Indo Us Relations Essay Contest

Addressing a security conference in India in March 2016, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, noted “with admiration India’s peaceful resolution of disputes with neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean,” while criticizing China for seeking “to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion.” It was more than a straw in the wind. Harris also called on India to join the United States, Japan, and Australia to deal with common security challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region via the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad). Although each values its economic ties with China, Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi, all share a common interest in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region is not dominated by China and the overall balance of power remains favorable to the liberal democracies.

Many believe that Beijing would have been far less aggressive in its “island building” and the other challenges to the status quo in the Pacific norms if the Quad had already been in place. But Harris called for the new initiative in the spirit of better late than never. With media reporting the first-ever trilateral naval exercise planned by the U.S., Indian, and Japanese navies in the South China Sea, the Admiral hoped that in the not too distant future, American and Indian navy vessels steaming together will become “a common and welcome sight” throughout Indo-Asia-Pacific waters. Not surprisingly, China reacted fast and furiously to the prospect of a more robust Indo-U.S. entente, warning both to stand back.

The Origins of the Triangle

It was in 1971 that President Richard Nixon’s courting of Mao’s China amid the looming India–Pakistan war of December 1971 pushed the “non-aligned” India firmly into the Soviet camp. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s attempts to establish a U.S.–China condominium to “cap, freeze and roll back” India’s nuclear program made New Delhi go nuclear and ballistic. Historically, the state of the Sino-U.S. relationship has always heavily influenced India’s foreign policy orientation.

The central appeal of the change proposed in the Quad initiative is that over the years of sometimes chilly relations with the United States, India is the only Asian power that has been committed to balancing China since 1962, after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet and converted the traditional Indo-Tibetan frontier into the disputed Sino-Indian boundary. Today, in one of those slow motion realignments that enliven history, India’s traditional security concerns—Pakistan (in the form of militant Islam) and China (irredentism and revisionism)—have finally become Washington’s immediate and long-term security concerns as well. The threat of terrorism and the need to contain Chinese regional muscularity, along with growing economic synergy in the high-tech sector, transformed U.S. ties with India. So, in 2002, three decades after Nixon’s opening with China led “non-aligned” India to ally with the USSR and eventually go nuclear, President George W. Bush let India’s Premier A. B. Vajpayee know that the times were changing: “A strong India can help provide the balance of power in the entire Asian region.” India’s economic rise was seen as serving Washington’s long-term interests by ensuring that there would be countervailing powers in Asia—China, Japan, and India—able to prevent the domination of the region by any one power.

The Bush administration lifted decades-old sanctions against India imposed over its nuclear weapons program and concluded defense (2005) and nuclear (2008) cooperation agreements. His successor, President Barack Obama described the U.S.–India relationship as the “indispensable partnership of the 21st century,” while his Secretary of Defense called “India the linchpin of the US rebalance strategy.” President Obama’s talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2015 India visit revealed that American and Indian views of China’s challenge to the global order are now “strikingly similar.”

Powers Shifts: Changing Triangular Dynamics

Power shifts have brought into sharp focus the significance of the U.S.–China–India triangular relationship in the early twenty-first century. As China reaches out for trade, investment, resources, markets, and bases, Beijing is also using its burgeoning military-industrial complex to court, arm, and aid its friends and allies to protect its overseas interests, assets, and nationals. The fact that countries with resources, markets, and strategically located naval bases usually tend to be the largest recipients of Chinese largesse is indicative of Beijing’s search for potential allies. Beijing’s long-term strategy is to re-establish its dominance in Asia and regain territories it claims as its own. Post-2008 global financial crisis, China has turned up the volume, transitioning from “hide and bide” to “seize and lead.” Rhetoric aside, Beijing’s “New Type of Great Power Relations” concept seeks U.S. recognition of China’s primacy in Asia in a geopolitical deal that limits Washington’s regional role and presence, relegates traditional U.S. allies (especially Japan) to the sidelines, and settles disputes on China’s terms.

