Shadow Government

The Modi Wave: India's Election and American Interests

India's election has produced a decisive majority for the political alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi. Turnout was higher, as a percentage of eligible voters, than in any election since 1984, and exit polling showed an overwhelming demand for change from the 551 million Indians who went to the polls. The sweep of the BJP's victory was striking: The party won 283 seats in parliament, clearing a simple majority of 272, and with its coalition partners it now controls 336 out of 543 seats. The ruling Congress party won only 44 seats (it previously held 209). Polls show Modi enjoyed majority support from upper- and lower-caste Indians, rural and urban voters, and Indians in the populous north and wealthier south. Failures of governance and hopes for change have united the world's most diverse nation across its otherwise yawning socioeconomic chasms.

Incoming Prime Minister Modi promises to reinvigorate an economy whose annual growth rates have halved from near double-digit rates in recent years. He has pledged to tackle endemic corruption and create a slimmed-down, more effective state through what he calls "maximum governance, minimal government." Modi cites his own record as chief minister of Gujarat, which has grown faster than China for two decades, as an example of the pro-growth, no-nonsense management experience he will bring to New Delhi as prime minister. He also promises to more forcefully pursue India's interests abroad, including by responding firmly to Chinese designs on India's northeastern territories. America has high stakes in an Indian resurgence that could help drive global growth and tilt Asia's power balance in a democratic direction.

Restoring economic vigor through good governance and decisive reform is the clear mandate of India's new government. Growth has plummeted to less than 5 percent; annual inflation is almost twice the rate of GDP expansion, hitting average Indians right in their pocketbooks. As many as 800 million Indian citizens live on less than $2 per day, in a land that was once the world's largest economy, comprising some 25 percent of global GDP. One out of every two children is malnourished. Modi has promised "toilets before temples" in a bow to his country's essential development requirements over the religious agenda associated with elements of his party.

In the heady days of go-go growth in the 2000s, many millions of Indians internalized the notion that their country was destined for economic and geopolitical greatness. They feel like the Congress party lost the plot and let them down. It is appropriate that they have voted in a prime minister who has managed the economy of India's most industrialized and globalized state. Narendra Modi is the first prime minister to be born after Indian independence. His election is a metaphor for Indian voters' declaration of independence from the Congress party, which has ruled India for most of its modern history and has suffered its worst electoral defeat ever. As veteran party leader Jairam Ramesh put it, "Our performance is worse than the worst-case scenario."

This election may prove a turning point in India's political history. Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta describes the journey of the Indian voter since 1947 in three stages -- from gratitude to the Congress party to delivering India's independence, to grievance as a result of underdevelopment and stifled opportunity, to aspiration for a better future under conditions of dynamic economic growth. Modi's ascension represents the victory of the aspirational group, now comprising hundreds of millions of Indians and growing every day. They have extraordinarily high expectations for his government.

So does the United States. The greatest momentum in U.S.-Indian relations came during the 2000s, when India was growing at rates approaching 10 percent. The growth Modi promises should restore energy to the bilateral relationship. A flourishing India undergoing vigorous reform will be a better business partner for American firms than one limping along under state socialism. A dynamic India is more likely to have the confidence to engage the United States as a diplomatic partner, rather than retreating into the old shibboleths of non-alignment and third-worldism. A surging India is also more likely to pursue the kind of activist foreign policy that makes it a shaper, rather than a victim, of world events.

This matters in light of India's symmetry of interests with the United States. A revitalized India will be the southern anchor of an Asian balance of power that does not tilt too heavily towards China. It would be an example to the emerging world of economic transformation under democratic institutions. A thriving India could uplift its region, including troubled Pakistan. In short, the United States has a considerable stake in India's success. If Modi can go even partway towards meeting his people's aspirations, American interests will benefit too.

Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Obama and Rouhani: Strategy, Capability, and Resolve in Nuclear Negotiations

After I served on the Reagan-Bush National Security Council staff in the 1980s, my former colleagues cooked up an approach of reaching out to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As we know from the transfer of U.S. arms to Iran in exchange for Americans held hostage by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, extending a hand to Iran failed. Capitulation was the outcome of that scheme, as more hostages were seized following receipt of American arms by Iran.

Harking back to the era when President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reached out to China to balance the Soviet Union, my former associates envisioned that extending a hand to Tehran would create an American-Iranian condominium that would bring security and peace to the Middle East. But in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Islamic Republic had not made a decision to be a normal nation rather than a revolutionary cause.

Two decades after this failure, political-realist President Barack Obama uses nuclear talks between the major powers and Iran to test whether it is ready to come in from the cold. With an adroit use of mostly congressionally-imposed financial and trade sanctions, Obama hoped it would be possible to turn Iran away from its revolutionary zeal and into a nation engaged economically with the West that fits within the U.S. security framework for the Middle East. If Rouhani were a realist, he might calculate as Obama would and conclude that preserving the Revolution is not as worthwhile as a prosperous economy.


When the President Obama authorized secret talks with President Rouhani's agents to create the basis for the November 2013 and January 2014 preliminary accords with Tehran, Obama thought he was dealing with a like-minded realist who wanted to turn Iran into more of a republic and less of an Islamist cause. By using terrorism as a strategy to destabilize the region as he negotiates an exchange of sanctions relief for a cap on Iran's "right to enrich" on its own soil, however, Rouhani shows his true colors. Like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Rouhani is a radical who uses deception against a realist like Obama. And Rouhani plays to his weakness relative to so-called hardliners, which gives him one up on Obama in the talks.  


Nuclear talks with Iran give a great deal of attention to capability while the major powers pay too little attention to the nature of the Iranian regime, its deceptive practice of cheating and only retreating when caught, and use of nuclear talks to achieve strategic goals regarding the Sunni Arab Gulf States and Israel.

Regarding capability, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) compared Iran's breakout time in August 2013 with the time if Iran complied fully with the January 2014 interim accord and allowed stringent inspections. In August, ISIS assessed Tehran might reach breakout status at about 1.0-1.6 months, as opposed to 1.9-2.2 months after the January agreement.

A team led by ambassadors Eric Edelman and Dennis Ross, stated that, "the JPA [Joint Plan of Action] has set back Iran's breakout timing by nearly one month." James Jeffrey and David Pollock, of The Washington Institute, expand the definition to include exploiting the threat of a breakout for regional coercion. Doing so would require limitations on Tehran, they claimed, including "extensive verification, monitoring, and intelligence capabilities, inside and outside the agreement ... and a credible response if breakout occurs." Because verification is crucial for deterring an Iranian breakout, there is a premium on a variety of intelligence sources and methods, e.g., satellite imagery, electronic intercepts, and human sources.


No matter what sources are used by the intelligence community, resolve is necessary to carry out a credible response if breakout occurs. Unless President Obama establishes his willingness to use force beyond pinprick drone attacks, Rouhani comes out ahead because of his use of terrorism without facing any costs from Obama. To avoid complete capitulation, Obama also might toughen his approach in the talks: Adopting "zero enrichment" for Iran would be a good first step.