Conference on India-US 2015: Partnering for Peace and Prosperity
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The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) in collaboration with the Atlantic Council, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and U.S Embassy in New Delhi organised a two-day international conference titled, “India-US 2015: Partnering for Peace and Prosperity” on March 16-17, 2015. The conference brought together a number of distinguished speakers who deliberated on the emerging contours of the Indo-US bilateral relations. The conference began with a welcome address by General N C Vij, Director, VIF. General Vij shared his optimism for strong Indo-US bilateral ties in the near future. He stated that the two countries have been remarkably successful in overcoming the strong mistrust that plagued the bilateral ties during the cold war. He expressed his sincere hope that the conference will generate useful ideas that will contribute to building a strong bilateral Indo-US strategic partnership.

Shri Chandrajeet Banerjee, Director General, CII, appreciated the significant role played by Foreign Secretary Dr S. Jaishankar in guiding the Indian industry to acquire a global outlook in order to compete on an equal footing with global companies. He further mentioned that as the two countries build a robust economic partnership, they needed to move beyond being transactional and should look for ways to ramp up mutual investments in their respective economies, encourage Joint Ventures in third countries through crafting joint identities. The two countries must promote knowledge economy and promote strong cooperation from ‘people to people’ to ‘institution to institution’.

Governor Jon M Huntsman, Jr., Chairman, Atlantic Council in his opening remarks warmly reflected on his association with India and India-American community in USA. He remarked that a robust people to people partnership has been crucial in transforming relations between the two countries. He further added that in an interconnected world, no one society is capable of unilaterally resolving their challenges and global leaders must navigate together to shape our collective fates. As world events continue to develop at an alarming pace, the Atlantic Council is engaged in a forward-looking and strategy-focused agenda to galvanise global allies and friends to work collectively for global good jointly with like-minded institutions.

In his special remarks at the Inaugural, Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar cautioned about the dangers emanating from the past that might affect future opportunities. He also stated that the two countries need to overcome a “conceptual problem” in order to move away from the post-World War II mindset which is still alive and realise the full potential of partnership between the two countries. Both needed to realistically assess opportunities for bilateral engagement and not make “unrealistic” demands on each other. India needed to improve its domestic business environment to attract economic investment. Both countries have done well to settle many of the residual issues from the past and he shared his optimism about the new direction in which the bilateral relations are moving and emphasised the need for greater strategic thinking to deepen the relations.

Dr Arvind Gupta, Deputy National Security Advisor, delivered the keynote address at the conference. In his address, Dr Gupta chalked out some of the visible trends in the foreign policy of the current government. He stated that India has been making significant efforts in assessing the emerging global trends and is willing to engage on regional and global levels. Most significantly, he outlined that, there is a greater linkage of India’s domestic interests with its foreign policy priorities. The ‘Make in India’ campaign is an important example of a growing linkage in India’s domestic and foreign policies. On regional and international security issues, India is engaging with like-minded countries to guard the interests of global commons. Cyber security has emerged as an important area where the world was today willing to cooperate with India. The changing geopolitical environment marked by developments in West Asia, the rise of non-state actors, terrorists networks, emergence of weak states, cyber security etc. are all common threats that create growing interdependence and the future of Indo-US relations therefore has great potential. Other key speakers at the conference were, Railway Minister, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, who inaugurated the opening session on Day 2 of the conference and spoke about the importance of trade and economics in furthering the US-India security partnership; Mr. Piyush Goyal, Minister for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy and US Ambassador to India, HE Richard Verma, spoke at the Conference dinner at the end of Day 1 of deliberations.