Short of a major economic meltdown, China’s ability to project power is estimated to grow rapidly between now and 2025. China plans to build a blue-water navy that will include four aircraft carriers, the world’s largest submarine fleet, and missile capability that would deny the U.S. navy the ability to operate inside the “first island chain” (from southern Japan through Taiwan and the Philippines to the South China Sea) and effectively counter regional competitors, Japan and India. Indeed, despite regular “feel-good” high-level summits and numerous “rules of the road” agreements, air and naval encounters between the U.S. and Chinese surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and vessels will continue because these are messages from Beijing that the days of the Pacific Ocean as an “American lake” are now over. And now, this message is meant for Tokyo, Seoul, Hanoi, Manila, Jakarta, Canberra, and New Delhi, too. Beijing sees the U.S. military alliances and forward presence as the biggest hurdle in inducing Asians to accommodate and acquiesce to Chinese power. Chinese strategic thinkers argue that some resistance to China’s rise is to be expected, but they believe resistance will give way to accommodation followed by reconciliation on China’s terms—sooner rather than later. This increases the pressure on convincing neighboring countries that the overall balance of power has shifted in Beijing’s favor and their long-term interests lie in cutting bilateral deals with China instead of yearning for Uncle Sam.

While Chinese leaders and diplomats still chant the mantra of “peaceful rise,” their body language makes it clear that they expect everyone to get out of their way. China is as determined to change the U.S.-led liberal international order as the United States seeks to preserve it. President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road” strategy seeks to secure China’s continental and maritime interests by simultaneously dominating the Eurasian Heartland and exploiting natural resources for future economic growth and naval development. The South China Sea, through which more than $5.3 trillion of maritime trade passes each year, is now the arena of a geopolitical poker game that will determine whether the regional future is a Pax Sinica or Pax Americana. The long-term growth of Chinese supremacy in Asia is also contingent on having weaker and pliant states on China’s periphery. These goals invariably pit China not only against the United States and Japan, but also against India.

But just as China will not play second fiddle to the United States, India will not play second fiddle to China. Because India was never part of the Sinic world order, but a civilization-empire in and of itself, it remains genetically ill-disposed to compliantly sliding into China’s orbit. In its view, China has risen, India is still rising. At present, China’s economy and defense budget are four to five times larger than India’s. By 2025, India is projected to displace China as the world’s most populous country with a growing economy. Both want the same things at the same time on the same continent and its adjoining maritime domain. They are also two fierce competitors that according to former Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan, have now entered a period of “Cold Peace.” Just as the Chinese view the United States as a hegemonic power and accuse Washington of pursuing a policy of containment, Indians see China as an expansionist and hegemonic power and accuse Beijing of using every opportunity to contain India while publicly professing support for friendly ties. Despite growing economic ties, Beijing’s conflicts with India (over the unresolved border, Tibet, Pakistan, naval, nuclear, and geopolitical rivalries) are deep-seated. Through a combination of trade, aid, resource extraction, and infrastructure development, arms sales, and bases, Beijing is seeking to extend its strategic perimeter in southern Asia and the Indian Ocean region. China’s “Malacca paranoia” is matched by India’s “Hormuz dilemma.” If China’s navy is going south, India’s navy is going east. At a minimum, New Delhi wants to use its strategic ties with Washington to bolster India’s position in its dealings with China and in mitigating the dangers posed by its old adversary, Pakistan.

Apprehension about China has buried New Delhi’s Cold War-era opposition to U.S. forward presence, now viewed as “invaluable in balancing China’s power and outreach.” For its part, Washington strategy documents talk of India’s positive role as a “net security provider in the Indian Ocean and beyond.” Simply by being itself—democratic, secular, powerful, prosperous, and successful—India frustrates China’s attempts to establish a Sino-centric regional order. While Washington cultivates India as a rising Asian power, Beijing has deep mistrust of India’s strategic ambitions, seeing its southern rival as a potential peer competitor that must be contained. As the Sino-American security competition increases, India slides into the geopolitical sweet spot of a “swing state” earlier occupied by China during the old Cold War when it joined the United States to balance against the USSR.

