U.S.-India relationship is ‘anemic,’ says visiting scholar

Ahead of President Obama’s speech to India’s parliament on Monday about the promising potential of the U.S.-India relationship, Anja Manuel ’96, visiting scholar at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, postulated a very different theory: for all the hype, U.S.-India relations are far from where they could be.

Manuel published an article entitled “Weak Ties” last week in Foreign Policy magazine, calling the economic relationship between the two superpowers “anemic.”

“On the surface, all the elements are in place for an economic love affair between the United States and India,” wrote Manuel. “Yet the economic relationship between these two natural partners remains far below potential.”

“The U.S.-India economic relationship is already quite strong, but given the amount of rhetoric you have about it…you hear both sides saying again and again how wonderful the bilateral business-to-business ties are, and I think we shouldn’t be too self-congratulatory,” Manuel said in an interview with The Daily.

In the article, Manuel suggests several potential steps for both sides that could provide economic and diplomatic benefits. For example, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Indian Parliament could attempt to liberalize the “license raj”–the governmental red tape complicating foreign business involvement in India–while the United States could attempt to equalize the disparity between last year’s foreign direct investment in China, $15.8 billion, and in India, $3.5 billion.

However, Manuel cautions against being too critical of the Washington-New Delhi ties, which she called “very, very good.”

“India is only going to become a closer and closer partner of the United States in the next five, 10, 15 years,” Manuel said. “[We will have] closer and closer economic ties, closer and closer people-to-people ties, including lots of Indian students studying here. There are very few American students studying in India. I bet that will change. I bet in a decade you’ll have a Stanford program in India.”

Manuel points to three recent presidential visits to India–President Clinton in 2000, President Bush in 2006 and now President Obama in 2010–as a clear indication of the strength of the diplomatic relationship between the two nations.

“Three presidential visits in a decade is a lot,” Manuel said. “Before then it took, like, 50 years for three U.S. presidents to show up in India.”

Still, the definition of the U.S.-India partnership has varied widely under the three presidents. During the Bush administration, significant focus was placed on the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, which Manuel herself helped to negotiate. However, Obama’s cabinet is taking a much broader approach.

“The Obama administration has been extremely engaged, it’s just that they’re engaged on a huge number of issues,” Manuel said, including multiple dialogues: “one on energy and one on education and all these different things. But none of them are all-consuming in a way that when I was doing this in the Bush administration, the civilian nuclear deal was a huge priority.”

This diversity of interaction could present both benefits and challenges.

“Stuff has sort of gone more under the radar,” Manuel said. “And that’s both OK, because that’s how allies work together…on the other hand, what worries me about the diplomatic relationship is that when you try to do too much, the danger is that you don’t get anything done.”

Another major obstacle in economic and diplomatic connections has been the tense relationship between India and Pakistan. India has encouraged the United States to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, although the U.S. has so far refused to do so.

“We are more natural partners with India because it’s a democracy, it’s a very open society, you have lots of Indian students in the U.S., and you have lots and lots of Indian-Americans in the U.S.,” Manuel said. “It’s a different relationship from the one we have with Pakistan, which is an essential partner for us, in particular an essential partner in Afghanistan and in the war on terror.”

Despite these issues, Manuel affirms the promising nature of the U.S.-India relationship.

“India has definitely moved to the front of what people are thinking about in the U.S.,” said Manuel. “It will be a natural partnership.”

Contact Ellora Israni at ellora@stanford.edu.

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