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Obama presses India to become global 'champion' of democracy

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India's changing aspirations

India’s past role as a champion for autonomy and a critic of the world order fit a country that was both large – and largely powerless. In recent years, however, its positions have evolved partially as its wealth and aspirations have grown.

The change can be seen in the rhetoric of India’s naval strategists. India used to favor extending the maritime perimeters of coastal states. Strategists here now speak of “freedom of the seas” and view ocean lanes as “global commons” that must be defended by large powers for the benefit of international trade.

“Autonomy is for weak powers who are trying to insulate themselves for the regimen defined for them by the great powers,” said strategist C. Raja Mohan in a widely noted talk this summer in New Delhi. India’s rise now means that “Delhi’s task will be to contribute to the management of the international order and not seeking autonomy from it.”

Some Indian positions still rankle the US, says Dr. Ganguly, including India’s resistance to agricultural trade liberalization in the Doha Round and its arguments that developed nations should shoulder most of the restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions.

What about nuclear proliferation and human rights?

While Obama did not highlight those disputes in the speech, he did lay out in broad terms some of the “responsibilities” – what US strategist Thomas Barnett calls “rule sets” – of powerful nations. These included nuclear nonproliferation, trade liberalization, counterterrorism, and human rights advocacy.

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