Significantly, Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister who has not uttered the “N” word—“non-alignment”—even once since coming to power in 2014. A “Modified India” has moved away from this Nehruvian notion to skillfully play the balance of power game as a “leading power.” Because of unresolved territorial disputes, China’s role as the largest arms supplier to India’s neighbors, and patrols by Chinese nuclear submarines in the Bay of Bengal, which India considers its strategic backyard, “non-alignment” is no longer an option. In their high-level joint statements, both the United States and India have repeatedly declared their support for freedom of navigation and overflight, signaling that the Modi government is not shy about explicitly aligning U.S. and Indian strategic aims in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s expansionist moves.

India now seeks American economic and technological assistance to give momentum to its rise as a major power and its new role in maintaining maritime preeminence over the Indian Ocean region. Most of the $14 billion worth weapons and technology (C-130Js, C-17s, light howitzer artillery, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft, jet engine, and aircraft carrier technologies) that India has purchased from the United States over the last decade directly augments its capabilities vis-à-vis China on the Himalayan border and in the Indian Ocean. The Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) concluded in 2012 aims to transition the defense transactions from a buyer–seller operation to a co-development and co-producer model. The conclusion of Logistics Support Agreement would enhance operational capability and interoperability allowing aircraft and ships to land and make port calls, for example, in the Andaman Islands in the future.

Russia, Japan, and Southeast Asia

Although Moscow still remains India’s major partner in strategically sensitive technology projects ranging from missiles, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines to fighter aircraft, stronger U.S.–India strategic ties could fray old Russia–India bonds. Russia and India no longer see eye to eye on China. Moscow has downgraded New Delhi from an “exclusive” to a “preferred” partner, and now sells its most advanced weapons to China and Pakistan. As a result, Chinese–Russian strategic and energy ties today are far more substantive than Russian–Indian ties. Russia and China increasingly coordinate their stance on global issues and routinely conduct joint military exercises. Much to India’s chagrin, Moscow now plays second fiddle to China in Beijing-backed multilateral institutions that promote China’s interests and projects (e.g., the Silk Road Economic Belt). For New Delhi, the diplomatic challenge lies in balancing India’s interests between the Russia–India–China continental trilateral and the U.S.–Japan–India maritime trilateral.

With Russia’s future uncertain, Prime Minister Modi wants Japan to replace Moscow as India’s preferred security partner in Asia in the twenty-first century. Both India and Japan have unsettled territorial disputes with China that erupt occasionally. Neither is in a position to deal with an increasingly aggressive China alone. Given their geographical location southwest and northeast of China and the impact of Chinese power and ambitions on them, India and Japan are well placed to ensure power equilibrium and safeguard vital sea lanes. India is now the largest recipient of Japan’s overseas development assistance. Tokyo is actively participating in “Make-in-India” manufacturing programs as India is seeking technology to boost its defense-industrial base. Japan’s promise of $35 billion in investment in railroads and industrial corridors, as well as a possible deal for amphibious aircraft add ballast to a partnership based on democratic values and market economy. Both are coordinating to build East–West connectivity linking South Asia with Southeast Asia to counter China-financed North–South railroad projects. Conceivably, India and Japan could cut a deal in not too distant future on granting privileged access to each other’s ports (e.g., Andamans and Okinawa) for forward deployment of their respective military assets in the Pacific and Indian oceans to safeguard freedom of the Global Commons.

In addition, “Modified India” has reached out to neighbors but also to far-away countries in the shadow of Beijing’s increasingly expansive territorial ambitions, most notably beleaguered Vietnam and the Philippines. Under its “Look East” (now revamped as “Act East”) policy that dovetails with the “U.S. rebalance” and Japan’s “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” India is placing itself at the center of regional relationships with Mongolia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand as part of a security architecture that would balance a rising China. Ignoring Beijing’s warnings, India has publicly supported Vietnam and Philippines, in particular in their disputes with Beijing, and continues to cooperate with Hanoi on hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea.

