Monday, 8 November 2010

Europe is the past, India is the future

I'm watching Obama's speech to the Indian parliament now, and I can't help but contrast it to his much-watched 2009 speech to Europe. The message and level of ambition for the relationship is remarkably different. Obama just said the US-India relationship will "define this century," an element that was completely missing from his speech to Europe. Obama's speech has been overflowing with compliments for the emerging Asian economy. He said his presidency would not be possible without India's founding father Mahatma Gandhi. He's talked up India's "rightful place" on international bodies like the UN security council and the IMF. He's spoken of India's growth as an economic miracle, quickly becoming the largest middle class in the world. He's said India's role as the world's largest democracy has something to teach the United States. And he's spoken enthusiastically of India's role in the 21st century. He's practically offered to do their laundry for them.

Contrast this to his speech to Europe a year ago. There he was welcomed by cheering crowds, ecstatic to see a US president which Europeans exuberantly welcomed as a deliverance from the previous 8 years of strained relations between the continents. But rather than heralding a new era of US-EU cooperation in the 21st century, Obama's speech in Prague was largely filled with platitudes about the successes of the past. The level of ambition Obama seemed to express in Europe was just a return to the status quo of good relations that existed between the United States and Western Europe during the cold war. But he cautioned that the relationship has changed. Using pleasant words with serious undertones, he scolded Europeans for relying too much on the United States, for not shouldering their military burden both on their continent and internationally, and for often expressing a reflexive anti-Americanism that serves no productive purpose. Obama's speech to India contains no such scolding. The closest he has come is in stressing that India should be more forceful in condemning human rights violations in other countries (notably neighboring Burma).

Why the stark difference between the two speeches? It's reflective of the importance the two blocks represent for the US in the upcoming century. India is a rapidly growing power that is soon going to emerge as an economic powerhouse. Positioned as it is next to China, it is going to be incredibly geopolitically important to the US over the coming decades. Economically, militarily and diplomatically India is just much more important to America than Europe. That is why today's speech is so much more focused on the future than Obama's speech a year ago in Prague. Today the focus is on the 21st century. Last year's Europe speech was focused either on the immediate present or on the 20th century.

One point made by Obama during the speech that will directly conflict with Europe's aims was his backing of a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council. Right now Europe has two seats on the council, held by Britain and France. If India is to join, one of those countries will likely have to give their seat up (or more likely both will, in favor of an EU seat). That's not going to sit well with governments in London and Paris, or for that matter, with the French and British public. But it is an inevitability that the two colonial has-beens will not be able to justify their seats on the council for very much longer.

So there it is, that's the reality. But rather than seeing the American attitude toward the old continent as a reason for continued naval-gazing and a resigned acceptance of irrelevance, Europeans should see it as a motivator to make themselves relevant in the 21st century. Europe still has the potential to be equally as powerful and important as India in the decades to come, but Europeans need to muster up a high level of ambition in order to get there. Today, that ambition seems to be lacking. The US government can see this, and thus you have the very different tones in today's speech and the speech one year ago in Prague.


Arnaud said...

Here is maybe one more reason:

India does have one phone number and knows what to reply when the US call for an answer...

Captain Kid said...

I wouldn't have any problem with the UK and France giving up their seats for an EU-seat in the council. It would just be the right thing. I think the EU should try to make it look as if it is their will and strenghten the relationship to the new member(s).

Anonymous said...

and America, is not it declining? give me a break, if Europe declines America will be worse... you will see.I am expertin Europe and CHina..