Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

The Quad’s importance to India’s strategic autonomy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO

Mains level : Paper 3- Changing context of India's strategic autonomy

India is a member of both the Quad and the BRICS. Is not it the contradiction? The article answers this question and maps the transformation of India’s relation with the U.S. over the years.

Is India’s participation in BRICS and Quad contradictory?

  • Global Times, the Chinese newspaper last week speculating on the implications of the historic Quad summit for the BRICS.
  • In calling the Quad a “negative asset” for the BRICS the Global Times was highlighting what it sees as a contradiction in India’s participation in both the forums.
  • The paper argues that India has worsened “India-China and India-Russia relations” and halted progress “in the development of BRICS and SCO”.
  • Global Times warns that if India continues to get closer to Washington, India “will eventually lose its strategic autonomy”.

Understanding India’s strategic autonomy

  • “Strategic autonomy” is the framework that guided Delhi’s international relations since the Cold War.
  • In the early 1990s, strategic autonomy was about creating space for India against the overweening American power.
  • Why the space was needed? It was mainly because of the U.S. stance on two important aspects: Kashmir issue and nuclear program.
  • President Bill Clinton had questioned the legitimacy of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India and declared the US’s intent to resolve Delhi’s Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.
  • Washington insisted that rolling back India’s nuclear and missile programmes was a major objective of US foreign policy.
  • All that changed over the last three decades.

8 elements of  transformation of India’s relations with the U.S and China

  • A rising China has emerged as the biggest challenge to India and the US is increasingly an important part of the answer.
  • A few elements stand out.
  • First, China has become more assertive on the contested boundary, therefore, the support from the US and its Asian allies has been valuable.
  • Second, on the Kashmir question, China raises the issue at the UNSC while the US is helping India to block China’s moves.
  • Third, on cross-border terrorism, the US puts pressure on Pakistan and China protects Rawalpindi.
  • Fourth, the US has facilitated India’s integration with the global nuclear order while Beijing blocks Delhi’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • Fifth, the US backs India’s permanent membership of the UNSC, China does not.
  • Sixth, India now sees the trade with China hollowing out India’s manufacturing capability.
  • Its objective on diversifying its economy away from China is shared by the US and the Quad partners.
  • Seventh, India opposes China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a project that undermines India’s territorial sovereignty and regional primacy.
  • India is working with Quad partners to offer alternatives to the BRI.
  • Finally, India sees China’s rising military profile in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean as a problem and is working with Washington to redress the unfolding imbalance in India’s neighbourhood.

India’s approach to BRICS and SCO

  • The BRICS was part of India’s strategy in the unipolar moment that dawned at the end of the Cold War.
  • India’s current enthusiasm for the Quad is about limiting the dangers of a unipolar Asia dominated by China.
  • But India will continue to attach some value — diplomatic if not strategic — to a forum like the BRICS.
  • After all, the BRICS forum provides a useful channel of communication between Delhi and Beijing at a very difficult moment in the evolution of their bilateral relations.
  • The BRICS is also about India’s enduring partnerships with Russia, Brazil, and South Africa.
  • India also values its ties with the Central Asian states in the SCO.
  • The BRICS could certainly become a productive forum someday — when Delhi and Beijing mitigate their multiple contentions.

Consider the question “A rising China has emerged as the biggest challenge to India and the US is increasingly an important part of the answer. Examine the elements that support this underlying transformation of India’s relationship with the two countries.”


No amount of words in a BRICS declaration can hide the sharpening contradictions between India and China today. The absence of joint statements did not mask the growing strategic congruence among the Quad nations in recent years.

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