Discord over Accord

But although U.S.–India relations have come a long way, there are still residual differences and doubts. New Delhi has long regarded U.S.–Pakistani military ties as sustaining Beijing’s strategy to keep India off balance. Disputes over trade barriers and intellectual property, H1Bvisas, and market access hold back business ties. (The United States does about $100 billion in trade with India a year, a fraction of the $560 billion it does with China.) Mitigating the effects of disagreement on such issues to promote bilateral cooperation has not been easy. Moreover, Washington is used to relationships where it has the dominant voice. But India’s historic quest for strategic autonomy, its self-identity as a great civilization, and great power ambitions of its own mean that it will not be the kind of junior partner the United States cultivated during the Cold War. Unlike Britain, Germany, and Japan in the 1950s, India is a rising, not receding, great power.

New Delhi would prefer to avoid any formal alignment with Washington partly because of concern that such an alignment will prompt the Chinese to tighten their embrace of India’s smaller neighbors, which, in turn, will exacerbate India’s security dilemma. “In economy, politics and security,” an article in Global Times recently noted, “China is far more capable of making trouble for India than the reverse.” Reacting to the proposal to form an informal strategic quadrangle with Japan, Australia, India, and the United States, Shen Dingli, an influential Chinese analyst, told the New York Times a few weeks ago that India would not join such a network for fear of Chinese retaliation: “China actually has many ways to hurt India. China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that, of course we can put a navy at your doorstep.”

Convinced that the U.S.–India security relationship is largely directed against China, Beijing is simultaneously wooing and coercing India to prevent Washington and New Delhi from coming too close for China’s comfort. During President Xi Jinping’s India visit in 2015, China promised $20 billion worth of investments and more under its Silk Road fund over five years.

And there also remains in New Delhi an undercurrent of suspicion that Washington is a fickle and not-so-reliable partner and that U.S. priorities and policies vis-à-vis China might change in the future to the detriment of India’s national interests. Indian strategists often point out that the United States and China were allies before and during the Second World War and in the second phase of the Cold War from 1971 to 1989. Beijing has played on this fear. Claiming that “China is familiar with the US mentality,” Liu Di recently expressed confidence that Washington would eventually “make concessions to China on the South China Sea issue, putting Japan [and others] out of business.”

The worst-case scenario from India’s perspective is the emergence of U.S.–China condominium in which China remains hostile to India and the United States is unavailable as a balancing power. The Obama administration’s silence on the Sino-Indian border dispute as Beijing ratcheted up tensions in 2008–2009 and his administration’s cancellation of a joint army drill in Arunachal state for fear of antagonizing China still rankles India’s policymakers. Indians worry that Washington may not come to India’s rescue in times of crisis should a combination of disputes—related to Tibet, Pakistan, disputed Himalayan borders, and energy exploration in the South China Sea—snowball into an armed confrontation. Ruling out India’s participation in joint patrols with the United States (but not joint naval exercises) in the South China Sea, former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said that “China’s land threat to India and the strengthening of the China-Pakistan axis are much more serious for us than its maritime claims.”

On the U.S. side, many believe that India’s claim to global power is at this point tenuous and over-hyped. The material basis of Indian power is neither strong nor secure due to successive governments’ dismal failure to undertake drastic economic reforms in land, labor, taxation, and capital. Unlike Deng Xiaoping, no Indian leader has traveled the length and breadth of the country to sell the gospel of modernization, industrialization, and urbanization. Unless India can sustain a high economic growth of 7 to 9 percent for a decade or two, it cannot match China’s economic clout nor fulfill the role of a regional security provider. Seeing India as both unable and unwilling to share the burden of managing the global commons and acknowledging that the U.S. share of global economic output is declining, some American policymakers want Washington to cut its losses and cut a deal with Beijing for shared hegemony. They believe that an alignment with India would present far more costs and risks to the United States than benefits. And that a strategic alignment would imply an American commitment to Indian security against China and Pakistan that Washington would not be able to fulfill. Just as India’s policy toward China cannot be reduced to a single issue or the pursuit of a single objective, U.S. policies toward both China and India require flexible, nuanced, and differentiated strategies.

Alternative Futures—2030

China’s and India’s futures depend largely on economic growth, political unity, and the future evolution of Taiwan and Pakistan. A mix of shared economic interests, on one hand, and competitive and conflicting strategic interests, on the other hand, suggests a variety of alternative geopolitical futures with significant implications of each for the United States in 2030.

