Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
It’s been a rough seventeen months for the United States and India. I’ve written about some of the challenges here and here—and talked about them here and here.
First, there were some early missteps, not least during the President’s 2008 campaign. As a candidate, Barack Obama told TIME’s Joe Klein that he would appoint a U.S. envoy to seek peace in Kashmir. As president, he quickly backed off after strenuous Indian objections. But Indian mistrust spiked, then lingered, after his inauguration.
Second, the two sides hit something of an intellectual wall. They’ve lacked a new “big idea” to succeed the U.S.-India civil nuclear initiative. We sometimes forget just how big that idea really was. It began, in a sense, as an effort to overcome a bilateral dispute left over from the 1970s. But it quickly became a full-fledged campaign to achieve a unique international status for India.
Third, the two sides suffered from a lack of momentum. A crisis of vision (as I argued here) need not automatically have led to drift in the relationship. For instance, a package of smaller ideas could have pushed things forward. But many of the best ideas and initiatives bogged down. These included a bilateral investment treaty, expanded civil space cooperation, export control adjustments, defense procurement deals, a more ambitious bilateral agriculture initiative, and agreements on defense logistics and communications. Intelligence and law enforcement cooperation broadened, gathering momentum from an initial boost after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. But this really didn’t provide sufficient ballast.
Still, the most important problem has been substantive. As I argued in Foreign Affairs in March, disagreements over the administration’s policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan have been a principal obstacle to strengthened U.S.-India relations. Many in the Indian government are deeply skeptical of the administration’s approach. And if the Indian government has been skeptical, commentators, pundits, and former Indian officials have been downright frigid. For a couple of examples, read here and here.
So on June 3-4, when Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna came to Washington, the United States and India finally had a terrific week. On the margins of their inaugural strategic dialogue, the two sides got much of the political symbolism right—and perhaps began to alter some perceptions.
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