to play his cards right with India

By Daniel Twining

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.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

A foreign policy must-have: an ambassador for children

By Jean M. Geran

This past week marked yet another of 2009's 20th anniversaries highlighting the challenges we face to protect the world's afflicted. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), passed in 1989, has now been ratified by 193 countries -- except the United States and Somalia. Its 20th anniversary prompted the usual round of calls on the United States to ratify it, but ratification would not necessarily improve the lives of the world's children. The Obama administration says it is reviewing the CRC, but the reality is that like some other human rights treaties, the technicalities of U.S. law and problems with some aspects of the CRC make ratification anytime soon unlikely.

Vulnerable children are a common denominator in many foreign policy challenges today -- whether an orphan who needs to be adopted, a child soldier or trafficking victim who needs to be reunited, an unaccompanied minor refugee who needs to go home, or a poor child whose family needs support to stay together. Instead of the CRC, a far more productive focus for child advocates would be to urge Secretary Clinton to fix the broken U.S. policy and aid apparatus on global children's issues. A good start would be to designate someone at the State Department, ambassador-level or higher, to coordinate all child protection issues across the U.S. government. 

International children's issues currently fall afoul of the U.S. government's dysfunctional foreign aid system. There is bipartisan consensus that the system is broken. Secretary Rice attempted foreign assistance reform through transformational diplomacy, and the Obama administration has its State-led Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and pending legislation on the Hill. But I doubt change is imminent. For the foreseeable future, gaps will remain in culture, approach, and purpose between State, USAID, and other U.S. agencies with international programs -- and vulnerable children around the world will continue to fall through the cracks.

Every child's right to a family, their best protection against abuse, is enshrined in the CRC. But protecting that right requires finding permanent solutions for each orphan, abandoned or separated child. From a U.S. policy perspective, responsibility for each category of children as well as the solutions available to them are spread across numerous offices and departments from State, to USAID, to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and others. The divisions run wide and deep, but the issue where American foreign policy interests come together around children -- or more often collide -- is over inter-country adoption.   

Americans adopt more children from abroad than any other nation and international adoptions have more than doubled since 1989. Adoption is not right for every child without a family nor is it the full solution to the orphan crisis brought on by HIV/AIDS. But for many needy children adoption is the only way to have a permanent family. Yet adoptions must be done right. Unfortunately, weak laws and regulations in developing countries, preferences for infants over older children, and the money involved can lead to inappropriate adoptions and, in extreme cases, baby selling. Such problems have forced the State Department's Office of Children's Issues to stop adoptions from specific countries like Cambodia and Guatemala until officials could ensure that they were legitimate -- a necessary but tragic outcome for families and children caught in the pipeline. 

As a member of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary Rice, I developed an initiative that would have improved interagency coordination and created bilateral partnerships and a trust fund at UNICEF to help countries strengthen their own child protection systems. Though there was wide support including from the Secretary herself, the initiative was derailed by petty turf issues, scarce resources and resistance to new approaches -- all common bureaucratic dysfunctions. Opposition to international adoption also played a role. A USAID officer told me that he maintains a firm wall between international adoptions and any assistance he oversees for orphans to keep it from being "tainted." The problem is that the same authorities in developing countries in charge of adoptions are also in charge of other vulnerable children. The bureaucratic wall helps no one -- not the abandoned child languishing in an institution even though a family is willing to adopt him or the government official trying to stop bad adoptions and place children safely into families in her own country. It needs to come down. 

It will take a mandate from the top to push the bureaucracy past these problems and Secretary Clinton is perfectly placed to direct it. As a former Senator and long-time child advocate, she knows of the strong bipartisan support in Congress for adoption and orphan issues. The secretary can task someone on her staff, possibly an existing assistant secretary, with the mandate to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect children globally. An "ambassador for children" could chair a senior policy coordinating group to include HHS and others to oversee strategic diplomacy, technical assistance, exchanges, and public-private partnerships to help developing countries improve child protection systems and provide better oversight of all adoptions. An effective coordinating mechanism could unlock significant resources from Congress, the private sector, faith-based groups, and other international partners.  

Assisting countries that want to improve their own governance is the best way to reduce the abuse, exploitation and neglect of orphans and vulnerable children anywhere. It doesn't require ratifying a new treaty, just some leadership and more effective cooperation.

JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images