Samir Saran on India-US relations: “There is a more pragmatic assessment of each other today”


It’s no secret that Washington is optimistic about the idea of upbringing closer ties with India in an attempt to counter China. But closer ties take two. Does Washington DC’s enthusiasm match New Delhi?

“We know we don’t have a typical Atlantic-style relationship. This is a more Asian relationship, in our relationship there are more grays than blacks and whites, ”Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank in New Delhi, told me.

Ever since the Cold War, India has pursued a formal policy of non-alignment. In reality, however, the Soviet Union, which supported India in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and provided the vast majority of its defense equipment, earned India’s support and sympathy. Meanwhile, the United States was seen as an unreliable and unreliable player; It didn’t help that America was close to India’s neighbor and enemy, Pakistan.

However, relations between India and the United States have improved in recent years. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is perhaps the growing China, which America is trying to counter and contain by working with other countries, and in particular with India. Meanwhile, Pakistan is working closely with China.

A year after the election of US President Joe Biden, with China at the center of America’s foreign policy agenda, I reached out to Saran to ask exactly how politicians in New Delhi perceive US initiatives, especially given the fact that historically America was considered less than a reliable partner.

“I think that a lot of what you sometimes hear in Delhi or Washington is perhaps a relic of the 20th century, people who hold positions of the past, people who have written books about Indian behavior or American attitudes towards the past, wanting are still relevant in the 21st century, ”he said. “I think there is a more pragmatic assessment of each other today.”

However, he added, “I’m not saying we trust Americans all the time.”

One area where America and India traditionally disagree is in the immediate vicinity of India, including Afghanistan. “I think the Americans had to leave [Afghanistan]Saran told me. “Could they have gone better? I think we all agree, yes. It was a little unpleasant. I don’t think any rotation can change that. ” He also noted that India could be consulted, but added that Delhi has always seen America maintain a certain distance from India across Afghanistan. “And in this sense it is not surprising. It’s not that we were heartbroken because America didn’t consult with us. ” In other words, this summer’s events were not enough to deter India from cooperating with the United States.

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Accordingly, if China brings India and the US closer together, some are wondering if Russia can pull them apart.

“Russia trumps its weight in terms of world affairs,” Saran said. “Russia will remain an important voice. And we do not want a situation where we drive Putin into the Chinese corner. I think it would be a disaster for us. So we will need to find ways to adjust to Russia.

“I think that now it is visible to everyone in DC, we did not allow it to become more daring, more ambitious, more forward-thinking in dealing with our American partners.”

This is generally true, although there are people in Washington who think differently: for example, John Bolton, former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, wrote an article v Hill November 10, in which he argued that India’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia “poses serious obstacles to a closer military-political relationship between Washington and New Delhi.” Unsurprisingly, Saran sees it differently, painting a picture in which India can help the US by developing economic ties with Russia, thereby pushing Moscow away from Beijing.

However, even such important issues as the US-China or India-Russia relationship seem insignificant compared to the existential problem of our time: climate change. India is already struggling with air pollution and will be hit hard by the climate crisis. Does it feel like America is not doing enough?

He told me that India has been a strong advocate of climate justice, equity and action. And this is an area where the US and India can “work together and create a new structure that will catalyze the flow of trillions of dollars of green capital into green projects.” He stressed that he did not mean aid or grants. “We are talking about commercial capital of banks … We are talking about creating a completely new green financial ecosystem.”

What about the gap between India’s rhetoric and, say, the reality of air pollution in Delhi? How to close this gap?

“The gap is closing like it was closed in New York and London with better, cleaner and cleaner systems,” he said. “We have this decade of pain to go through.”

He acknowledged that a painful period would do less harm if it was accelerated. However, some element of what India will have to go through to make the transition to the other, better, greener side will require discomfort. Perhaps the same can be said about the relationship between the United States and India itself.

[See also: Can the United States work with India to counter China?]


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