Following their first summit in September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unprecedented gesture, invited President Barack Obama to be the chief guest at India’s 66th Republic Day, the first time an American president has been invited in this capacity. With his acceptance of this invitation, President Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit India twice during his time in office. This second summit within six months offers a further opportunity to deepen the India-U.S. relationship.
As the two leaders prepare to meet in New Delhi on January 25-27, Brookings India and The India Project in Washington, D.C. have produced a briefing book consisting of 16 memos written by a wide array of Brookings experts: The Second Modi-Obama Summit: Building the India-US Partnership (click here to download the full book).
Ambassador Richard Rahul Verma, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to India, made his first public address as Ambassador while formally launching the book on January 21, 2015. This was followed by a panel discussion with Amb. Kanwal Sibal (former Foreign Secretary), Jay Panda (Member of Parliament), and WPS Sidhu (Senior Fellow, Brookings India).
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Verma touched upon the strategic cooperation that will occur in the fields of defense, economics, trade, space, renewable energy, development and education. He shed light on the renewable energy deals under PACE (Partnership to Advance Clean Energy), and the joint goal to cut India’s carbon emissions by 25% by 2020. He outlined the improved defense relationship and stated that there is an effort to increase bilateral trade to $500 billion by 2020, 5 times the current amount.
Following Ambassador Verma’s address, key issues from the ensuing panel discussion included:
- A number of deliverables are expected from the Republic Day summit, in particular announcements in the areas of defense and renewable energy.
- Key areas of discussion will be to ensure maritime security with specific reference to the South China Sea, consultations on Syria and Iraq, and reopening the issue of WTO trade facilitation and intellectual property rights.
- A number of ‘black swan’ issues at the last summit in September, namely the Islamic State, current role of Iraq and the overarching Ebola threat, still appear to be absent from the agenda. Domestic hurdles in both countries will also present challenges in addressing complex political situations in both countries. However, bipartisan support that exists for US-India relations will continue.
- The atmosphere of the bilateral relationship has moved in a positive direction, yet there will be administrative processing hurdles and debates involved in resolving key issues.
- In terms of cross-border terrorism, India’s relationship with the US is no longer a function of what is happening in Pakistan, a significant consequence of de-hyphenation.
- The India-U.S. civil nuclear deal has hampered the relationship for a long time; Marked progress has been made on this front with the U.S. showing some flexibility on the supply side, while India is now the biggest buyer of defence equipment in the world.
- The evolving India-U.S relationship has economic attractions, people-people connect and compelling geopolitics. It is predicted that there will be further consolidation between the two nations over the next 10 years – however, the relationship is a gradual a step function – it surges, then takes time to consolidate gains from the efforts.
- The only real legislative hurdle will be in amending the civil nuclear liability law, while most other issues will be largely administrative and manageable.
- The summit portrays a fundamental change in the India-U.S relationship, which is largely reflected by the major developments in the arena of defence cooperation.