Thursday, 11 June 2015

US Congress weighs “strategic-plus” relationship with India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th June 15

Watchers of the US-India relationship know it is driven top-down from the White House, at the instance of President Barack Obama. Now another crucial power group, the US legislative Congress, is increasing pressure for closer ties between Washington and New Delhi.

Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner, co-chairs of the powerful India Caucus, have introduced an amendment to the US National Defense Authorization Act, which expresses the “Sense of Congress” that the “upgraded, strategic-plus relationship with India” requires Washington to “welcome the role of the Republic of India in providing security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond”.

The National Defense Authorization Act is a mechanism through which Congress oversees the expenditure of the defence budget each year. If Congress passes the Cornyn-Warner amendment, the Pentagon would find it easier this year to access finances for US-India defence cooperation.

An analyst familiar with the working of the US Congress says the Cornyn-Warner amendment is very likely to be passed this week.

The India Caucus, which currently includes 35 senators from the Republican and Democratic parties, was formed in 2004. Its founders were Republican senator from Texas, John Cornyn; and then-senator, Hilary Clinton, who might well succeed Obama as the next American president. Mark Warner, Democratic senator from Virginia, became the Democratic co-chair when Clinton was appointed secretary of state.

The amendment states: “It is the sense of Congress that the United States should --- (1) continue to expand defense cooperation with the Republic of India; (2) welcome the role of the Republic of India in providing security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond; (3) work cooperatively with the Republic of India on matters relating to our common defense; (4) vigorously support the implementation of the United States – India Defense Framework Agreement; and (5) support the India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative.”

To justify this, the amendment states: “Congress makes the following findings: (1) The United States has an upgraded, strategic-plus relationship with India based on regional cooperation, space science cooperation and defense cooperation; (2) The defense relationship between the United States and the Republic of India is strengthened by the common commitment of both countries to democracy; (3) The United States and the Republic of India share a common and long-standing commitment to civilian control of the military; (4) The United States and the Republic of India have increasingly worked together on defense cooperation across a range of activities, exercises, initiative and research.”

Indian diplomacy in Washington is increasingly focused on engaging “the Hill” --- the phrase for elected lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The influence of a friendly Congress is regarded as crucial for empowering the US administration through legislative initiatives like the current one. 

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