By Kritika, Yashaswini, Tanay

The past two years have seen Indo-US relations take on a new, more vocal life. Much more widely discussed and ambitious in its objectives there has been considerable talk and speculation over what direction the Indo-US relation is taking. While the highlights have been high decibel speeches and high coverage visits by leaders of both countries, the question remains as to how the populations of both countries feel about recent developments. The Youth Forum on Foreign Policy organized a talk by the US ambassador to India Mr.Richard Verma with exactly this objective in mind. The purpose of the event was to allow free dialogue and exchange of ideas and opinions between the ambassador and the youth representatives.

The recent developments in Indo-US relations are as follows:

  • The signing of the agreement between NASA and Indian space Research Organization (ISRO) to carry out the NASA-ISRO synthetic aperture radar mission.
  • Launch of knowledge partnership between the Indian and United states defense Universities. January 22, 2016 was marked by the signing of the Indo-US research, development, testing and evaluation agreement.
  • Under “Shared effort, progress for all” permission was sought for the purchase of Boeing apache and Chinook helicopters for the Indian Army Force.
  • PM Narendra Modi’s dialogue with Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Qualcomms, CISCO and Tesla motors.

According to Mr. Verma, the countries and their development trajectories are “naturally aligned”. Be it dedication to climate change action, development in technology and IT or upholding the democratic spirit, both countries stand for the same principles. While both countries stand to mutually benefit from further developments, India particularly stands to gain further traction in the global arena both politically and economically through building a cohesive, cooperative and strategic relationship with the United States.

Defence and Security

To a question on demilitarization and de-nuclearization Mr. Verma started off by distinguishing the two. The strengthening of the military powers of a nation, he clarified, does not necessarily equate with nuclearization. The Indo-American agreement on the inclusion of Apache helicopters (“the best attack helicopters in the world,” he remarked) and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters in the IAF by the next five years is a sign of progress for Indian military capabilities. The concern is not only military progress but also the availability of this progress to the wrong groups. That is when the issues of WMD terrorism and nuclear terrorism factor in. Consequently, he mentioned a forum to be held in the US this April on these very issues, of which PM Modi would be a part.

On extremism and other unprecedented threats, Mr. Verma recalled some other times of geopolitical turbulence in the past 70 years, to balance the probable historical short-sightedness of the latter term. Further, he noted how since the breakdown of the USSR the main sources of threat globally have been non-state actors. They will not attack you with tanks, but would rather use unchivalrous means like blowing up planes, holding hostages or attacking shopping malls.Law enforcement, adequate intelligence and on-ground military action are some aspects to be considered in dealing with such extremist groups.

In line with this there was a brief discussion on the increasing number of memberships of these non-state, extremist organizations. To this Mr. Verma gave a rather social reasoning: those who are alienated from the society, dissatisfied with their conditions, are uneducated and unemployed tend to be attracted towards causes of fundamentalism. With the expansion of the internet, an ever larger number of people are exposed to certain ideas and ideology that may encourage participation.

The allegation that the ISIS has been acquiring ammunition from what is left behind in Libya by the US seems to bring negative light on its role in the region. Yet, Mr. Verma was clear to point out (through rhetorical questions) as to the coalition dealing with ISIS was brought together by the US and no other country can match the efforts of the US in the fight against ISIS. Most resources are extracted from oil, kidnapping, extortion and the continued assistance of Baathist factions; if at all, these left-behind weapons in Libya cannot be given much weight.

Then came the thorny question of US’s military aid to Pakistan, which is often used to materialise attacks on India. How does the US ensure that the aid is not used for undesired purposes? To start with, he clarified, the US cannot walk away from Pakistan lest there be left a failed state with nuclear capabilities. The aim and aid is to prop up the moderate factions that can fight the extremist elements within Pakistan; which are not only threats to India but also to the US (the LeT has been behind US deaths in Afghanistan) as well as Pakistan itself (recall Peshawar). Cursorily answering the initial question, Mr. Verma stated the military equipment was in fact being monitored, though Indians may not readily believe it.

America’s weapons trade with Saudi Arabia was also questioned. To this, he remarked that US cannot ignore the fact that Saudi Arabia is an old ally and a key security and energy partner. Also, US being the best military facility cannot merely refuse to trade military equipment with Saudi Arabia just because it is not a democracy.

After discussing the military trends, the dialogue with Mr. Verma delved into economic, social and cultural domains. Pretty optimistically, he revealed that we could hope to see India as a permanent member of the Security Council. Although emerging powers do stand in opposition, India and Japan remain the only two countries which are candidates for a permanent place on the Security Council. The severe increase in visa fees, a matter of grave concern, was also discussed. Mr. Verma remarked that the Congress had decided to set up a fund to help the victims of 9/11 attacks. Keeping in mind the great demand for these visas (around 65% of which are from India), the rates were increased to help the families of those who suffered during the attacks and their families. He also did remark that the demand should not decrease as a result of this increased rate.

Finally, Mr. Verma discussed India’s inability to procure sustainable risk capital. When America’s unwillingness to invest risk capital in India was inquired, Mr. Verma argued that such investments can come only through private sectors and not public sectors and in order to attract private institutions to invest risk capital, major changes in the tax system, monetary legislations and related policies are required. India requires to shift towards a more liberal monetary regime. It is not a coincidence that India is ranked around 130 by the World Bank in terms of ease of doing business. It is not a matter of writing a check but a change in policies and taxation must be in order to attain quick and sustainable risk capital.

Posted by The Indian Economist