A possible but unlikely future would be one in which the United States pulled back strategically from Asia as China rose to global leadership. More plausible is that buoyed by technological breakthrough in 3D manufacturing and the vast shale gas reserves, future economic growth could come from the United States as Chinese economy undergoes a serious downturn. Far from reducing its footprint or walking away from the Asia-Pacific region, Washington would continue to practice “power-balancing” strategy as it has vital economic and strategic interests at stake in the region. Faced with an aggressive China, Asia’s major maritime and democratic powers—Japan, Australia, and India—will work in a more synchronized manner in a quadrilateral grouping with the United States. They will be backed by middle powers (South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia) which are increasingly voicing their concerns about Chinese maritime behavior. They will closely cooperate with each other to promote and defend a rules-based order that does not advantage big and powerful nations at the expense of small and weak states. Over time, various bilateral, trilateral (e.g., Japan–Vietnam–the Philippines, the United States–Japan–India, Australia–Indonesia–India, India–Japan–Vietnam), and informal multilateral efforts to constrain China could coalesce into a maritime coalition or the “Indo-Pacific Maritime Partnership” (i.e., an “Asian NATO” by another name).

Since India remains the weakest link in the emerging coalition, its domestic policies and external orientation will be a key determinant in how effective this new diplomatic relationship becomes. In the “Modi Restoration” scenario, India is able to sustain a high growth rate of 8% for a decade or more that ushers in industrialization and urbanization. Japan and the West develop a growing stake in continued Indian economic reforms and success as they contribute to global growth and maintain a favorable balance of power in Asia. As the world’s most populous country with a powerful military, a confident India plays the role of a “leading power” alongside the United States, China, and Japan. Militarily, India tilts toward the United States and Japan but maintains strong economic relations with China.

However, if India continues to “muddle through” with halfhearted economic reforms producing a low growth rate of 4 to 5 percent with high unemployment, insurgencies, and fractured politics, the power gap with China will widen, and India will enter a period of greater strategic vulnerability. In the worst case scenario, a sequence of catastrophes (e.g., a two-front war or a nuclear conflict, another partition caused by the growing Muslim population, or the success of jihadi and Maoist terrorism in unraveling the Indian Union) weakens India severely, making Indian leaders much more deferential in their dealings with China.

Or, under another extreme but not impossible scenario, if the U.S. economy goes into free fall, culminating in the end of the U.S. forward military presence in the Pacific, and if Japan slides into China’s orbit following the return of Taiwan to China’s fold, in that event, New Delhi’s faith in the U.S.–Japanese alliance as a heat shield for India’s rise would evaporate. Without great power backing and left to fend for itself on multiple fronts, New Delhi would want to steer clear of any aggravation or even competition with Beijing. An isolated India—having fallen so far behind China in relative power terms—would decide to bandwagon with, rather than balance against, the superpower on its doorstep. Beijing would not then need to worry about the “India challenge” any longer. In short, “the Modi Restoration” would be the best-case scenario for Washington but a “weak and divided India” would be the best case scenario for Beijing.


The U.S.–China–India triangular relationship is a strategic Rubik’s Cube. All three need each other. For China, its economic relationship with the United States is vitally important as its biggest export market. For India, its ties with the United States facilitate its rise as a major power and augment its position in Asia. For its part, Washington does not want a single power to dominate the Asian continent and its adjoining waters and supports the rise of several powers, India chief among them, with the United States acting as an “engaged offshore power balancer.” For China, the United States is the principal strategic adversary; for India, it is China. India’s deterrence capabilities are China-centric, while those of China’s are U.S.-centric. The U.S. interests require it to cooperate with China on some issues and with India on others, and sometimes with both. How China and India manage their differences on their border dispute, trade imbalance, Tibet, Pakistan, regional integration, and the UN Security Council reforms will have significant implications on the United States’ place in Asia.

