Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

US foreign policy has changed, India can’t bank on being its ‘ally’ anymore


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Changes in U.S. foreign policy

The article highlights the paradigm shift in the U.S. foreign policy in which the U.S. engages with a country on several parallel lines with little or no scope for a trade-off between them.

Changes in the U.S. foreign policy

  •  US foreign policy is no longer based on old friend-or-foe classification under which transgressions by a “friend” or an “ally” were overlooked if the country was helpful to US self-interests.
  • Instead, the US foreign policy paradigm has shifted to one where a country’s position on an issue — trade, climate change, security, or human rights — is the categorising principle and not the country.
  • Put differently, engagement with countries will be done on issues with little or no trade-off among them.
  • Competition, cooperation, and confrontation can all characterise the US’s bilateral engagement depending on the specific issue.
  • For example, trade will involve competition while climate change and pandemics will necessitate cooperation.
  • Human rights and national security issues could be confrontational.

Smart sanctions

  • A key instrument of foreign policy will be the now well-honed system of “smart” sanctions.
  • Sanctions in the past were directed at a country as a whole but such sanctions were counterproductive and created anti-US sentiment.
  • In its latest version, smart sanctions do not target countries, but specific individuals, firms, and institutions for a variety of alleged transgressions.
  • US businesses and individuals cannot transact with sanctioned entities.
  • The Magnitsky Accountability Act of 2012, for example, targeted those involved in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and others responsible for human rights abuses in Russia.
  • When this was found to be successful, an executive order, passed in 2017, extended the provisions in the Magnitsky Act, to all who are corrupt or violate human rights in the world.

What does this mean for India

  • Unlike in the antiquated rational-actor paradigm where there are imagined trade-offs across issues, in the new framework the US engages with countries on parallel lines.
  • The engagement is multifaceted across trade, intellectual property rights, climate change, security, terrorism, and, importantly, human rights, with limited trade-off across them.
  • Whether cooperation, competition, or confrontation dominate the nature of the engagement will depend on the specifics not whether India is a friend or a foe.


This marks the shift in the U.S. foreign policy, if others, including India, do not adapt to this paradigm shift, then they will find engagement with the US starkly different and surprisingly difficult.

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