Notes from the Field

India’s Young Diplomats Examine U.S. Energy Security Policy

August 7, 2013

As part of a partnership dating back to 2007, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) annually selects a handful of young Foreign Service officers to participate in an Asia Foundation-sponsored observation program in the United States. Managed by the Foundation’s Asian American Exchange unit in coordination with the India country office, the month-long “MEA Young Diplomats Program” is intended to help strengthen U.S.-India relations by fostering dialogue between Indians and Americans. The grant consists of two complementary components: an intensive two-week U.S. foreign policy course at George Washington’s Elliot School of International Affairs, followed by a two-week study tour which is designed to deepen the diplomats’ understanding of the United States through meetings with a cross-section of Americans in diverse regions of the country.

In June, I had the opportunity to develop and lead my second such MEA study tour, this one focusing on the U.S. economic recovery and implications for U.S. energy security policy (in this context, we defined “energy security” as the relationship between national security and the availability of natural resources for a country’s energy consumption). Within this broad thematic framework, we selected locations and meetings for the study tour designed to expose the delegates to America’s urban, industrial, and rural sectors, and to illustrate how distinctive cultural and political identities across the country impact U.S. policy. Our tour took us to New York City; Columbia, and Charleston, SC; Colorado; and finally the San Francisco Bay Area.

New York City’s iconic status has made it an obligatory stop for every MEA study tour. As the epicenter of the global financial crisis and home to several of the country’s most distinguished academic institutions, it served as the ideal jumping off point for the program. Just a few of the highlights included:

  • The global financial crisis and the role of financial regulation: A discussion with Ernest Howell, senior vice president, Wealth Management for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, and trustee emeritus of The Asia Foundation and colleague Mark Farley, senior vice president, Wealth Management
  • Tour of the United Nations Headquarters
  • The geopolitics and economics of energy: An introduction to energy security issues with Dr. Carolyn Kissane, director of New York University’s Center for Global Affairs

From New York we flew to South Carolina, which was hit hard by the recession, with unemployment reaching a peak of 12 percent for December 2009. Due to a recent increase in manufacturing and manpower over the past few years (thanks in part to the recent opening of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner facility and a new BMW manufacturing plant), South Carolina has begun a slow but steady recovery. In terms of energy, South Carolina is in the midst of its own struggle for “energy independence.” With over $1 billion spent out of state on energy resources annually, South Carolina is now looking to clean and alternative energy sources to encourage energy dollars to remain in the state’s economy. During our four days there, we spoke primarily with individuals from the private and public sectors about South Carolina’s recovery, focusing mainly on energy and trade issues. Highlights included:

  • South Carolina’s energy sector: Examining policy efforts to create jobs, promote energy conservation, and increase the state’s energy independence: with the South Carolina Energy Office
  • Perspectives on American politics and policies with members of the Columbia Tea Party
  • International trade, South Carolina’s economic recovery, and ties to India: Tour of the Port of Charleston, followed by a briefing with the South Carolina Ports Authority
  • American aerospace industry and the U.S. India trade relationship: Tour of the 787 Dreamliner facility with Boeing’s senior director for State and Local Government

After spending the better part of our Saturday exploring historic downtown Charleston, we took an evening flight to Colorado Springs, CO. In contrast to South Carolina, Colorado is an energy-rich state that weathered the recession well. With an abundance of fossil fuels, a growing green energy sector, and stringent environmental regulations, Colorado is in many ways a microcosm of the modern U.S. energy discussion. These factors have also contributed to the state becoming a flashpoint in the hydraulic fracturing debate, a topic which came up frequently over the course of the study tour. Standout meetings and activities included:

  • Exploring America’s National Parks: a visit to Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO
  • United State Air Force Academy: Discussion on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in South Asia and their role in U.S. Foreign Policy with an expert on UAV warfare
  • State-level initiatives aimed at economic recovery: business promotion, and renewable vs. fossil fuels debate: Discussion with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and Colorado Oil and Gas conservation Commission
  • The Economic and Environmental impact of the Colorado’s oil and gas industry with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA)
  • Colorado’s agriculture and its highly developed agribusiness sector: Tour of Sakata Farms with owner Bob Sakata and members of the Colorado Farms Bureau
  • Home hospitality Potluck: Hosted by the Denver-Chennai Sister City Committee, some 25 members brought home cooked meals along with their families to meet with the visiting delegates. The diplomats remarked that their evening with the Committee was perhaps the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire study tour.

The final destination on our study tour was the San Francisco Bay Area, the “gateway to Asia” and home to The Asia Foundation’s headquarters. Like New York City, the Bay Area is a staple destination of the MEA program. Here the diplomats explored the region’s economic and demographic ties to Asia, including the contribution of the Indian diaspora to California’s high-tech sector. They also learned how the region’s prospects and strategies for economic recovery depend greatly on innovation in the hi-tech and financial sectors, investment in clean technology, and open access to foreign markets.

  • The Indian Diaspora and the Hi-Tech Economy: Meeting in Silicon Valley with The Indus Entrepreneurs (T.I.E), an organization that aims to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, and education
  • Tour of the Stanford University Campus
  • Oil and Governance: State-owned Enterprises and the World Energy Oil Supply: Discussion on the geopolitics of oil with Stanford Professor Mark Thurber
  • Exploring the Bay Area’s approach to economic recovery and economic ties to India with the Bay Area Council Economic Institute

At the conclusion of the program, Asia Foundation Vice President Gordon Hein hosted a farewell lunch, joined by Foundation staff as well as India country representative, Nick Langton, during which participants spoke about the things they learned on foreign policy formation, their exposure to the American way of living, the humility of the professionals with whom they met, and their now more nuanced understandings of U.S. energy security policy. After six years, the MEA Young Diplomats program stands as a testament to the power of dialogue in promoting understanding and friendship between our two countries.

James Grant is a program assistant for The Asia Foundation’s Asian American Exchange unit in San Francisco. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

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