First U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue June 1-3

The latest round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Beijing, May 24-25. President Barack Obama added the State Department as co-chair with the Treasury for the biannual meetings which started in 2006. The broadened framework was to provide "distinct strategic and economic tracks" to a process that had previously only dealt with trade and investment issues. With the mounting tensions over Iran and North Korea, strategic issues came to the fore last week, but the U.S. was rebuffed on all major points. Beijing will not change its exchange rate policy, nor end its "buy Chinese" procurement program. And China will not support international sanctions on Tehran or Pyongyang that would truly impact the ambitions or stability of either regime.

It is thus important that America move on to strengthen ties with friendly nations that share common security interests, including concern over China's rising influence and threats from Islamic radicals. A major opportunity to do this will occur at the first U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington June 1-3. After preliminary events, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with India's External Affairs Minister Krishna on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration will likely use the talks to renew its push to impose mandatory emission controls at the UN to combat climate change. This issue has the effect of driving New Delhi closer to Beijing. India is part of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), a coalition formed to oppose any UN limits on economic growth in the developing world. Washington must understand this is a vital core interest of India and back off, so the two countries can better cooperate on the much more important strategic interests which they share.

In his March 28 briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. stated, "Prime Minister Singh played a very important role in Copenhagen in the climate change negotiations in helping to reach an accord there." Blake did not mention that the accord did not impose mandatory limited on any country, a victory for the Indian position which should be considered a positive outcome for the United States as well.

The U.S. and India have a new nuclear cooperation agreement, originally negotiated by the George W. Bush administration and now being implemented by the Obama administration. It not only opens the door for more trade and investment in India, but also implicitly recognizes India as a friendly nuclear-armed power. The two democracies also face Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan.

On the Asian balance of power, New Delhi's Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence for 2009-2010 stated, "India also remains conscious and alert about the implications of China's military modernisation.... [which] has considerably upgraded China's military Force projection capability and strategic operational flexibility." The Indian MoD added, "Necessary steps have been initiated for the upgradation of our infrastructure and force structuring ...along the northern borders." America also needs to be concerned about Beijing's growing power and prepare its forces accordingly.

The U.S. State Department says the new Strategic Dialogue is meant "to elevate our relations with India." Hopefully the talks will accomplish that goal. Attention needs to be drawn away from China, which has benefitted far too much from being seen, unjustifiably, as the only emerging power that matters. In the long run, it is India that is likely to have the brighter future.