June 19, 2008, Evan Feigenbaum

(Click to enlarge) Satu Limaye, Director of the East-West Center in Washington and Dr. Evan Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, talk about the current state of U.S.-India relations on June 19, 2008.

U.S.-India Relations: What's Next? with Evan Feigenbaum


(Washington, DC) June 18 – The U.S.-India relationship has been on a rapid upward trajectory in recent years, shifting markedly since the early 1990s and expanding to include a number of new strategic dialogues and agreements. India’s strong economic growth over the past decade and increasingly prominent role in the Asia-Pacific region have given the U.S. compelling incentives to forge and sustain strong bilateral ties with India.  Dr. Evan Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, talked about U.S. strategic interests in India and prospects for the bilateral agenda during an Asian Security seminar at the East-West Center in Washington.


Feigenbaum began by describing what he termed “the conceptual architecture” of U.S.-India relations. Ten years ago, said Feigenbaum, few people  paid intense attention to India—and those who did considered the country only in the narrow context of South Asia. Today, that view has changed. As a flourishing democracy, India has developed the potential to be one of the United States’ best partners in the region; its once narrowly defined strategic boundaries now extend beyond South Asia and include East, Southeast, and Central Asia as well. Though not yet as integrated into the global supply chain as China, India’s connectivity in the “Asian space” is growing, causing a shift in the way other Asian powers conceive their external orientation, and causing the U.S. to think about India in a much broader Asian context.


Yet, the driving force of this changing reality, said Feigenbaum, is not necessarily the U.S. government. Rather, forces outsidethe government—the 84,000 Indian students and three million Indian-Americans in the U.S., and the rapid increase in public-private partnerships—have facilitated this sea change in U.S. thinking about India.


India’s economic growth has brought new opportunities to the U.S.-India bilateral agenda.  A doubling in the monetary amount of two-way trade since 2004 and India’s fast-growing export market have catalyzed Indian investment in the U.S., investment that is coming not only from large Indian companies and the IT sector but from Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as well. According to Feigenbaum, however, the relationship has not yet reached its full economic potential. Market access and other challenges prevent India from moving up from its current position as number 17 on the U.S. list of trading partners.  A series of ongoing dialogues and agreements—including a bilateral investment treaty currently under negotiation—at the most senior levels will help further all aspects of the bilateral economic agenda, which includes promoting public-private partnerships and improving investor confidence.


On issues of defense, Feigenbaum noted, growth in the areas of exercises, procurement, and policy dialogue are making India an especially exciting U.S. partner. Trust-building military exercises such as the multilateral Malabar naval drill in 2007 have helped build trust at the mil-to-mil level, while India’s recent purchase of American C130J aircraft represented the largest U.S.-India bilateral defense deal in history. Defense dialogues, including a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to New Delhi in February this year, are reflective of an improving bilateral strategic environment.


Feigenbaum concluded his remarks by noting other recent bilateral activities and potential growth areas.  These include cooperation on clean coal/energy technology; education (the U.S. just concluded a bilateral Fulbright Scholarship agreement with India co-funding a program); and nonproliferation, especially with regard to port security. Feigenbaum would also like to see further cooperation in the areas of agriculture and counterterrorism, and dialogues on Africa, the Gulf, and East Asia, as the U.S. already does with China.  Feigenbaum stated that the U.S. must “turn common interests into complementary policies,” and concluded by reiterating his confidence that the trajectory of the U.S.-India relationship will accelerate in coming years.