5 Takeaways From Obama’s Trip to India
Now that President Barack Obama has left India, the post-trip analysis can begin. Here are five chief impressions from Michael Kugelman.
Now that President Barack Obama has left India, the post-trip analysis can begin. Here are five chief impressions.
1. That bear hug was not just about optics.
Arguably the most memorable image of the trip was Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeting Mr. Obama with a long, deep embrace. This wasn’t done only for the cameras. These men—despite having met in September, and despite Mr. Obama’s notorious aloofness—appear to have struck up a warm bond. We can expect, at least during the two years left in Mr. Obama’s presidency, that they will try to capitalize on this personal chemistry to help better the bilateral relationship.
2. It’s all about defense.
Security will drive U.S.-India relations in the coming months. The security interests of Washington and New Delhi–from combating terror to addressing China’s rise—are deeply convergent, while security cooperation (such as joint maritime exercises) has long been operationalized. A “Joint Strategic Vision” document concerning the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region, released on Sunday, makes this clear, and the 10-year renewal this weekend of the relationship’s defense framework agreement sets the stage for long-term cooperation. And Ashton Carter, the administration’s nominee for defense secretary, is arguably one of Washington’s most enthusiastic champions of a deep U.S.-India security relationship.
3. The biggest achievement may not have been achieved after all.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi announced a “breakthrough” in resolving a liability dispute that has prevented the implementation of a civil nuclear deal ratified in 2008. According to the White House, nuclear suppliers can now use a new insurance pool. But some companies have said they have not received details about this pool, and there are indications that they could decide its $120 million value is insufficient. Whether this much-ballyhooed accord is ever implemented will depend on the comfort level of U.S. suppliers.
4. Substantive outcomes could be forthcoming.
As I predicted in a Think Tank post last week, Mr. Obama’s visit yielded few substantive achievements. Still, the joint statement and other documents released during the trip all emphasized the progress and movement being made toward attaining long-sought objectives. The message from Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi is likely this: We’ve done all we can to bring these goals to the cusp of success. Now it’s time for our deputies to work out the remaining details.
5. The relationship still needs work.
All the bonhomie couldn’t obscure the tensions that continue to plague bilateral relations. Note that Mr. Modi commented on Sunday that India is an “independent country” and suggested that it wouldn’t be pressured into inking a climate deal. Recall the reported spat about security arrangements for Mr. Obama. Meanwhile, key tension points, including disagreements about Russia and treatment of U.S.-based Indian workers, were not resolved.
Speaking on Monday to American and Indian CEOs about economic relations, Mr. Obama effectively concluded that while progress has been made, there’s still much to be done.
The same holds for the relationship on the whole—no matter how tightly its top leaders may embrace.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.
This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire.
About the Author
The Asia Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region. Read more