When President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came together in New Delhi on March 2, 2006 to announce an agreement opening the door to U.S.-India cooperation on nuclear energy issues, it marked a historic shift in the relationship between the two nations. This moment was the culmination of many years of behind-the-scenes work. While much of this work was conducted by some of America’s most senior and experienced public servants, one of the most vital contributors to this team effort was also one of the youngest—State Department Political Military Officer Matthew Lowe.
Arriving in India in the fall of 2002 to work as a Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, Lowe, who had just turned 29, was in on the ground floor as the Embassy sought to identify a roadmap that would allow the Bush Administration to respond positively to the Indian request for cooperation of civilian nuclear power. Lowe was only in India for a six-month rotation, but he gained first-hand knowledge of the Embassy’s overseas role and the peculiarities of the Indian political system that would prove invaluable to his future work.
After returning to Washington, Lowe worked first in the State Department’s Non-proliferation Bureau, before moving to the South Asia Bureau, where he became the key back-stop for what was then known as the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP). The goal of NSSP was to lay the foundation for a more robust partnership between the United States and India.
Lowe’s mastery of U.S. law and policy, along with his quick replies to dozens of overnight Embassy requests for policy clarification and talking points helped the NSSP conclude its work in the summer of 2005, achieving a number of its goals. The success of the NSSP cleared the way for additional U.S. exports to Indian facilities and began closing a chapter in U.S.-India diplomacy that was dominated by sanctions and complaints and U.S. constraints on India’s global ambitions.
With the completion of the NSSP and the skyrocketing demand for energy in India, the Administration decided to embrace the goal of changing U.S. law and foreign policy to allow full U.S.-India cooperation on civil nuclear power. This goal was made more challenging by India’s opaque nuclear program, requiring the clear separation of civil and strategic facilities so the United States could be certain that any American support to India’s nuclear power industry would in no way assist India’s weapons program. Again, Lowe would play a key part in this work.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns emerged as the lead negotiator for a credible separation plan, and Lowe was a critical member of Burns’ team. Lowe cleared the interagency papers, drafted many of the talking points and generally helped craft the policy framework that would allow U.S.-India cooperation for the first time since India’s 1974 nuclear test.
Returning to India on a permanent assignment in late 2005, Lowe dove into the end-game of the U.S.-India negotiations. He was the control officer for an unprecedented three visits by Undersecretary Burns to India in six weeks. Between these visits, Lowe reached out effectively to the working levels of the Indian government, helping senior U.S. officials to better understand India’s negotiating position and to move negotiations closer toward each nation’s respective bottom line. Not content to work only in a government-to-government fashion, Lowe also engaged India’s community of retired military and diplomatic experts, helping to inform U.S. negotiations and build support for an agreement among key Indian populations.
Shortly after the agreement for separation of India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities was announced, Matthew Lowe began working with Indian officials on implementation. As impressive as the contributions of this 32-year-old to this project have been, there is still more to come. This is true not only in regards to both this historic effort, but in relation to what is shaping up to be a remarkable career of service.