State dinner does not mean the US will get what it wants from India: Rafiq Dossani

Ritu Jha–

Rafiq Dossani is as direct as he gets. “Hosting a State dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a huge honor, but that will hardly lure India away from Russia,” he told indica. Dr Dossani is Director, RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy; senior economist, RAND Corporation, Professor of Policy Analysis at Pardee RAND Graduate School. He is one of America’s leading corporate economists.

Prof Dossani was speaking to indica in the context of the all-important US visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his eighth overall, but the second time that he will be addressing a joint session of Congress, making him the first Indian PM to do this twice.

“For Indian and the US to come closer at the expense of Russia, Washington will have to convince New Delhi that it will coexist with India as a great power down the road. What India currently thinks is that the US will always have its interests in mind. Therefore, India needs to balance those interests by keeping relations with Russia,” said Dossani, who was the keynote speaker at Examining US-India Relations: Naren Gupta Legacy Series Half-Day Conference hosted by Asia Society, San Francisco.

Dossani believes India will never be fully on US’s side. His reasoning is: “India has a large land border with China. If it makes China an hostile adversary, the US is not going to come to India’s aid to protect that land border.”

He feel that the US wants India to work with it and agree with it, but India has made it very clear that it is not going to compromise on key tenets like multilateralism, and multipolarity. This is the reasoning behind Dossani’s assertion that “India will not be joining alliances like NATO because then it can never get out of it and feel stuck like Japan and Korea. The US has to accept that and if it can’t accept that, then there’ll be trouble for the India-US relationship”.

He added: “The question of India joining NATO just doesn’t arise, that will go completely opposite of the country’s long-term plan. India’s too big and has too bright a future to be part of some other nation’s agenda.”

On the US technology transfer to India, Dossani said, “This is a key issue. Whether you look at solar technology or aircraft technology, the US government has played a hands-off role in actual tech transfer. They are saying this is a privately driven economy, even military technology is developed within the private sector. The US is saying how can we force them to give it to you? You can do it through your own rules like localization requirements. But we will not put into place policies that force our companies to pass the technology Because that’s not how we work.” I think this is a dilemma.”

Dossani believes that even if US enters into some sort of agreement, there are slim chances of actual technology being transferred. “Ultimately the deal has to be signed with some US company. I think something will happen in this regard during the PM’s visit, but I don’t know how significant it will be. India has to learn to develop the technology on its own.”

He said China took decades, and it still is in its infancy. China has got way ahead of India in terms of technology, but it’s still nowhere near what it should be after spending so billions of dollars. India too has to take its time, it’s not a very difficult technology,” Dossani added.

Expanding on his keynote point that India will never be fully on the US side, Dossani said, “Think of countries like Japan and Australia, which are fully on America’s side and have, in essence, agreed with the US that the latter will protect them militarily. But, if there’s an attack on India over land, one can’t expect the US to send its troops.”

“I think the US wants India as an ally so as to sell expensive weapons systems which India needs. But India’s stand is
that without tech transfer, the US is not a strategic partner. So, there is still a gap between the two nations’ viewpoints,” he added.

On India’s growth, Dossani said the atmosphere in India is positive because as a nation, it is pushing its boundaries. “Modi has definitely played a part, but many of the key initiatives were started under the Congress. Modi has been able to implement them well and so he deserves credit for that. I think those are the things that will push India forward.”

Speaking about his expectations from this Modi visit, Dossani said: “I will be happy if big issues like climate change were tackled in this meeting. India has made quite a big commitment to climate change mitigation and the US is saying so on paper but in practice it’s much less.”

Dossani believes that the US-India relationship is being defined by what’s happening in the US-China relationship. “The US-India relationship trajectory is unknown at this point. But there’s enough information to create some confusion and that might be interesting,” he said.

There were many areas where India and the US have disagreed, he said. “On multilateralism, India insisted that being a great power means being multilateral. But, the US concept of multilateralism is different. In the next phase of the collaboration, a shorter period between 2010-2015, when India was at the point where it wanted to grow stronger in terms of national security, there was a big interest in acquiring US military technology. Those five years were a period of deep focus on defense cooperation, which was welcomed by the US.

“Between 2015-2018, the Modi government was much more open to working on pathways to India’s greatness. That is a statement in the US view of India becoming more nuanced,” Dossani said.

“From the Indian perspective, it wants to say that you can be partners and coordinate with one another to make sure that they don’t hit each other. So, each has its own goal. That is what a specific relationship is supposed to look like. With the Ukraine war, there’s a great concern on India’s side about whether the US is really interested in a strategic relationship.”

To India’s desire to be a great power, the US has repeatedly said that it wants that on its terms. Dossani believes that the US has not handled the Ukraine war issue with India very well. “When India first refused to support the US and other countries in opposing the Ukraine war in the UN, the US sent diplomats to meet India’s Prime Minister. Several US diplomats met Indian counterparts but the language they used was taken very badly by India. The US diplomats used language like if you get to not support there will be consequences. India took this very poorly and the question still remains whether the US gets it or not.”

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