Robert Blackwill, former U.S. ambassador to India, called for further strengthening the ties between the two countries during a discussion at the Kennedy School Forum Monday night (Feb. 27). Blackwill’s forum appearance came as President Bush prepared to travel to India this week for meetings with top Indian leaders.
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“Prime Minister [Shri Atal Bihari] Vajpayee, the previous Indian prime minister, said famously in an address to Congress five years ago that the United States and India are ‘natural allies’ – a phrase which remains quite controversial in India,” Blackwill said. “But for myself, I think it appropriately describes the long-term character of this relationship.”
Ambassador from 2001 to 2003, Blackwill said that no other country in the world today shares as many vital national interests as India does with the United States, and he elaborated on five areas where this common bond is most prevalent: prosecuting the global war on terror; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; dealing with the rise of Chinese power; ensuring the reliable supply of energy from the Persian Gulf; and keeping the global economy growing.
In addition, Blackwill talked about shared democratic values. “The U.S. and India operate from the same solid moral foundation,” he said.
Blackwill also spoke of America’s popularity in India, citing a study that measured opinion toward America worldwide. India has a 71 percent “favorable attitude” toward the United States – the highest rating of any country. “I don’t think Cambridge could produce such a number,” said Blackwill, who taught at the Kennedy School for more than a decade before being named ambassador.
On the economic side, India today is divided into “two Indias,” Blackwill said. One, a growing economic power with a middle class of 200 million to 300 million that has brought 100 million out of poverty in the past decade. And another, a nation that has 40 percent of the world’s poorest people, a female literacy rate of 54 percent, and an increasing HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“There is no doubt that the Indian political elite thinks that its most important task in the period ahead,” Blackwill said, “is bringing these millions and millions out of poverty and into the mainstream of Indian life.”
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Regarding current diplomatic efforts with India, Blackwill praised the high-profile agreement of July 18, 2005, on civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries, while admitting that it is a “radical departure” from previous American foreign policy, which had cast India outside the international nuclear family for 30 years.
“I think it is no surprise that this agreement is opposed by skeptics in both nations,” Blackwill said. “Path-breaking international agreements of this magnitude always provoke opposition.
“Bureaucrats resist because they intrinsically want to think and do tomorrow what they thought and did yesterday,” he said. “Statesmanship requires visionary leaders to make tough choices and demonstrate political will.”
On current India-Pakistan relations, Blackwill paid tribute to the leadership shown from Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Indian Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
“Just remember, four years ago, about this time we almost had the first war in human history between two nuclear weapon states,” said Blackwill, who was ambassador at that time. “And we were, in my judgment, within 72 hours of the initiation of large scale military hostilities.”
Today, Blackwill said, relations between India and Pakistan are the best since the partition of the two countries in 1947. “And that’s because of two Indian prime ministers and one Pakistani president.”
Also taking part in the forum was Xenia Dormandy M.P.P. ’01, executive director for research at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She said that despite the wide attention the civil nuclear agreement is getting in both countries, it isn’t the only issue at hand.
“What I think is most important is the rest of the relationship,” said Dormandy, past director for South Asia at the National Security Council, where she played a key role in coordinating the visit of Singh to Washington that resulted in the July 18 agreement.
In the next two to five years, Dormandy said, whether or not the civil nuclear deal goes through, the United States and India will continue to forge strategic partnerships in areas such as security and defense, economics, and science and technology, especially in the area of the biotechnology.
The event was moderated by Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood.