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India – US Relationship Needs A Reset – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Anil Trigunayat

While both India and the US agree on the essential need for global cooperation and solidarity to fight against terrorism and extremism, the recent controversy regarding the ‘Pannun’ and ‘Nijjar’ cases regenerated the dictum of ‘my terrorists vs yours.’

Relationships are built on trust, mutual respect, mutual interests, and regard for mutual sensitivities. India and the US have often been defined as natural partners, given the fact that both are proud of their democratic values, institutions, and rule of law.

India is the largest democracy, and the USA is the greatest one. Yet both had to traverse different global and ideological trajectories to align their interests and convergences while overcoming or even maintaining some of their fundamental divergences on global issues to become Global Comprehensive Strategic partners over time.

The fact that the geopolitical and geoeconomic pivot has moved towards the South, and India as a major power and pole in that dynamic, has helped enrich the ties in a more strategic manner.

India and the US are both together in their efforts to ensure a rule-based international order in the maritime domain, as well as in making multilateral organisations more topical and relevant to the 21st century, where India’s role is seen as critical.

The world looks at India as an important pillar of stability. A friend who can be trusted, a partner who believes in people-centric development, a voice that believes in global good, a voice of the Global South, an engine of growth in the global economy, a technology hub for finding solutions, a powerhouse of talented youth, and a democracy that delivers…said PM Modi while addressing the 10th Vibrant Gujarat Summit. The US recognises this strength of India and has worked through institutionalised mechanisms to support and cooperate with New Delhi on several landmark initiatives.

No wonder the US Ambassador to India, Garcetti, recalled that President Biden had told him that India was the most important country in the world. During the prominent state visit by PM Modi in June 2023, President Biden himself reiterated that his country’s partnership with India is ‘the most consequential in the world ‘. There is a bipartisan consensus in the US about India’s importance and benign leadership, as the interpersonal relations between the leaders across the political spectrum remain steadfast. They meet quite frequently at the G7, QUAD, Democracy Summit, G20, and so on, apart from bilateral formats.

Both have tremendous convergences and concerns with regard to global challenges, even though their approaches might differ sometimes. This is more so as the Sino-US geopolitical and geoeconomic competition intensifies with the fractured global order, and ipso facto, this makes India a strategic pivot, which is following a conscious and national interest-driven yet principled policy of multi-alignments and strategic autonomy in her international discourse. India’s unique and successful presidency of the G20, when President Biden visited New Delhi and supported Indian initiatives, is a testament to that.

More importantly, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, the US and India, along with other partners, launched a critical and mutually beneficial project, India-Europe-Middle East Economic Connectivity (IMEEC), covering geographies of mutual interest, which is said to be a game-changer once completed.

Both also work closely in the IUSU (India, the US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) and I2U2 (India, the UAE, Israel, and the USA) matrix, which have enabled India’s regional and sub-regional approach to its extended neighbourhood. Likewise, both countries also work in trilateral formats in Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as even in South Asia, through the Blue Dot Network and other frameworks.

On the existential challenge of climate change, both countries have developed a sustainable collaborative matrix within the context of the ‘US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership’ across mitigation, adaptable, and renewable energy and technologies. Likewise, they have launched a Hydrogen and Biofuels Task Force.

No wonder at the G20 Summit in Delhi, a Global Biofuels Alliance was launched, and the most important considerations and proposals were incorporated in the New Delhi Declaration and reiterated by PM Modi at the COP 28 Summit in Dubai.

The Indo-Pacific has emerged as a major and contested maritime geography since China continues to challenge the US-led Global Order and follows its hegemonistic policies and ingresses in the region, as well as specifically against India, despite New Delhi following an inclusive policy marked by ‘competition with cooperation, unlike the Chinese ‘zero sum’ matrix.

Beijing’s continued intransigence on borders has led to greater strategic collaboration by India within the QUAD format, with the US, Australia, and Japan as its partners. In September 2021, after the meeting between PM Modi and President Biden, the fact sheet on India and US-Global Leadership in Action underscored the areas of cooperation under the Quad.

The US and India are working on COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness, infrastructure, space, clean energy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber security, maritime security, resilient supply chains, approaches to 5G infrastructure deployment that leverage open and interoperable network architectures, and critical and emerging technologies.

More joint military exercises under various formats, including Malabar and greater intelligence exchanges, have become frequent and routine as QUAD is being called the ‘Force for Global Good’ by PM Modi since it stands for a rule-based order.

