Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Excessive optimism over a pact with election-bound US is premature


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BECA

Mains level: Paper 2- India-US and optimism

The growing pace of India-US bilateral engagement has raised hopes in several quarters. However, there are several issues that must be considered and need to avoid excessive optimism. 

Timing of 2+2 dialogue

  • The India-US 2+2 third meeting was held in Delhi only a week before the US presidential elections.
  • The government felt that it was important to seal the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) without delay.
  • Other reason could be government’s assessment that there is bipartisan support in the US for higher and positive bilateral ties.

Need for caution in India’s approach

  • In India-US ties, the leading outside consideration is China.
  • A Biden presidency, should that be the choice of the American people, would seek to ensure that China’s rise is not at the cost of the US’s global pre-eminence.
  • However, the strategy and methods it employs would be different from that of its predecessor.
  • Further, even a Trump 2 administration, with the election done, may change course in its China approach.
  • Hence, caution and prudence are good diplomatic watchwords.
  • It is good that the agreements for a full defence engagement with the US are in place.
  • But it is one matter to have them done and an entirely different one insofar as the nature and intensity of cooperation.
  • So, India’s tradition of relying on its own strengths in matters of national security should not be eroded in the hope that an outside power would provide useful inputs.

Alliance Vs. Partnership

  • India-US ties are in the framework of a partnership, not an alliance.
  • The partnership may not be based on opposition to an outside element, the alliance almost always is.
  • Alliances also demand a much higher price than partnerships, through loss of autonomy if the ally is a bigger power.

Excessive enthusiasm on Quad may be premature

  • The 2+2 joint statement does not name China but its thrust is clear.
  • The Quad is based on a commonality of concerns on account of China’s actions.
  • India’s decision to go along with a more purposive group, including through its maritime exercises, is in keeping with its interests.
  • The real direction that the Quad will take has to await the US’s overall China strategy over the next few years.
  • Excessive enthusiasm on the Quad front may, therefore, be premature.

Way forward

  • India has to change the nature of its economic and commercial ties with China.
  • Thus, the joint statement’s reference on the need to “enhance supply chain resilience and to seek alternatives to the current paradigm” was timely, though here, again, the future US approach is not entirely certain.
  • The areas where the bilateral partnership has the potential of evolving most positively for India relate to health, education and science and technology.
  • There should not be any reluctance in developing ties in defence industries, too, but it cannot be forgotten that no country will part with any of its critical technologies.
  • But there cannot be a substitute for developing indigenous capacity for India’s needs for weapon systems.


India-US ties will move positively forward but there will be imponderables ahead, principally arising out of US strategies towards China. But, a close embrace of another country is always problematic.

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