Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

The convergence and lag in Indo-US partnership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Paradox in debate over relations with the US


As the Indian leadership reviews US ties this week with the visiting Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, a paradox stands out.

Deepening Indo-US ties

  • India and the US have come a long way since the 1990s.
  • There is growing political and security cooperation, expanding economic engagement, widening interface between the two societies, and the intensifying footprint of the Indian diaspora in the US.
  • Convergence of interests: That ambition, in turn, is based on the unprecedented convergence of Indian and American national interests.
  • Agenda for cooperation: The two countries have already agreed on an ambitious agenda for bilateral, regional and global cooperation.

Debate in India over Indo-US relation: A paradox

  • The discourse within India’s strategic community continues to be anxious.
  • Some of the questions that animate the media and political classes have not changed since the 1990s.
  • Issues in the debate: Debate focuses on US’s stand on the Kashmir issue, democracy and human rights and its impact on India-US relations.
  • Contradictory fears: There are also contradictory fears such as whether the US extend full support in coping with China.
  • While we expect the US to give guarantees on supporting us, we insist that India will never enter into an alliance with the US.
  • Small state syndrome in India: As India’s relative weight in the international system continues to grow, it creates much room for give and take between India and the US.
  • Yet, a small state syndrome continues to grip the foreign policy elite.
  • The situation is similar on the economic front.
  • Although India is now the sixth-largest economy in the world, there is unending concern about the US imposing globalisation on India.
  • Even as India’s salience for solutions to climate change has increased, India’s debate remains deeply defensive.

Factors responsible paradox

  • Missing the big picture: The narrow focus on the bilateral precludes an assessment of the larger forces shaping American domestic and international politics.
  • That, in turn, limits the appreciation of new possibilities for the bilateral relationship.
  • Underinvestment in American studies: The problem is reinforced by India’s under-investment in public understanding of American society.
  • Russia and China have put large resources in American studies at their universities and think tanks.
  • The Indian government and private sector will hopefully address this gap in the not-too-distant future.

Policy shifts unfolding in the US

  • Domestic economic policies: If the economic policy drift in the last four decades was to the right, Biden is moving left on the relationship between the state and the market — on raising taxes, increasing public spending and addressing the problem of sharp economic inequality.
  • Economic policy and globalisation: Biden has also joined Trump in questioning America’s uncritical economic globalisation of the past.
  • If Trump talked of putting America First, Biden wants to make sure that America’s foreign and economic policies serve the US middle class.
  • Foreign policy: Biden has concluded that four decades of America’s uncritical engagement with China must be reconstituted into a policy that faces up to the many challenges that Beijing presents to the US.
  •  Biden is also focused on renewing the traditional US alliances to present a united front against China.
  • He is also seeking to overcome Washington’s hostility to Russia by resetting ties with Moscow.

Question of democracy and human rights

  • Democracy is very much part of America’s founding ideology.
  • But living up to that ideal at home and abroad has not been easy for the United States over the last two centuries.
  • Delhi and Washington will also have much to discuss on the challenges that new surveillance technologies and big tech monopolies pose to democratic governance.
  • The exclusive American focus on democracy promotion has been rare, costly and unsuccessful.
  • India’s own experience at spreading democracy in its neighbourhood is quite similar.
  • But that discussion is only one part of the expansive new agenda — from Afghanistan to Indo-Pacific, reforming global economic institutions to addressing climate change, and vaccine diplomacy to governing new technologies that beckon India and the United States.


As they intensify the bilateral cooperation, the two sides will hopefully turn the Indo-US partnership from a perennial curiosity to a quotidian affair.

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