In The Armchair

India and the US: Current Disagreements

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on August 9, 2009

Nice Rediff article on three major points of difference between India and the US at this point of time.

The first point:

The United States wants developing countries such as India and China to agree to control the emissions being produced by their rapidly growing economies, setting time-bound targets to this effect.

Yet India argues that this would hurt its economic growth and wants the industrialised world to curb its pollution as well as fund new technologies in the developing world by underlining that it has one of lowest emissions per capital (sic).

The man-on-the-street in America certainly shares the Obama administration’s views on the topic; much casual disgust is directed towards India (and China) on this topic.  India’s main statistic is the per-capita figure, while America’s is the whole-country figure.  Which is right?  The American viewpoint (and indeed any viewpoint which ignores the per-capita calculation) has the usual element of “one American is worth several Indians” in it.  OTOH ignoring the whole-country figure and focusing only on the per-capita figure is almost an incentive for irresponsible population growth.  (Another issue like this: freezing U.P.’s representation in the Lok Sabha.)

The second issue is agriculture-related and led to the collapse of the Doha talks:

The US has suggested that developing nations such as India need to provide greater market access for the [Doha] talks to advance.

India argues that it cannot compromise on food security and livelihood concerns even as the US and the EU remain resistant to scale down their own agricultural subsides for fear of offending their well-entrenched domestic farm lobbies.

On the face of it, both countries are wrong: each wants to other to do something without reciprocating.  There are deeper concerns on both sides, with the long-term strategic fallout very hazy.  Fears about sacrificing food security to another country probably play a role.

The third issue is nuclear, with the West practically reversing its position as soon as Obama came to power:

The recent G-8 statement … “contained in the NSG’s ‘clean text’ developed at the 20 November 2008 Consultative meeting” came as a major surprise for India.

The Obama Administration cannot make meaningful progress on its non-proliferation agenda unless it brings India into the fold of the global non-proliferation regime.

Delhi fears … a particularly restrictive reading of the text [under Obama].

There’s no doubt that, while Bush was viewed negatively globally and within thinking circles in the US, his tenure was a great boon for India.  Obama is back to the traditional U.S. viewpoint, reversing all that and positioning closer to Pakistan.  India is playing a delicate game here.  There are some who want a major expansion of the “nuclear club” and others who want the status quo.  India is going against both these camps: we want the status quo modified to include us, but not anyone else.  Worse, we want to do it without signing the NPT.

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6 Responses

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  1. Kaffir said, on August 9, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Actually, America and other European countries already heavily subsidize their farmers, thus placing food security (or the security of their farmers) above “free trade”. So, USA asking India to play the game of “free trade” when it comes to food, is very hypocritical.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 11, 2009 at 1:57 am

      To play devil’s advocate: India and China already restrict access to markets, so India asking the USA to be fair when it comes to subsidies might also be very hypocritical!

      I’m actually firmly on the Indian side here. The problem with this issue is the surface doesn’t clearly reveal one side as truthful. And inner details are hard to come by. America has been grumbling all over the Western hemisphere about India’s “sabotage” of Doha, and many there buy it wholesale.

  2. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    On returning to India, one thing strikes you quite hard. Sustainability, green technology et al are totally outside the national consciousness. Whereas in the West, you get pretty sick of hearing everyone trying to out-green each other.
    Its not that people are deliberately being obtuse, its just not on the public radar.

    So, all the eco-friendly talk strikes the average person as yet another attempt by the West to impose their new-fangled notions on the rest of the world. It’s seen as condescending and overbearing at best, and a deliberate attempt to curtail our economic growth at worst.

    I think we can’t expect any real progress on the emissions or any other industrial issue, unless there’s an internal rise in consciousness on these issues.

  3. Armchair Guy said, on August 11, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Bekaar BokBok:

    Absolutely right; there is zero environmental consciousness in India. In the US they work very, very hard to make sure they have a beautiful natural park within an hour’s walk from almost anywhere in the country. In India, our forests and other natural preserves are rapidly disappearing. Every time I go to India, this is one cause for despair: I am quite convinced the damage is irreparable.

    Sustainability is one of the biggest chips on my shoulder. I think everybody is to blame. Although I admire Americans’ resolve to keep their country beautiful, they don’t seem to have many qualms about other countries. That is why the world is practically being strip-mined to feed America’s (and to a lesser extent, Europe’s) appetites. That is why their asbestos ships and radioactive waste are sent to India.

    About a couple of decades ago, Indians were somewhat concerned about sustainability. Recently some dangerous economic liberalism gone haywire from people like Julian Simon has taken over: don’t worry, consume as much as you want, everything will be ok. In India these ideas have been gaining in popularity since the spectacular success of Rao’s economic reforms; again, discernment is lacking.

  4. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Julian Simon is right up there on my nutcase list along with the creationists and moon-landing-hoax-ers. I have no idea how anybody could take him seriously.

    Encouraging though it is to see the new shining and economically progressive India, I keep feeling that we are blindly repeating the mistakes of the west – only with far more people and in a world already strained for resources.

    Worse still, the effects of reckless industrialization are already beginning to be felt. In Punjab, entire villages of people have cancer due to water contaminants. But as usual, its mainly the poor who are suffering and dying, and in India ‘the poor are always suffering and dying anyway, so who cares ?’.

    It would be a real pity, if after all these years, our progress towards high living standards is brought crashing down by ecological meltdown. 😦

  5. Kaffir said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I share the same concerns regarding ecological issues when it comes to India.
    But environmentalism came about as a result of, and a response to consummate consumption and consumerism. Perhaps India will need to learn from its own mistakes which it hasn’t made yet, rather than learning from others. Many of the practices and way of living I grew up with (not wasting, making sure that bottles and paper are “recycled”), in India, are today touted under “green living” in the US and under the mantra of “reduce, reuse and recycle”.


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