Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Why does the deepening Indo-US friendship puzzle so many?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relations

The India-US ties have advanced by leaps and bounds. Yet, there is a persistent underestimation of India’s capacity to rework its great power relations. The article deals with this issue.

Expanding partnership

  • India-US relations have been on a steady upward trajectory over the last three decades.
  • This partnership withstood significant political transitions in both countries and managed to overcome many difficult barriers.
  • The US is now India’s most comprehensive partner.
  • The Russia relationship is long on defence but short on commerce.
  • India’s commercial ties with China are large, but tilted heavily in Beijing’s favour.
  • Collective Europe is big on commerce but small on security cooperation.
  • The US has a sizeable presence in both economic and security dimensions and the political common ground with India has steadily expanded.

So, why persistent doubt in India about the US partnership

  • One part of it is the ingrained ideological bias in the dominant foreign policy elite.
  • Delhi’s stilted debate on the US is, unfortunately, reinforced by the sad absence of investment in institutional capabilities to study American politics, economics and international relations.

Issues with our assessment of relations with India

  • There is an enduring reluctance of India’s foreign policy community to either acknowledge or accept the unfolding transformation of India’s ties with the US.
  • There is also continuing underestimation of India’s capacity to rework its great power relations to meet India’s changing interests and circumstances.
  • It was widely held that the Indo-Pacific and the Quad will become footnotes in Biden’s foreign policy.
  • This in turn was based on the bet that Biden is likely to embrace China rather than confront it in the manner that Trump did.
  • All these assumptions turned out to be inaccurate.
  • Concern for democracy and human rights has always been part of US foreign policy ideology.
  • But no state, not even a revolutionary one, can run its foreign policy on a single-point agenda. 

Underestimating India’s agency to shape the partnership

  • Even as it continuously misjudged the US, the Indian foreign policy elite has not appreciated India’s agency to shape the relationship with America.
  • The conviction that Delhi is perennially under US pressure to accept policies harmful for itself further distorts the discourse in the media and among the chattering classes.
  • The evidence from the 1990s — one of India’s most vulnerable moments after Independence — should have corrected this misperception.
  • The traditional discourse finds it hard to come to terms with the twin factors shaping India’s new approach.
  • One is the significant increase in India’s material capabilities.
  • India’s aggregate GDP increased ten-fold between 1990 ($270 billion) and 2020 (about $2,700 billion).
  • Equally important is the new political will in Delhi.

Consider the question “There is a continuing underestimation of Delhi’s capacity to rework its great power relations with the US to meet India’s changing interests and circumstances. Critically examine.” 


The new India no longer wrings its hands in dealing with the US; it relishes the large room for strategic bargaining with America. Even more important, Delhi is no longer a reluctant partner to Washington.

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