Obama’s visit to India this week could be considered a watershed moment in the history of the relationship between the two countries.  Business deals worth $10 billion were made, the ban on dual-use technology was lifted, and public laurels were given to India regarding its status as a world power.

Today, India’s growth rate is 8%, compared to the United States’ growth of only 2%.  High tech companies such as Infosys and Wipro are moving out of the back office to become world names.  Some of India’s brightest minds are actually moving out of Silicon Valley and back to Bangalore.  For these reasons and more, the US is hoping to court Indian businessmen and officials to strengthen the economic ties between the two nations.

Even ten years ago such deal making, especially in the sale of dual-use technology, would have been nearly unthinkable.  In 1998, India conducted a series of five nuclear tests over the course of three days.  Pokhran II shocked the international community, especially when Pakistan conducted reciprocal tests a few weeks later.  The US led efforts to sanction India and that corner of South Asia was dubbed the “most dangerous place on earth.”  Remarkably, the US is now selling dual-use technology to a country it once alleged to be irresponsible with its nuclear technology.

This episode was nothing compared to the tensions between the two nations during the Cold War.  While India was a democracy and therefore a potential ally of the US, she was also the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.  At that point in history the US had no time for nations that were not actively supporting its fight against communism.  That is why India was often branded a Soviet ally and neglected as the US armed friendly, but coup-ridden Pakistan.  Today, the tables have not quite turned.  America is still Pakistan’s ally and needs its valuable hinterland to continue to wage war in Afghanistan.  However, both India and US are playing the same waiting game: Pakistan must first deal with its domestic terrorism problem before full negotiations can resume.

Finally, after sixty years of tensions, the relationship between India and the US is taking its natural course.  The US is world’s oldest democracy and India’s is the largest.  Both countries work very hard to integrate a large and diverse population into the national fold.  There are mutual traditions of free press and human rights.  Beyond immediate economic benefits, a stronger partnership between these two giants can help maintain a liberal peace in the South Asian region.

The road to Indo-US cooperation has been long and winding.  Hopefully Obama’s visit to India this November will be looked back on as the decisive turning point in this journey.  A stronger partnership will increase net gains to both nations.

By Erica Mukherjee

Photo attributed to: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Written by Erica Mukherjee