Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] Where interests meet


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 2 + 2 dialogue

Mains level: India’s partnership with the US over years and recent developments related to it


Balanced India-US relationship

  1. The idea that India-US relations are enveloped by a crisis has been a recurring theme for the last quarter of a century and more
  2. Yet, since the end of the Cold War, the bilateral relationship has made a steady advance across a broad front
  3. Despite the presumption or hope in many sections at home and abroad that something will surely trip up India and the US, their partnership has become stronger by the day

India’s growing ties with the US

  1. For India, ties with the US have emerged as the most comprehensive among all its major power relationships
  2. In terms of breadth, it ranges from defence and high technology cooperation to a substantive people-to-people relationship
  3. In terms of weight, it is the most important economic relationship — annual two-way trade in goods and services now stands at nearly $140 billion and mutual investments are on the way up
  4. There is also a growing convergence of perspectives on regional and international affairs
  5. Few other powers have been as positive as the US in addressing either India’s concerns about terrorism in the region or as supportive of its aspirations for a larger international role

Are Trump’s policies harmful to India?

  1. Although many of America’s traditional partners have found themselves at the receiving end of Trump’s effort to reorient US foreign policy, the consequences for India have not been too severe to cope with
  2. On the two primary areas of concern for India — Pakistan and China — Delhi has no reason to complain about Trump’s policies
  3. On the sources of terror in Pakistan and its destabilisation of Afghanistan, Trump has mounted the kind of pressure on Rawalpindi that his predecessors were not willing to consider
  4. Trump’s pushback against China’s assertive policies has already opened up new diplomatic space for Delhi in the Indo-Pacific, including with Beijing

Dealing with US sanctions on trading with Russia

  1. Since the end of the Cold War, India did not have to look over its shoulder in its engagement with either Russia or America
  2. Delhi will now have to deal with this new situation
  3. The new US law that mandates sanctions against countries that buy arms from Russia is at the centre of the current debate
  4. Washington has no reason to wreck the growing military relationship with India — which has seen the US expand its share in arms sales to India at the expense of Russia
  5. India, on its part, needs to take full advantage of the strategic possibilities with the US for modernising India’s military as well as its defence industrial base

Managing Iran problem

  1. The Iran problem might be a lot easier to manage
  2. It’s been done before amidst the continuing confrontation between Tehran and Washington
  3. More than a decade ago, the UPA government refused to sacrifice India’s rising stakes in the US relationship for the sake of Iran
  4. Also, India’s interests are rapidly rising in the UAE and Saudi Arabia — two countries that are in a deepening conflict with Iran

Limiting incoming damage

  1. Driven by powerful domestic political considerations, Trump has chosen to confront all of America’s major economic partners on ending the trade imbalance
  2. India is certainly on the list of countries with a trade surplus with the US
  3. Delhi must find ways to limit the damage to its most important trade relationship through practical negotiations

Way Forward

  1. India and the United States have advanced their partnership over the last few years by sticking to two important principles
  2. One is the political commitment not to let any one problem derail the broader partnership and the other is to continue to expand the areas of engagement that yield additional gains for both
  3. The two sides must try and break from the frustrating tradition of incrementalism via 2 + 2 dialogue which could also help set more ambitious goals for the future
  4. Translating the alignment of interests into concrete outcomes requires the development of a new framework for burden-sharing and strategic coordination
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