DEBATE: Are improving Indo-U.S. relations good news?

DEBATE: Are improving Indo-U.S. relations good news? (credit: Maegha Singh/) DEBATE: Are improving Indo-U.S. relations good news? (credit: Maegha Singh/)
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President Obama made history in India last week by becoming the first United States president to attend India’s Republic Day Parade as its chief guest. Held every year on the 26th of January since 1950, Republic Day commemorates India adopting its constitution to become a democratic republic.

Traditionally, the chief guests at these parades have been the heads of India’s old allies. For example, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took on the role in 2014, French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007. As such, President Obama’s attendance signals a new era of strong alliance between India and the United States that will be highly beneficial to both countries.

Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to enjoy each other’s company. From joking about how little sleep they get as heads of state to hosting a joint radio broadcast, they reveled in the attention of the Indian media circus, providing sound bite after sound bite. Modi referred to Obama as “Barack,” and spoke expressively about how he and Obama shared a personal chemistry. Obama, not to be outdone, greeted his audiences with a “Namaskaar” and found the time to try his hand at a famous Bollywood movie dialogue. As such, both Obama and Modi pulled out all the stops to create an image of intense personal camaraderie.

Grand gestures aside, the visit also included measurable progress. Both nations have similar concerns — from China’s assertiveness in the Asia Pacific region to terrorism in the Middle East and the threat of Climate Change — that were finally addressed as a team.

Several of these issues were addressed through a Joint Statement. In an oblique reference to China, the statement “affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.” The United States needs a strong regional partner to contain China to effect its "rebalance to Asia" policy. For India to stake a credible regional claim of its own, it needs an ally as powerful as the United States.

On the topic of terrorism, Obama and Modi “stressed the need for joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis.” India and the United States have both been victims of horrendous attacks from these organizations. Any kind of cooperation — from the sharing of intelligence to co-ordination of troops and equipment — is mutually beneficial.

The most substantial progress, however, was in clean energy. Massive hurdles in a dormant Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal, signed in 2008, were cleared. An overreaching nuclear accident liability law in India was worked around through the establishment of a multimillion-dollar insurance pool.

A United States requirement that all nuclear exports to India be tracked in real time was waived since it was considered intrusive. This clears the way for Indian and United States companies to work together to set up nuclear power plants throughout India. This is very good news for energy-starved India, large parts of which receive electricity for less than the whole day, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is also very good news for the United States, now well positioned to become the primary supplier of India’s massive energy modernization drive. Finally, reducing India’s dependence on coal-fired plants is great for the environment and thereby beneficial to both countries.

Significant progress was also made in the field of defense exports and imports. The US is the world’s largest exporter of defense equipment, and India is the world’s largest importer of defense equipment, according to the International Business Times. Even so, historically, defense trade between the two countries has been depressingly anemic.

However, this past week agreements have been signed between the United States and India that allow for the coproduction of weapons, as well as the transfer of technology to India that allow weapons designed in the US to be manufactured in India. Besides being another massive boost to trade, the export of manufacturing capability of defense equipment to India is particularly significant as it implies a trust that extends beyond the civilian realm and into the highly sensitive realm of defense.

Obama’s visit to India represents the final realization of a relationship that seems only natural. Both countries have been stable democracies since their inception. Both countries are home to people from a multitude of ethnicities and religions. As such, both countries have a deep respect for secular thought and are home to a wide swathe of often oppositional views. Finally, people in both countries enjoy freedom of speech, and can openly and publicly speak out for or against those in power without fear of retribution. Culturally and ideologically, there could hardly be two closer large countries than India and the United States, and these new, stronger Indo-U.S. ties will prove highly beneficial to both nations.