The conference comprised five main sessions spread over two days and covered key areas like Emerging Regional Security Order in East Asia, Security situation in the Af-Pak region, Indo-U.S. trade and economic relations, India-U.S. Middle East strategy and the security of global commons. While there was a congruence of interests over the securing of the Asia-Pacific region in the wake of increased Chinese assertiveness in a region which is primarily driven by a US determined security architecture, how do India and the smaller regional nations secure their own economic and security interests in this vital region without getting embroiled in the great game politics? There was general consensus that time effective Indo-U.S. strategic partnership would be a positive force to counter challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

The session on Afghanistan focussed on the emerging situation there, the thinking of the new government, prospects for its success and its implications for U.S. and India to cooperate in helping Afghanistan achieve political stability and make its economy sustainable. Here, the Americans seemed to support the move by the Afghan Government towards a peace deal with Taliban and Haqqani network as also a change in the Afghan approach in the form of engagement with Pak Army and to get their support for peace process. The US also seemed to support the growing Chinese role in Afghanistan in providing economic assistance to deal with instability. But the Indian view was that while the new Afghan government has taken its first steps to secure peace and Pakistan outwardly seems to be helpful to the peace process so far, the situation is very tentative and the Afghans have to be prepared for talks but also for the battles to test their military power. There was also some scepticism about the prospects for peace in Afghanistan due to involvement of too many players and also the will of the two key players, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who have shown tremendous sagacity so far, to be able to work together over the long term.

The third working session of the conference assessed the importance of economics to the India-US security relationship. It was agreed that there has been an exponential increase in US-India trade in recent years but to further increase trade and take it across the proposed US $ 500 billion mark, much more needs to be done by both countries. For its part, the Government of India has introduced steps to reform India’s labour laws and is also taking measures to promote ease of doing business so as to move India among the top 50 countries in terms of this vital parameter for economic progress. The ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Prime Minister is built around the idea of making domestic economy more strong. The pace of ongoing reforms is significant and in a recent report, the U.S. trade council has expressed optimism about India’s market and economic potential especially in sectors like railways, telecom, defence, construction and insurance etc. India must anchor its economic policies in the strategic perspective because a strong economy contributes to a strong national security environment. But the US too needs to address some of India’s concerns especially the Indian IT companies operating in U.S. as they face several challenges which need to be redressed. These Indian firms are primarily at the receiving end of U.S immigration policies that create labour mobility issues. On the whole, a very positive environment exists to keep the momentum going and both countries do realise that knowledge economy constitutes the core of US-India bilateral partnership.

India-US Middle East strategy was the theme of the fourth session. This is a region of great importance to both India and the United States and other parts of the world too on account of its vast oil reserves. For India, the Gulf provides for 60 percent of India’s energy security and large numbers of Indians live in the gulf region. India is therefore cooperating with Gulf countries on a range of issues such as counter-terrorism, curtailing terror financing activities, keeping tabs on money laundering etc. India is also contributing to peacekeeping efforts in the region and proliferation of WMDs is a concern for all. The emerging geopolitical instabilities in the region are of serious concern especially in the surge of ISIS after Arab spring and the growing Shia-Sunni fissures. The role of external players such as U.S. and India therefore become important in securing this region which is also grappling with lack of opportunities for the youth, lack of legitimacy of the state systems. This instability brings together several disgruntled elements that will further challenge peace and stability in the region. Export of extremist ideology from the region is already a worrisome phenomenon. Therefore civil society, business community etc, are important actors in shaping the public policy discourse to secure this region and for this academia, individual experts, and others would all have to play an important and committed role in generating ideas that can influence policies.

The last session of the conference discussed the important and new theme of securing the global commons especially the cyber and maritime domains. The discussion began with a focus on information security and its moving ramifications. It was observed that so far information security had been an area of concern in the space and defence areas but the definition of critical information security had now been extended to healthcare, telecom and financial services. Therefore any disruption in information security can have a disastrous impact on a nation’s financial infrastructure. Similarly, cyberspace, though man made and also the youngest global common, spans the entire globe almost seamlessly, is not restricted by national boundaries, is central to economic growth and global security, and is vulnerable to attacks and crimes that can be committed from anywhere. We therefore require an international legal framework duly supported by international laws to ensure human security which is the right of every human being. There were complementarities in views regarding various facets of maritime security and the conference ended on a positive note that common threats require a holistic approach to tackle these challenges with both India and the US recognising the dangers posed by these shared challenges and the need to cooperate.

Event Date 
March 16, 2015
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