The Economic Times: India, US ties have come a long way: Shivshankar Menon

The Economic Times: India, US ties have come a long way: Shivshankar Menon
September 21, 2013
By: Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury

NEW DELHI: Less than a week before PM’s departure to the US for his sixth summit-level meeting with the US President, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon on Friday dismissed notions that bilateral ties were drifting apart and emphasised that the two sides were partnering on a broad spectrum of strategic issues, including energy, defence, counter-terror and cyber and space security.

Pointing out that the India-US relations have come a long way in the last decade, Menon said, “From a time when we dealt with each other formally, sometimes warily, we today have a full spectrum relationship, between our governments, our peoples and our institutions.” The NSA was speaking on the theme — ‘India & the USA’ at the Aspen Institute India in Delhi — which served as a curtain raiser for Manmohan Singh’s trip aimed at bringing impetus to bilateral ties. Singh’s first summit with the US President was in 2005 withGeorge Bush. In November 2009 he was President Obama’s first state visitor, while Obama visited India in 2010.

First as a Foreign Secretary and then as the NSA, Menon has contributed immensely to the transformation in India-US ties during the past decade. The top diplomat explained, “For India, the relationship with the US has been the most transformed relationship in the past 10 years.

What were once considered breakthroughs in the relationship, are now regarded as routine and normal. This is a sign of maturity in the relationship, even if it robs it of some of the excitement of some years ago.”

In recent months, India had one high-level visit every month from the USA. Both have strategic consultations on every major issue and region and they have a growing dialogue and partnership on non-proliferation, export controls and nuclear issues. The bilateral security cooperation includes multiple forms of engagement and defence relations are strong. Cooperation between India and the US beyond the public gaze in the fight against crime and terrorism has also been effective. Total trade in goods and services exceeds $100 billion and the US is India’s single-largest trading partner. There are about 600 major and 1,500 small and medium US companies in India, and over 100,000 Indian students in the US.

Referring to these achievements, Menon brushed aside suggestions that the relations are drifting apart. “Despite this range of relationships some today speak of drift in the relationship. I find this a rather strange way to describe a relationship where the two governments have thirty-two dialogue mechanisms meeting each year,” he quipped.

One reason for this perception, according to Menon, may be the fact that it is now a full spectrum relationship, no longer focused on one big transformational idea like the civil nuclear cooperation initiative in 2005-08. “To me that breadth is the strength of the relationship.”

“The impression of drift is also partly due to economic factors. It arises from the macro-economic situation. US friends mention concerns about economic reforms and specific policy issues in India. These concerns are not unique to the US. They are, first and foremost, of concern to Indians. Government is addressing all three sets of issues,” the NSA assured a house of packed audience that included senior Indian officials and diplomats, foreign diplomats, captains of industry and members of academia.

But Menon sounded optimistic that the way forward is bright. “…The potential for growth in the relationship is strong. This is particularly so in energy, defence, education, and in the quality and range of the strategic dialogues that we undertake.”

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