The U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue convenes in Washington, D.C., June 13, as the two countries struggle with economic downturns and political stasis. At a time when both governments strain in their respective capitals toward the smallest of policy gains, the strategic dialogue underscores the enormous benefits to both the United States and India of sustained and deepening partnership.
At a policy dialogue June 4 co-hosted by Asia Society with the India-U.S. World Affairs Institute and the East-West Center, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake and USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Biswal outlined the vast agenda for the dialogue. Read Blake’s speech here.
A few areas are worth particular note:
The creation of the Passport to India initiative. This new public-private partnership will increase American students’ travel and study in India. Blake said that fewer than 4,000 Americans study each year in India, while 104,000 Indians study in the United States. The program so far offers 225 internships for American students in India-based organizations, and the State Department expects that number to expand.
Progress on higher education cooperation. The countries will announce at the dialogue the first eight projects they will fund for joint research projects on food security, energy, climate change and public health between American and Indian universities.
Development cooperation. India’s economic growth has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty, but still one-third of the world’s population living on less than $1.25 a day lives in India. Biswal described a number of projects that were helping the U.S.-India relationship transition from a donor-recipient relationship to a partnership. She said India was at the “forefront” of creating "frugal innovations" to address the needs of its people.
Political cooperation. Blake noted cooperation on Afghanistan, cyber security, counterterrorism and a shared commitment to building stronger ties and economic integration among South and Central Asian nations.
As Blake said, “There is perhaps no country in the world with whom we have traveled faster and farther than India over the last 10 years.” There is, of course, far to go over the next 10 years.
Deepening economic cooperation will require difficult political choices in both capitals — for example, allowing multi-brand retail in India, and expanding access to the United States by revisiting its visa policy. Benefiting from cooperation on higher education will require a new openness among Indian universities, particularly in the social sciences, and a deeper dedication of Americans to learning about and exploring India.
Finding political agreement on contentious issues will be even more difficult. Progress will require both countries to adapt as like-minded leaders in Delhi and Washington push their less forward-looking bureaucracies and legislatures toward cooperative action.
American leaders search for responses to lower-than-expected job growth as Indian leaders seek to revitalize reforms and return to higher levels of economic growth. Meanwhile, the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue offers the possibility of relatively quiet, but real progress. Major gains for both the Indian and the American people are visible, not just on the horizon, but now.