Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

India and the great power triangle of Russia, China and US


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Russia-China-US dynamic and its impact on India

Relations between Russia, China and the US have not always been the same. The changes in triangular dynamic offers lessons for India. The article deals with this issue.

India’s changing relations with great powers

  • The recent visit of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Delhi and Islamabad is among multiple signs of India’s changing relations with the great powers.
  •  At the same time, Delhi’s growing strategic partnerships with the US and Europe have begun to end India’s prolonged alienation from the West.
  • Also, New Delhi’s own relative weight in the international system continues to increase and give greater breadth and depth to India’s foreign policy.

Shifts in triangular relations between Russia, China and America

1) Russia-China relations

  • The leaders of Russia and China — Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong — signed a formal treaty of alliance in 1950.
  •  Russia invested massively in the economic modernisation of China, and also gave it the technology to become a nuclear weapon power.
  • However, by the 1960s, their relations soured and two were arguing about ideology and a lot else.
  • The Sino-Soviet split had consequences way beyond their bilateral relations.
  • None of them more important than the efforts by both Moscow and Beijing to woo Washington.
  • The break-up between Russia and China also opened space for Delhi against Beijing after the 1962 war in the Himalayas.
  • Under intense American pressure on Russia in the 1980s, Moscow sought to normalise ties with Beijing.
  • Stepping back to the 1960s and 1970s, China strongly objected to Delhi’s partnership with Moscow.

2) Russia-US relations

  • Russia, which today resents India’s growing strategic warmth with the US, has its own long history of collaboration with Washington.
  • Moscow and Washington laid the foundations for nuclear arms control and sought to develop a new framework for shared global leadership.
  • But Delhi was especially concerned about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system, with all its constraints on India’s atomic options, that Moscow and Washington constructed in the late 1960s.

3) US-China relations

  • Despite fighting Korean War with the US in the early 1950s, China normalised relations with the U.S. in 1971 to counter the perceived threat from Russia.
  • Deng Xiaoping, refused to extend the 1950 security treaty with Russia that expired in 1980.
  • China turned instead, towards building a solid economic partnership with the US and the West that helped accelerate China’s rise as a great power.

Lessons for India

  • The twists and turns in the triangular dynamic between America, Russia and China noted above should remind us that Moscow and Beijing are not going to be “best friends forever”.
  • India has no reason to rule out important changes in the way the US, Russia and China relate to each other in the near and medium-term.
  • In the last few years, India has finally overcome its historic hesitations in partnering with the US.
  • India has also intensified its efforts to engage European powers, especially France.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India later this month promises a fresh start in India’s difficult postcolonial ties with Britain.
  • India is also expanding its ties with Asian middle powers like Japan, Korea and Australia.
  • Despite the current differences over Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific, India and Russia have no reason to throw away their mutually beneficial bilateral partnership.
  • The current troubles with China seem to be an unfortunate exception to the upswing in India’s bilateral ties with global actors.

Consider the question “What are the lessons India can draw from the  twists and turns in the triangular dynamic between America, Russia and China.”


India has successfully managed the past flux in the great power politics; it is even better positioned today to deal with potential changes among the great powers.

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Debadri Roy
Debadri Roy
1 year ago

Excellent sum up of the Indian Exp. article !. No points left out. !

Devendra Singh
Devendra Singh
1 year ago

Thanx for sharing the story