Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Forging a new India-U.S. modus vivendi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 2-India-US, Importance for India, issues involved.


It is clearer than perhaps ever before in recent times, that New Delhi needs the continued support of the U.S. government on almost everything substantial that matters to India in its quest to be a power of substance in the international system.

Preparing for Trump 2.0

  • The world may have to deal with Mr Trump for four more years after the end of his present term this year.
  • Where India can benefit from constructive ties with the US?
    • A fairer trade regime.
    • Accessing cutting-edge technology.
    • The fight against terrorism.
    • Stabilising our region.
    • New Delhi stands to benefit from constructive ties on all issues, given a more sensitive United States.
  • India must, therefore, seek greater understanding and engagement should there be a Trump 2.0.
  • Understanding the asymmetrical partnership: Asymmetrical partnerships, as we know from history, are rarely easy.
    • Partnership with the superpowers: Partnerships with superpowers are even more difficult; in international politics, as in life, even the best of unequal relationships results in a loss of some dignity and autonomy. 

Why the partnership with the US matters for India?

  • The growing influence of China in Indo-Pacific: Without the United States, the region could become willy-nilly part of a new Chinese tributary system.
    • Chance of more organic rule-based order: With a fully engaged United States, the region has at least the chance of creating a more organic rules-based order.
  • Past consequences for India: the history of “estrangement” with the United States, during the Cold War, has had consequences for vital national interests that continue to cast their shadow on the present.
    • Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
    • Nuclear non-proliferation.
    • Festering of the Pakistan “problem”.
    • The Chinese humiliation of 1962, are just a few examples.
  • Change in the perception over the US: But much of course has changed today.
  • AntiAmericanism is outdate: Anti-Americanism, once the conventional wisdom of the Indian elite, seems outdated.
    • Close alignment with the US: New Delhi has, over the decades, gone on to align itself more closely with Washington.
    • Opinion in favour of the stronger ties: More important, both within India and in the U.S., the consensus across the mainstream of political opinion favours stronger relations between the two countries.

Pro-US tilt of the Indian Foreign policy

  • A survey suggests support for Trump: According to the latest Pew Surveys of Global Opinion, support for Mr Trump in India is high enough to suggest a great deal of public affection for the American President.
    • That itself is a marker of the way India and Indians now see the world.
  • Reason for the change in geo-strategic change: The reason for the change in New Delhi’s geostrategic outlook can be summarised quickly.
    • If the 1971 Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union was a response to the continuing U.S. tilt towards Pakistan and the beginnings of a Washington-Beijing entente.
    • China factor: At present, it is the prospect of a potentially hegemonic China in the Indo-Pacific region is helping to cement the relationship.
    • Beijing has managed to alienate nearly all its neighbours and allies, except North Korea and Pakistan.
  • Gains made in bilateral ties in the last 3 years:
    • COMCASA– A foundational military agreement that allows for the sharing of encrypted communications and equipment.
    • Export control law relaxation: A change in U.S. export control laws that places India in a privileged category of NATO and non-NATO U.S. allies;
    • 2+2 dialogue: New ‘2+2’ foreign and defence ministers dialogue.
    • Oil export to India: An exponential increase in U.S. oil exports to India.
    • Tri-lateral military exercise: The inauguration of the first India-U.S. tri-service military exercise and expansion of existing military exercises.
    • The signing of Industrial Security Annex: The signing of an Industrial Security Annex that will allow for greater collaboration among the two countries’ private defence industries.
    • Inclusion of India in a U.S. security Initiative: The inclusion of India and South Asia in a U.S. Maritime Security Initiative.

Preparing for the President from Democratic Party

  • There is, of course, a chance that we may have a Democratic President next year.
  • Bipartisan support in the US: In those circumstances, we can only hope that the bipartisan consensus on engaging India will prevail.
    • To be sure, however, a new President will seek to put his/her own imprimatur on the relationship.
    • Democrats and the Human Right issue: The Democrats will clearly be more proactive on human rights and on issues of inclusion and diversity, which would make a greater demand on India and test its capacity and creativity.
  • Indian diaspora: India, of course, continue engaging with its strongest source of support in the United States: the Indian diaspora.
    • Fortunately, there is a near consensus on the need to strengthen this constituency.


In any case, there is little doubt that whoever is the next occupant of the White House, a retreat from multilateralism (especially on trade-related issues) and concern about China will continue to be the two main pillars of contemporary American foreign policy. If for only those reasons, Mr Trump’s reason has undeniable significance.




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