The major shift in India’s relationship with the US came after India tested its nuclear weapons in Pokharan in 1998. This event was preceded by 2 other major changes in India’s domestic and foreign policy. Post-cold-war, the relevance of NAM stood challenged. In the absence of two blocs, the question of sidelining or remaining non-aligned didn’t make much sense.
India – US relations have transformed from estranged democracies to engaged democracies , often described as the partnership of the 21st Century.
Secondly, in the wake of simmering BoP crisis over a decade, India had to see off its strategy of autarky. It exchanged loans from IMF in return of SAPs which made opening up of economy imperative.
These two landmark structural changes in the way India was going to engage with the outer world provided a basis of building relations with the US on firm foundations. Closed economy and NAM had restricted cooperation in key areas like defense, people to people contact, trade ties, technology transfer etc. So, coming back to nuclear test, the US was left with two options: one was sanctioning India and other was to engage constructively with India accepting it as a nuclear weapon state. The US experimented with the first and settled with the later.
Strategic partnership between India and the US
• It cannot be said that the US engaged with India out of its intent only but one must accept the role played by international situation that was there in first decade of new millennium. The 9/11 opened up new arenas of engagement for the US.
It came close to South Asia in its quest to deal with terrorism. Side by side, China was also rising.
It was asserting itself in South China Sea. It was putting bizarre claims on islands, drawing arbitrary lines in waters to keep other countries out, flirting with territorial waters of other littoral countries, building military bases, creating ports etc.
• Meanwhile, volume of trade through Indo-Pacific was competing with that through Atlantic waters. Developing countries were rising in South and South-East Asia. Rogue states like North Korea were also threatening global order.
• This was the overall situation in which the US saw its interests as a global hegemony threatened and understood that it needs to shift its focus from Atlantic and Middle East to Asia-Pacific. It needed to be present there. This was the substance that fuelled the global strategy of the US in past two decades.
Global strategy of the US and India’s position in it
• In this backdrop, India appeared to be a natural ally to the US. Since old inhibitions like NAM, closed economy etc. were gone and emerging necessities drove the relationship based on realist calculations. Keeping in mind aspirations of India as a rising power and having common stakes in peaceful rise of China and maintenance of a rule based order in Asia-Pacific, Indo-US rapprochement became logical.
• Pakistan: USA slashed the aid that was disbursed to Pakistan to fight terrorism pushing FATF ban on Pakistan. The listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar as an international terrorist by the UN is an example of uncritical American support to India.
• In this direction, the US entered into civil nuclear agreement with India. It roped in India along with two other democracies of the region i.e. Australia and Japan to form a quadrilateral initiative.
India was declared a Major Defense Partner of the US in 2016.
• Certain agreements were signed like COMCASA, LEMOA etc. that provided defense and technological inputs equivalent to those available only to allies of America. It received a support to enter high tables like NSG, UNSC etc. Our position on international terrorism was almost similar.
• India was till recently availing the benefits of GSP that made our exports more competitive in the US markets. All these steps bring the US and India closer physically and emotionally. There is great decline of cold war skepticism towards the US.
• But everything is not as rosy as it appears. There are areas of contention between the US and India in almost all domains of strategic partnership.
• In its dealings with Iran, India is hindered by the US sanctions on the former. Our economic policies in areas of agriculture, e-commerce, IPR regime, protection of domestic interests doesn’t go well with neo-liberal philosophy of America.
• Recent withdrawal of USA from JCPOA, also called the Iran Nuclear deal and the imposition of sanctions on Iran, who is major exporter of oil to India and also a strategic partner of India ( Chabahar Port) with whom we enjoy civilization ties has adversely affected our relations with Iran
• We are not on same page in dealing with climate change. Trump’s America First Policy is keen to deprive us of benefits of GSP. Our Kashmir policy is not getting full support of America.
• What one needs to appreciate is that these irritants in Indo-US relations are byproduct of misfit between global strategy of the US and interests of India. CAATSA humiliates India by questioning its strategic autonomy.
• Pakistan is important for the US to deal with Afghanistan issue. Iran-US animosity if age old. By denying climate change, the US doesn’t want to lose its preeminent positions as an economic superpower. Protectionism of America is fuelled by a sense of transactional relationship spurred under Trump. Our public good approach towards agricultural products doesn’t find resonance with neo-liberal approach of the US.
Areas of Convergence
• Indo Pacific
o The region has geo-strategic-economic, geo-political significance.
o The US recently renamed its U.S. Pacific Command to U.S.-Indo Pacific Command, showing the importance it attaches to the Indo Pacific region.
o India – US defense relations has been on an ascending spiral with a plethora of agreements concluded recently
▪ Foundational Agreements like LEMOA, COMCASA
▪ Major Defence Partner status
▪ Strategic Trade Authorization-1(STA-1) status.
▪ Defence Technology Trade Initiative
• Indo – US Partnership have been working for Rule based, Inclusive, Open, Multilateral world order as against a Revisionist China.
o USA slashed the aid that was disbursed to Pakistan to fight terrorism pushing FATF ban on Pakistan.
o The listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar as an international terrorist by the UN is an example of uncritical American support to India o
• Civil Nuclear Cooperation
o The deal recognizes India as a de-facto nuclear power.
o US helped India to get an NSG waiver, thereby getting a regular supply of Nuclear fuel.
o USA has been vocal in expressing its discontentment that India has not been playing an active role in tackling terrorism in Afghanistan.
o Also, US has not involved India in evolving its policies towards Afghanistan.
o Ex) Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), consisting of the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, created to facilitate the process of direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, for which India has not been included despite being strategic partner of Afghanistan since 2011 • Opposing Trade interests
o Recent withdrawal of India from GENERALISED SYSTEM OF PREFERENCES, a preferential duty free programme extended by industrialized countries to developing nations.
o Other irritants are
▪ India’s new e-commerce rules
▪ Price controls on medical devices
▪ Tariffs on products like smart watches and high-end mobile phones ▪ Lack of greater market access for the U.S. dairy industry • IRAN – Sanctions
o Recent withdrawal of USA from JCPOA, also called the Iran Nuclear deal and the imposition of sanctions on Iran ,who is major exporter of oil to India and also a strategic partner of India ( Chabahar Port ) with whom we enjoy civilizational ties has adversely affected our relations with Iran
o US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act aims at taking punitive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
o This in all likelihood would affect India’s procurement of defense equipment’s, spare parts, components considering the fact that bulk of India’s military equipment is of Soviet/Russian origin
o Despite India – US relations getting deeper , US has frequently dragged India to Dispute Resolution process regarding domestic content requirements and subsidies.
o IPR regulations-India’s insistence on availability and affordability of drugs and US pharma companies’ allegations of violations of IPR rules has led to reluctance of US pharma companies to invest in R&D.
• Climate Change
o While India has been proactive in tackling Climate Change through its initiatives like International Solar Alliance, active participation in Paris Conference and its national INDC
India 4th Largest army, fastest growing economy, reservoir of soft power credentials, having youngest population in the world gives India the leverage to be an equal partner in any relationship. It is important that USA treats India as a partner rather than an ally owing to the growing stature of India
Hence, what we conclude is that relations between the US and India are driven by areas where our interests converge. The US is ultimately protecting its national interests and so does India. Wherever they disagree, it’s the power of America that finds way. US policy has always been this realist. What India needs to realize is that foreign policies are driven by interests and not ideal.
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