Why India?

indiaThe Institute of International Studies has announced that Fall 2002 will be the "India Semester" at Missouri Southern. As part of Missouri Southern's International Mission, each fall semester is devoted to an emphasis on a particular country or region of the world. Symposia, lectures, art exhibits, music programs and other cultural events are scheduled during the semester. Previous semesters have focused on Africa, China and Hong Kong, Latin America, the United States and Japan.

Why India? It is a major trading partner with the United States, it's one of the world's fastest growing economies, it is a strategic political and military partner for the United States, and it has produced rich and significant cultural influence on the world and in the United States.

Dr. Karl J. Schmidt, Associate Professor of History and Director of Missouri Southern's Project South Asia, provides a rationale.

Getting better acquainted with India is vital to Americans for a variety of reasons. First, India is a major U.S. partner in the recently initiated 'War on Terrorism', and has played an important role in aiding the United States in gathering and sharing intelligence about terrorists and their activities throughout South Asia. More than 250 Indians were killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, and the Indian government is anxious to assist the U.S. in bringing the terrorists responsible to justice.

Second, India is important economically. With a strong 6 percent annual economic growth rate (greater than the U.S. growth rate), the U.S. Commerce Department has listed India as one of the world's 10 "Big Emerging Markets" (BEMs) along with China and Mexico, among others. The department predicts that BEMs like India will be the fastest-growing markets through the turn of the century and that they hold far more promise for large gains in U.S. exports than either Europe or Japan. In terms of both imports and exports, the United States is already India's biggest trading partner. This relationship will strengthen in the future. In the last few years both the Clinton and Bush administrations have recognized the growing importance of India economically. In 1999, while running for the presidency, George W. Bush, speaking at the Reagan Library, argued that "[t]he United States should establish more trade and investment with India as it opens to the world and work with the Indian government, ensuring it is a force for stability and security in Asia." This view has been reinforced since Bush became president. In July 2001, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina B. Rocca said the Bush administration is committed to "strengthening and intensifying relations with India." In a speech to the Indian American Friendship Council, she highlighted a number of areas where this relationship could be strengthened, focusing in particular on India's economy. "India's economic potential, following a decade of free-market reform, is immense," she said. "India's general technological prowess and, in particular, its leadership in information technology is acknowledged around the world." Similar sentiments were expressed during the Clinton administration. In a 1999 speech in New Delhi, India, former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott pointed out that the United States "recognizes the importance of India economically, strategically, and politically to the future of a stable and prosperous Asia and indeed to a stable and prosperous world."

Another reason Americans need to know more about India is for political and strategic reasons. India s population, currently at more than one billion, is projected to surpass China s in the next thirty years. India is the world s most populous democracy, and has maintained its commitment to democracy throughout the 50+ years since independence in 1947. Unlike its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, India has never had a military government. India's tense relationship with Pakistan makes the region an area of critical concern to U.S. national security, especially now that both countries possess an overt nuclear capability. Indeed, as Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet argued before the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats in early February 1999, both "India and Pakistan continue to have fragile governments committed to potentially destabilizing nuclear and missile programs." Recent events in Kashmir also serve to highlight that the region is a flashpoint for conflict between the two countries.

Finally, India is important for a number of cultural reasons. India has a rich and ancient culture and is home to one of the world s oldest civilizations. It is the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, and is home to millions of followers of other important faiths, including more than 100 million Muslims.

Another reason India should be of interest to Americans is the fact that Asian Indians make up a significant ethnic group within the U.S. The U.S. ranks fifth among countries in the world with the largest Asian Indian populations. While not large as a proportion of the total U.S. population, Asian Indians comprise more than 1.6 million individuals and, as a group, are well-educated and relatively prosperous by U.S. standards. Despite its growing importance in the world, India is a country few Americans, including college students, know much about. As former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Karl F. Inderfurth, aptly pointed out in a speech to the Foreign Policy Association, "[t]hough many Americans can easily identify India on the map and more precisely know that the Subcontinent exists as a geographic entity, they have trouble grasping or remembering that it truly is its own region, separate and distinct from East, Central, or Southwest Asia, much less why it matters."

India does matter, which is why Missouri Southern has chosen to make Fall 2002 the "India Semester."