In the triangular power balance game, Beijing fears India’s participation in the U.S.–Japanese containment of China. Conversely, India fears a Sino-U.S. alignment that would allow Beijing to curb the growth of Indian power or lead to U.S. acknowledgment of the South Asia/Indian Ocean region as China’s sphere of influence. All three countries benefit from a degree of competition but lose if competition turns into overt rivalry and confrontation. Strained U.S.–China relations make India the “swing state” in the triangle but tense India–China relations would put the United States in a pivotal position. Whether India enters into a soft or hard alignment with the United States (and Japan) will be determined by Beijing’s willingness to accommodate India’s rise and aspirations. A major rupture in the U.S.–Chinese or Indian–Chinese relations alone will crystallize fluid relationships into rigid alignments. A strong, prosperous India would checkmate China and prolong U.S. primacy underpinned by shared values and interests. In contrast, a weaker, subdued, and isolated India would hasten the arrival of a Sino-centric regional order.

Although at present, the weakest side in the triangle, New Delhi will determine its future. Abandoning “non-alignment,” Modi’s India is weaving a web of strategic relationships to signal Beijing that India can become part of an anti-Chinese coalition should China threaten its security. In the meantime, a pro-United States, pro-Japan tilt in India’s national security strategy—in reaction to China’s power and ambitions— will be a defining characteristic of Asian geopolitics. If the Chinese dragon is seen as running rampant in lands and seas around India, a weak Indian tilt toward the United States would turn into a firm alignment against China. Should Beijing adopt a moderate foreign policy course and commit itself to multilateral efforts to resolve disputes and foster regional stability, American–Chinese and Chinese–Indian relations will improve. All Asian countries want to benefit from economic ties with China, but none want to live under the shadow of the Dragon.

Mohan Malik is a professor in Asian security at Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, and is the editor of Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific Region  (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and author of China and India: Great Power Rivals  (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011). The views expressed here are his own.

Eliminating the hesitations of history, India and the United States have built a strong and strategic bilateral relationship and continues to contribute the stability and prosperity of the world. The first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru likened American Imperialism to that of British. He propounded and propagated the Non-Alignment Principle whereby India refused to join either the capitalistic US or the communist Soviet Union.

India’s socialistic economic principles and deep scepticism to the US hegemony resulted in its predilections towards USSR much to the ire of the West. As the ideological Cold War ended after a myriad of international convergences and divergences, India was forced to look West given the paradigm shift in the geopolitics of the world and in Francis Fukuyama’s words “End of History”. Today both India and US are among the most vibrant foreign cohorts and strategic partners.

