From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relations, contradictory impulses in the US policy and what future holds for India in the present scenario.
Trump administration seems supportive of India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, while also counting gains for itself.
No substantive outcomes of the visit stated
- Neither side has so far publicly touted any major substantive outcomes of the visit.
- Creation of positive atmosphere: To create some positive atmospherics, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security just gave final approval to $3 billion worth of pending contracts to purchase military helicopters from US companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
- Missile defence system sale: The US Administration, on its part, informed Congress of its willingness to authorise the sale of another $1.8 billion worth missile defence system.
- The move is indicative of the US’s growing willingness to allow higher technology defence equipment to India.
- Placing India at level (STA-1) similar to its closest allies: The Trump Administration has gone farther than its predecessors in the technology levels it is willing to offer.
- Including Guardian drones in 2017, and placing India at STA-1 level, similar to its closest allies and partners.
- The expected MoUs: The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs indicated on February 20 that five MoUs can be expected, inter alia,-
- On intellectual property.
- Trade facilitation and
- Homeland security.
- Making sense of the US’s actions in the present context: There will also be the regulation joint statement.
- Analysing in greater details: This time, the statement will be parsed in more than usual detail for indications of future direction and intent for the partnership.
- It is the time when the US has been talking of “Make America Great Again”, advocating for sovereignty and nationalism.
- The US is also decrying-Alliance commitments, Readying to sign an agreement with the Taliban by month-end leading to a drawdown of US troop presence.
- Yet, it is articulating repeatedly about India being a lynchpin of its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.
No development on the limited trade front
- No progress on limited trade package: The two countries have not been able to finalise even a “limited trade package”, which has been under discussion for two years.
- Gaps between the expectations: Obviously, there is a gap between what India can accommodate, and what the US negotiators want for their own political reasons.
- The Trump administration has taken several steps that have negatively impacted India.
- It has imposed additional tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from India, ostensibly on national security grounds.
- The above action flies in the face of citing strategic partnership and convergence in Indo-Pacific strategy.
- GSP withdrawal: It has withdrawn hitherto available GSP benefits from certain categories of labour-intensive Indian products.
- Labelling India a ‘Developed’ country: The US has taken India out of its list of “developing” countries, lowering the threshold for countervailing trade action.
- Against the spirit of the beneficial rise of India: These actions go against the grain of the US articulation that it sees the rise of India to be in US benefit.
- Treating the trade deficit with China and India on equal footing: It also does not make sense when India is an overall trade deficit country.
- Even though it has a $20 billion surplus with the US which pales compared to China’s $350 billion surplus.
- Unprecedented actions against the closest allies: Trump has taken unprecedented action against the closest US allies.
- He has also repeatedly publicly ridiculed Indian tariffs, claiming recently that India has not treated the US fairly.
What the future holds for the India-US relationship
- Is the US “all-weather” partner: Given the contradictory impulses, it would be fair to ask what the future holds for the India-US relationship, and where would the Trump visit and its aftermath take us.
- Can India consider the US a reliable and “all-weather” partner, or be constantly juggling convergences and divergences?
- The factors that affected relationship: Historically, four factors have affected the India-US relationship at any point of time:
- US global posture and priorities.
- Strength of bilateral relations.
- The role assigned to Pakistan in its global objectives.
- The strategy towards China.
Evolution of India-US relationship
- Under Democrat Presidents
- Roosevelt Period: During the Second World War, Roosevelt pushed Britain to grant independence to India, facilitated a separate official Indian representation in Washington through an Agent-General since 1941.
- But did not go far enough fearing disruption of the necessary wartime alliance. In the post-war period.
- Truman Period: Truman spoke of partnering with developing countries for their industrial and scientific progress.
- He welcomed Indian PM Nehru for an acclaimed visit in 1949.
- But initiated the Cold War containment strategy against the Soviet Union, and the assessment of newly independent countries from that lens.
- Kennedy Period: He was extremely supportive of democratic India’s economic assistance requirements, and for military assistance during the 1962 China conflict.
- Carter Period: Carter, wedded to human rights issues, acclaimed India’s post Emergency elections.
- But was critical on non- proliferation differences.
- Clinton Period: Clinton stabilised the relationship after the dissonance and sanctions following our 1998 nuclear tests.
- And gave full support to India’s position during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan.
- Obama Period: He came out in support of India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and declared India a Major Defence Partner, enabling higher-level technology authorisations.
- Under Republican Presidents
- Eisenhower Period: Eisenhower embraced and armed Pakistan in its CENTO and SEATO military alliances.
- India as a bulwark against China: He emphasised food and economic assistance to India seeing it as a democratic bulwark against a Communist China.
- First-ever visit to India by the US president: He made a successful first-ever visit of a serving US President to India, welcomed also by a 5 lakh crowd in Connaught Place.
- Nixon Period: He visited India for a day in 1959, was upset with Indian criticism of his Vietnam military offensives.
- Sided completely with Pakistan during the Bangladesh crisis of 1971.
- He sent the US seventh fleet into the Bay of Bengal to pressurise India and sought to reorder the global balance by outreach to China through a secret Kissinger visit that year.
- Reagan Period: He explored economic and scientific cooperation with India, but was absorbed with Pakistan’s support in pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.
- George W Bush Period: George W Bush transformed the relationship with the civil nuclear cooperation agreement of 2008.
- Perceiving again the technological, military and political challenge to the US from a rising China.
It is clear that India’s interests have been impacted a bit by party orientation on issues, but more by the overall global circumstance. Under the present circumstance, therefore, India will have to deal with a transactional administration, supportive of strengthening India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, but also counting the gains for itself.