The President of United States of America (USA) Barack Obama visited India from 25 January to 27 January 2015. He became the first American President to witness the Republic Day Parade 2015 as Chief Guest and also the first American sitting President to visit India twice.
The visit of the US President on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in September 2014 have created important positive momentum in the relations between the oldest and largest democracies of the world.
The visit saw signing of a series of bilateral agreements with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On 25 January 2015, both the countries released the Joint Statement titled Shared Effort; Progress for All and pledged to translate their commitment of Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go of September 2014 into action through Sanjha Prayaas; Sab Ka Vikaas: Shared Effort; Progress For All.
Further they also released the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region to promote peace, prosperity and stability in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
Analysis of important outcomes from the Obama’s visit
Energy Cooperation and Climate Change
Ahead of this visit, the US made it clear that both energy cooperation and climate change would be on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, the first outcome was that the two countries had reached an agreement on climate change.
India had previously resisted the notion that developing countries who had contributed little to global greenhouse gas production in the past should place caps on current emissions at the behest of developed countries.
However, under the Narendra Modi-led NDA government the position of India seems to have partly revised.
India will expand its use of renewable energy and move toward joining an international deal on global warming that would see developed and less-developed countries alike cap emissions. Thus, under the agreement, the US will provide funding for renewable energy development in India.
The development is a coup for the United States, which had similar success with China late in 2014.
Alignment of India’s Act East Policy and the United States’ rebalance to Asia
This was embedded in the declaration of Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. The strategic vision highlights the potential opportunities for India, the United States, and other Asia-Pacific countries to work closely to strengthen regional ties and promote peace and security in the region.
This was different from the joint statement of September 2014. In September 2014, both the countries had officially pronounced their joint support for the principle of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and for resolving territorial disputes under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In the 2015 joint statement, neither the South China Sea nor UNCLOS makes an appearance. Rather the Joint Strategic Vision emphasises on promoting peace, prosperity and stability in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
However, combined with the symbolism of Obama being the chief guest at Republic Day Parade and highlighting of the importance of the US – India – Japan trilateral relationship in the joint statement sends a particularly strong message to China.
Defence Technology Transfers
In September 2014, the two countries had agreed to treat each other at the same level as their closest partners on issues including defence technology transfers, trade, research, co-production, and co-development.
In this regard they unveiled the US – India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which is poised to increase co-production, co-development and partnership in U.S.-India military-industrial matters.
The initiative is line with the Modi government’s plans to increase India’s defence self-sufficiency and increase the share of India’s military hardware that is manufactured on Indian soil.
Some of the hardware deals that were reached during the Obama visit to India includes the joint production of parts and systems of the Lockheed C-130 (which India operates), and RQ-11 Raven drones. India will take delivery of six additional C-130s through 2017.
Nuclear Energy and Civil Nuclear Liability
This issue had been on back burner for some time but it came to fore during the Obama’s visit. The US and India concluded a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2006 and, in 2008, India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, making it the only non-nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) compliant state to engage in normal nuclear commerce while maintaining an active nuclear weapons program.
However, India is yet to attract US suppliers to set up nuclear facilities on its soil due to civil liability regime in the form of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010.
To address this, Obama and Modi are exploring the possibility of an insurance pool that will, in theory, moderate the risk exposure for US suppliers and bring US nuclear suppliers into India.
Overall, this visit is a strong indicator that India-US ties will follow a positive trajectory over the course of this year. It’s been clear for some time now that the United States and India are strategically converging.
However, given India’s low standing on the list of US foreign policy priorities and latent skepticism about U.S. intentions in India, the pace of that convergence was sluggish. If Obama’s visit and Modi’s 2014 US visit are any indication, both countries are serious about making up for lost time.