The next QUAD Summit is likely to be held in India in the later part of 2024, possibly after the elections in India and the US, respectively. But the best part about this partnership is the bipartisan support and interest, sometimes grudgingly, as India follows a policy of ‘Strategic Autonomy’.

The US remains India’s largest partner in trading and technology. It is also the third-largest investment partner, with ambitious targets for the future. In 2022, bilateral merchandise trade reached $133 billion, and services trade reached around $58 billion.

Hydrocarbon trade has emerged as a new area of cooperation. Hydrocarbon trade with the US, which started in 2017, amounted to $19 billion in 2022.

The US is our fourth-largest crude oil and second-largest LNG supplier. It is also a major investor in India and has begun to accord high priority to India’s flagship programmes like ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, and ‘Innovate and Standup India’. India is also a member of the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Forum).

Defence industrial cooperation and the transfer of technology have acquired much greater salience. The US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology( iCET) is a flagship mechanism in keeping with the times.

The US has emerged as India’s top three suppliers of defence equipment, apart from signing foundational agreements like LEMOA, BECA, and Communications and Compatibly and Security Agreements for better interoperability and smooth cooperation. India-US defence cooperation is based on the “New Framework for India-US Defence Cooperation,” which was renewed for ten years in 2015. In 2016, the defence relationship was designated as a Major Defence Partnership (MDP). Later, India was moved into Tier 1 of the US Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorization licence exception. The Indus-X format has emerged as a key inter-disciplinary driver for collaboration in the defence sector. The recent transfer of GE’s jet engine technology and collaboration with HAL is a remarkable development, as India will become part of a small group of countries manufacturing jet engines.

Likewise, India wishes to achieve self-sufficiency in microchips and semi-conductors, critical and cutting-edge technologies and components, and be a crucial and dependable partner in the regional and global value supply chains. In this context, a US company, Micron Technology, has proposed to set up a facility in India with an investment of $825 million.

Likewise, another US firm, Applied Materials, has announced plans to set up a manufacturing facility for the machines required for the production of semiconductors with an investment of $400 million. To complete the triad, another semiconductor company has offered to train 60,000 Indians, who will eventually carry forward these important initiatives.

NASA and ISRO work on many projects in an exceptional manner, as India has emerged as a major power in the domain of space with cost-competitive and highly efficient Chandrayan and solar missions.

Indians are also investing significantly in the US and creating jobs. According to a CII study released in April 2023, 163 Indian companies invested over $40 billion in the US and created over 425,000 direct jobs.

An order for new planes by Air India from Boeing for nearly $50 billion will lead to the creation of over one million jobs across 44 states in the US, as claimed by President Biden. Hence, the robustness of the relationship is driven by the fact that India is a major economic partner of the US.

Apart from certain trade and tariff issues that are usual in any relationship and resolved through bilateral and international mechanisms, an area that in recent times has caused a perceptional divergence is related to counterterrorism. While both sides agree on the essential need for global cooperation and solidarity to fight against the menace of terrorism and extremism, the recent controversy regarding the ‘Pannun’ and ‘Nijjar’ cases regenerated the dictum of ‘my terrorists vs yours’ in such a way that it cast aspersions with regard to the US’s double standards, even as the two sides are handling it maturely.

One of the most important drivers of the Indo-US comprehensive and strategic partnership is the over 4 million highly successful Indian diaspora, which is mostly entrepreneurial and professional and acts as a living bridge between India and the USA. Not only are they one of the highest earners per capita and head over 25 top MNCs, but they have done rather well in the US political landscape as congressmen, governors, and even as presidential aspirants.

Speaking at Howard University, S Jaishankar, the Indian Foreign Minister, rightly underscored that a key driver of this change has been its human element, which has helped transform the bilateral relationship across the spectrum.

The Indo-US relationship is being steered by mutual respect, mutual interests, and convergences, but mutual sensitivities will further reinforce it in a much higher orbit, and as PM Modi so succinctly averred, “even the sky is not the limit (for India-US) ties”.

Speaking at the US Congress in his inimitable style, PM Modi summed up the relationship: “The scope of our cooperation is endless. The potential of our synergies is limitless. And the chemistry in our relations is effortless.”

The author is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in Firstpost as Beyond Trade and Technology, it’s time the US got over ‘my terrorists vs yours’ dictum on February 6, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by  Kaushiki K. Singh, a research intern at IMPRI.

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