An independent task force assem- bled by the Council on Foreign Relations — comprising leading expertsandscholars, businesslead-ers and erstwhile senior administration officials who have worked on policy toward the
subcontinent — has come up with the
Council’s first report devoted wholly to US-India relations.
The report, Working with a Rising India: A
Joint Venture for the New Century, analyzes
the US-India relationship vis-à-vis key areas
Richard N Haass, president, CFR, wrote in
the foreword, ‘While Washington and New
Delhi have converged more closely on Asia-
Pacific strategic matters and counter-terror-
ism, Indian leaders do not always see
Washington’s global policy goals as congru-
ent with their interests, especially regarding
Iran and the Middle East…’
‘Indian policymakers also remain ambiva-
lent about the market-based, open competi-
tion that has potential to power their econo-
my and expand the US-India economic rela-
‘In some ways, it is possible to speak of two
Indias — one of great accomplishment and
promise, another that never quite lives up to its potential.’
‘It is similarly possible to speak of two US-India relation-
ships,’ he continued, ‘one that broadens and deepens, anoth-
er marked more by mutual disappointment and frustration.’
The task force was led by Dr Alyssa Ayres, a Senior Fellow
for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at CFR, where she is writ-
ing a book about India’s rise on the world stage.
She also served as project director of a Task Force on US
relations with India sponsored by the Asia Society, which
overlapped with the momentous consummation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal, and as deputy assistant secretary
of state for South Asia from 2010 to 2013.
How did this task force come about and what was the
rationale for this particular report and at this time? Is this the
first time a CFR task force has brought out a major report like
this devoted wholly on India and US-India relations?
CFR has a standing task force program. Every year, there
are a couple of different topics selected for a more thorough
look at what US policy could be doing. For this we bring
together a bipartisan group of leading experts from across
different sectors to bring different areas of expertise to the
Last year, we had task force reports on North America:
Time for a New Focus, on the Emerging Global Health
Crisis: Noncommunicable Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and
2010 was the most recent one that dealt with South Asia
and that was a focus on US strategy for Pakistan and
Afghanistan… Of course, India figured in it as did some of
the smaller countries in South Asia. But, yes, this is certainly
the first one we’ve done focused on just India and US-India
India is a rising power and we need to be thinking more
about what US policy should do with India over the long-term. This was what drove it. We say in Richard’s (Haass,
president, CFR) foreword that with the election of a new government in India, a government more focused on its international diplomacy (there is a) kind of carving out a new place
for India on the world stage. So, it was on how should the US
be thinking about ties with a rising India.
Also, in the first part of our report, we do say that we
should be thinking in terms of a decade and not tomorrow or
months away — the horizon is much longer term.
I find among the task force members some of the usual sus-
pects, but also some new and unusual suspects. Were there
any criteria for inviting these experts to be part of the study?
They are all CFR members from different areas of expertise
on India and South Asia. Our co-chairs (Professor Joseph S
Nye, Jr and Charles R Kaye, CEO of Warburg Pincus) bring
deep India expertise, but in complementary areas — the
global strategist and global investor, who has long experience
We’ve got another CEO, Ajay Banga (MasterCard) in addition to Kaye; trade expert Fred Bergsten; Nick Burns and
Marshall Bouton, who both have years of experience;
Richard Fontaine, who has worked a lot on India policy and
is a leading strategist with the Republicans; Helene Gayle,
with years of humanitarian experience; Admiral (Gary)
Roughead, somebody who has seen India grow and sees
India in the scope of the larger Indo-Pacific — so different
members of CFR who have worked with and on India and
are deeply engaged with India in different ways.
What does the CFR hope to achieve with this study? What
would you say is the permeating thread vis-à-vis some kind of
consensus that was reached by the task force members
toward this end?
Our top conceptual recommendation —
the big shift that we are recommending as a
conceptual matter — is that instead of thinking about the relationship between India and
the US as a kind of alliance in the making or
an alliance process because that brings its
own expectation, and India is not looking for
an alliance, so that framework tends to create
disappointment in Washington… is that we
ought to be reconceptualizing our ties with
India as a joint venture in a term followed
from the business world.
You can have a joint venture initiative
between two companies where you work
together wholly and completely, but you may
have other areas of interest that could be
quite different, that do not intersect. But it
doesn’t call into question the partnership,
which means not every key issue is going to
be one of agreement. That was our top conceptual recommendation.
Again, I should note the process that the
CFR has for these independent task forces.
Members are asked to join a consensus signifying that they endorse the general policy
thrust and judgment but not necessarily
every finding and recommendation.
You’ll see at the back of the report Steve Cohen (Senior
Fellow, The Brookings Institution, and considered the doyen
of American experts on South Asia) had a couple of minor
disagreements with some of our findings and he notes those.
But everybody else did come to agreement on a consensus
basis on the document, which is quite a bit.
It’s not one item, but quite a bit, which is a strong vote for
a bipartisan approach with India.
I see recommendations where the US is called to work tacti-
cally in different areas, particularly in its economic relations
with New Delhi — trade and investment and defense, etc.
We strongly recommend that the US examine its tactics
and how it works with India in terms of trade and investment conversations.
We recommend that the US, instead of standing back and
waiting for India to meet certain threshold requirements,
ought to have a more pro-active approach in trying to work
with India on large trade institutions. For example, getting
India membership in APEC.
Also, to have a larger conversation with India about an
ambition for something bigger — what about an India in an
expanded TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)? That kind of a
conversation, which we are not doing at the moment.
Of course, I don’t want to discount the importance of
strategic and defense ties, which has its own section. It was a
general consensus that people see that it is actually going
quite well and should be continued; the Defense Technology
and Trade Initiative should be continued and expanded.
We found that counter-terrorism and homeland cooperation had started well but it had lost some of its momentum
and should be further reinvigorated. That’s a really important area where we can do a lot and that we can do together.
The big shift
The Council on Foreign Relations’ first report devoted to US-India ties finds a need to reconceptualize the
partnership keeping in mind India’s rise. Project Director Dr Alyssa Ayres sheds light on the findings and
recommendations in this conversation with Aziz Haniffa/India Abroad.
President Barack Obama, right, meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Climate Change Summit in Paris, November 30. KEVIN LAMARQUE/REU TERS