In the past week, the political intelligentsia has speculated as to the logic of President Obama’s visit to Asia. Why is he visiting right after a devastating election? Should he visit at a time of economic weakness at home? These shortsighted political commentaries are failing to realize the long-term geopolitical importance of the relationship with India for American interests. America’s most important economic partnership and security alliance in the next few decades will be with India, and President Obama’s visit was a crucial step in building this relationship.
India has “the most rapid growth potential of the BRICS.” Not only does it have a burgeoning young English-speaking population with multiple needs, but the economy also has a healthy balance between consumption and investment, the prevalent rule of law creates an environment conducive to entrepreneurship and private innovation, and market forces are relatively strong as liberalization and privatization steadily continues.
There are numerous opportunities for American businesses in India that have not yet been realized, as evidenced by the fact that America exports more to the Netherlands than to India. The presidential visit thus placed an important focus on India for many in the American corporate world who had not yet realized the tremendous scale of opportunities, and it should serve as an impetus for both countries to make further progress on trade issues and continue to open markets and expand opportunities. India must remove its restrictions on foreign investment in agriculture, retail, and telecommunications and involve American businesses in modernizing the country’s infrastructure. Such liberalization could create opportunities for American businesses and help India modernize at the pace that it desires.
From a security standpoint, India now plays a crucial role in the region as both an uneasy trading partner and a simultaneous bulwark against Chinese interests. America has an interest in supporting India in territorial and trade disputes to ensure that China does not feel as though it can run roughshod over the region by claiming new territory or enacting petty protectionist measures. America’s military sales to India highlighted an important alliance that has the potential to maintain stability in Asia. With the world’s second and third largest militaries, India and the United States have the potential to create a formidable military alliance that could maintain stability in the tense region, especially in the case of territorial and naval disputes.
In an age in which Europe and Japan are in decline and in which China often opposes human rights and democratic interests, America is too often left standing alone when trying to maintain peace and defend human rights. As a rising power with similar democratic ideals, India can be a valuable leader on the global stage. Obama correctly realized the need and potential for India to be a leading power in Asia and the world when he endorsed its campaign to gain a permanent spot on the United Nations Security Council. He argued that, with a greater role on the international stage, India must accept greater responsibility in maintaining a peaceful world and thus identified one of the major benefits of an alliance with a powerful India.
Obama’s personal trip to India was also important because much of the Indian public is skeptical of his leanings since he has spent the last few years justifiably focused on problems and issues in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. A visit has the potential to change Indian political and public opinion in a way that simple speeches or press releases from the White House cannot do and could, in the long term, help change the political calculus behind the Indian left’s current wariness of security and trade agreements with the United States.
Dancing with children, visiting famous sights, supporting India’s bid to the Security Council, and talking with students are all “soft” actions that might not produce immediately tangible results but they will remain lasting images in the psyche of one billion residents who are steadily becoming richer and more powerful. In the decades to come, America’s relationship with India will be a major determinant of the future of our economic and security interests. And when the two countries need each other for new business opportunities or security concerns, President Obama’s visit will leave a lasting imprint on the Indian memory.
Ravi N. Mulani ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Winthrop House.