Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Terms of transaction


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.

Contradictory impulses

  • 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.


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