Millennium Post

PM Modi’s US visit

As Narendra Modi embarks on his second visit to the US as the Indian Prime Minister, much of the focus is on what has been achieved in the bilateral relationship in the last one year. US President Obama has stated thatIndo-US relationship will be the defining relationship of the 21st century, and so the question that arises is, what has been the defining indicators so far. Likewise in the emerging global geopolitical theatre, where has been cooperation and coordination in contemporary times afflicting situations like the ISIS threats, the concerns of transnational cyber attacks and the South Asian volatile situation reflected by Pakistan’s sustained complicity with terrorism and a still unstable Afghanistan.

No doubt PM Modi has been able to generate a positive interest among US investors and the industry, and has been able to position the India story much lucidly but there is a long way to go before real confidence steps in. The PM’s clarion call for boosting manufacturing in India under the “Make in India” initiative is being discussed but subscribed in feeble steps. In spite of the Chinese economy showing signs of instability and occasional hiccups, US investments are yet to come to India on an enhanced basis. So the scope for wide-ranging economic discussions remains at the forefront of his agenda table with the US leadership that will quickly slip into the lame duck period of governance.

At the same time, PM Modi has the opportunity to make a formidable pitch to the American tech leadership in Silicon valley to trust the Indian pedigree that has supported the US tech appetite over the last three decades either onshore or offshore and to increase their investments. Many of the tech honchos who will meet him like the Apple, Google, and Facebook bosses know for sure that English-speaking India and Indians are a big bet for them and giving them their enhanced valuations. It is for the PM to place before them the immense opportunities that his announced schemes like Digital India, Skill India, and Start Up and Stand Up India offers to these tech giants and in turn tune their Indian engagement more aggressively.

On the strategic front, there’s still more business to do with the US and bringing the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) to an optimal level is very crucial. The hard work of the current US Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter in positioning this initiative on a pedestal of co-development and co-production from the hitherto prevalent buyer-seller relationship must be executed to its logical conclusion with active list from all 3 Indian Services and DRDO unambiguously placed to Pentagon so that beyond the aircraft carrier and aircraft engine system that has been currently shortlisted, technology for command and control systems, night vision devices, missile defence solutions are picked up and embarked upon. 

The feeling of mistrust by the Indian bureaucracy and the Services of the US as a reliable defence partner when at times over the last four decades, is receding but not completely out. Likewise, the US side has to make available the latest technology in relevant avenues for the next round of joint cooperation and ally fears from Indian minds of getting the third or fourth best version. At the same time the tougher messages and the withdrawal of arms assistance to Pakistan as well as enhanced watch on Chinese machinations in the region, either in the Indian Ocean area or their complicit and overt support to Pakistan for nuclear and defence enhancements will be avenues that India will expect to enhance and repose trust in the US as the strategic partner. 

The renewal of the defence framework agreement for another ten years in June this year is a welcome step and gives the pedestal for enhancing trust and cooperation. Needless to say that US actions have been positively demonstrated and the setting up of the unique India Rapid Reaction Cell (IRRC) in the Pentagon for support and easing licensing norms for Indian defence requests is an indicator of such progress.

Equally strategic and timely is the special focus on emerging cyber security cooperation. At a point of time when the US is contemplating sanctions on China due to cyber attacks and cyber espionage, US-India cyber cooperation has to move fast and in multiple directions. Right from capacity enhancement for tackling cyber-crimes to cyber-security around command and control systems, many steps have to be taken prudently to foster capacity building. Focus areas like critical information infrastructures protection has to be driven to a much closer cohesive partnership. As many US tech giants in cyber security area have their Research and Development out of India, there is hardly any doubt about the trust element in this sector. 

India’s larger role in cyber and related internet governance issues has to be enhanced and supported by the US to thwart efforts by many nations that try to find fault in the US management of critical internet functions and root zone servers. In the face of the transition of these functions in almost a year from now to a global multi-stakeholder entity, India can play a better supporting role for the US. The recently held whole-of-government Cyber Dialogue in August this year between the two countries discussed a range of cyber issues that included enhanced cyber-security information sharing, cyber incident management and cyber security cooperation in the context of “Make in India” initiative that gives fillip to participate in India’s formal cyber-security ecosystem in a partnership model.

Needless to say, the prospects are huge and the momentum gained in the last one year needs to be enhanced. Functioning democracy and rule of law makes both the countries natural allies but the larger realisation lies in greater cooperation in strategic areas. The environment is just conducive to take the bold and defining steps for the future march based on what the last 3 US Presidents starting from Bill Clinton, and the 3 Indian Prime Ministers from Atal Behari Vajpayee have set up and sustained. The time is right to strike, and strike hard.

 (The writer is former head of a defence multinational firm)

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