India-US key lies in smaller ticket issues: India Inc. interview with Michael Kugelman

India-US key lies in smaller ticket issues: India Inc. interview with Michael Kugelman
India-US key lies in smaller ticket issues: India Inc. interview with Michael Kugelman

Michael Kugelman is the senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. His writings on the US-India relationship have appeared in the 'New York Times' and 'Los Angeles Times', among other publications.Has the balance of India-US economic relationship changed under Modi The balance has changed for the better in rhetoric and symbolism, but not in substance. Modi has talked a proverbial good game since becoming premier, with promises to make transformative changes to the investment climate in India so as to attract more financiers from the US and beyond.However, when all is said and done, there really has been relatively little to show for in terms of actual policy. The US business community, while encouraged by Modi's cando attitude, is still not completely satisfied. That said, these changes can't happen overnight. With the broader bilateral relationship enjoying strong momentum, there's reason to hope that concrete changes will be seen in due course.Is the civil nuclear deal a defining factor This deal reflects the hopes and frustrations of US-India relations on the whole. The last 10 years have brought endless soaring rhetoric about the deal, but few actual achievements. We certainly shouldn't give up on the deal, as there is still hope for some sort of compromise on the liability issues that have held back implementation. But I do think it may be time to stop identifying the deal as a cornerstone of the relationship.Cornerstone agreements don't take a decade, and counting, to implement. Perhaps it's better to focus on actionable smaller-ticket issues, such as cooperation on clean energy, maritime affairs, or IT, to name just a few, rather than problematic big-ticket issues.What more can be achieved in the field of energy cooperation One possibility is LNG, which India is keen to acquire. Qatar, Australia, and Russia offer opportunities, though the US - with its abundant reserves - does as well. In an ideal world, the US and India could reach an accord that allows LNG export to flow to India from the US. However, there are legal complications in the US that make this difficult to do.Additionally, clean energy cooperation has long played a modest role in the US-India relationship. One measure to kick-start even greater cooperation here is to ramp up technology transfers. India could benefit from US technologies that bring down the costs of solar power storage and that promote more overall energy efficiency.Is the lack of support for India's UN Security Council (UNSC) ambitions a sticking point Let's not forget that several years ago President Obama, while in India, endorsed an eventual permanent UNSC seat for India. Since then, the US position has been a bit more vague. I don't think the US opposes India's ascension to a permanent seat. I think its relative silence on the matter is a reflection of its scepticism that India would actually get this seat anytime soon - because of the presumed opposition of permanent member China.I think there's also a sense on the part of the US that even the various reforms that would need to be passed in order to allow the class of permanent members to grow are unlikely to be passed, at least in the immediate future.That said, US-India relations would certainly get a big boost if Obama were to publicly reiterate his previous endorsement of an Indian permanent UNSC seat.Does the spectre of Pakistan still feature within the bilateral ties Yes. Officials in Delhi may claim that they've grudgingly accepted that Washington's interests necessitate a workable US relationship with Islamabad.In reality, I can't imagine that the US-India relationship can become a truly healthy and trust-filled, much less strategic, relationship so long as Washington continues to court Islamabad.Pakistan may become an even greater tension point in US-India relations in the coming months. India-Pakistan relations continue to deteriorate amid the recent attack in Gurdaspur and other indications that Pakistani militants continue to target India - even as the US continues to sign cheques to the Pakistani military and plans for a visit to Washington by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later this year.

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