India-USA: History of Relations

  • The birth of Indian Republic was accompanied by Pakistan’s occupation of Kashmir. Nehru’s efforts to garner support from the international community was fruitless.
  • India declined the American offer to accept a seat at the United Nations Security Council and rather pushed for the membership of the People’s Republic of China which it has immediately recognized as a sovereign nation. (Reference – TheHindu)
  • In the year 1950, India abstained from a US-sponsored resolution calling for UN’s military involvement in the Korean War. India even voted against UN forces crossing the 38th Parallel and naming China as an aggressor.
  • 1955: Pakistan officially aligned with the United States via the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organization (CEATO) also known as Baghdad Pact. Meanwhile, India, being the chief proponent of Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), held the first Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung, Indonesia.
  • The rogue state of Pakistan became an important ally to the US in the containment of the Soviet Union, giving rise to strategic complications with India.
  • In the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the US extended help to India against China’s belligerence by sending an American carrier- The Enterprise- to the Bay of Bengal. China, however, had declared unilateral ceasefire the next day. Indian leaders and public welcomed American intervention.
  • 1966: In response to India’s criticism of the US intervention in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson restricted the supply of grain shipments to India under Public Law 480 programme.
  • 1967: A predominantly Anti-American worldview led India to reject a founding membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
  • 1968: India rejected the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) proposed by the world’s leading nuclear powers.
  • 1971: The USA had maintained a studious silence on Pakistan’s repressive policies in East Pakistan. The then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Delhi to make India comply to not support liberation movements in East Pakistan. Indira Gandhi’s intransigence was met with diplomatic muscle-flexing. Next month, India signed a Treaty of Friendship, Peace and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, seen as a blatant shift from India’s Non-Alignment policies. US President Richard Nixon in a retaliatory move chose to explicitly tilt American policy in favour of Pakistan and suspended $87 million worth of economic aid to India. American naval fleet USS Enterprise traversed the Bay of Bengal, issuing mild threats. India won the Bangladesh Liberation War as the Pakistani Army embarrassingly surrendered more than 90,000 troops.
  • 1974: India conducted its first nuclear weapon test at Pokhran, and it came as a major jolt to the USA who made plans to upgrade its presence at Diego Garcia, a British-controlled island in the Indian ocean.
  • 1975: India faced considerable domestic turmoil and entered into a state of Emergency.
  • 1977: The Emergency ended and the US immediately eased restrictions it has placed on World Bank loans to India and approved direct economic assistance of $60 million.
  • 1978: US President Jimmy Carter and Indian Prime Minister Desai exchanged visits to each other’s nations.
  • The 1980s: Large amounts of military aid was pumped into Pakistan by the USA in order to fight a proxy against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This created significant repercussions in the internal security of India as the Pakistani mujahedeen fighters infiltrated into Kashmir as militants.
  • 1988: Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a historic visit to China which led to normalization of relations between India and China.
  • 1990: India hesitatingly provided a brief logistical support for American military operations in the Gulf War.
  • Post-1991: The Soviet Union disintegrated into independent nations and the United States emerged as the single largest hegemon, making the world unipolar. It coincided with India opening doors to foreign private capital in its historic Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization move.
  • Trade between India and the US grew dramatically and is flourishing today.

Why India Matters to the USA?

  • India is an indispensable partner for the United States. Geographically, it sits between the two most immediate problematic regions for U.S. national interests. The arc of instability that begins in North Africa goes through the Middle East, and proceeds to Pakistan and Afghanistan ends at India’s western border.
  • The Indian landmass juts into the ocean that bears its name. With the rise of Asian economies, the Indian Ocean is home to critical global lines of communication, with perhaps 50 percent of world container products and up to 70 percent of ship-borne oil and petroleum traffic transiting through its waters.
  • India’s growing national capabilities give it ever greater tools to pursue its national interests to the benefit of the United States. India has the world’s third-largest Army, fourth-largest Air Force, and fifth largest Navy. All three of these services are modernizing, and the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy have world-class technical resources, and its Army is seeking more of them.
  • India is an important U.S. partner in international efforts to prevent the further spread of weapons of mass destruction.
  • India’s broad diplomatic ties globally (most importantly in the Middle East), its aspirations for United Nations (UN) Security Council permanent membership, and its role in international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency makes New Delhi an especially effective voice in calls to halt proliferation.
  • India’s position against radicalism and terrorism corresponds with that of the United States.
  • India’s English-speaking and Western-oriented elite and middle classes comfortably partner with their counterparts in U.S. firms and institutions, including more than 2.8 million Indian Americans. The U.S. higher education system is an incubator of future collaboration, with more than 100,000 Indian students in American universities.
  • As India modernizes and grows it will spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure, transportation, energy production and distribution, and defence hardware. U.S. firms can benefit immensely by providing expertise and technology that India will need to carry out this sweeping transformation.
  • India-USA cooperation is critical to global action against climate change.
  • India is genuinely committed to a world order based on multilateral institutions and cooperation and the evolution of accepted international norms leading to accepted international law.
  • Indian culture and diplomacy have generated goodwill in its extended neighbourhood. New Delhi has positive relations with critical states in the Middle East, in Central Asia, in Southeast Asia, and with important middle powers such as Brazil, South Africa, and Japan—all of the strategic value to the United States. India’s soft power is manifest in wide swaths of the world where its civil society has made a growing and positive impression.
  • Indian democracy has prospered despite endemic poverty; extraordinary ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity; and foreign and internal conflicts.

Why the United States matters to India?

  • America remains the critical stabilizing force in Asia through its military and diplomatic power projection and commitments to the region.
  • The twentieth century bore witness to a multigeneration U.S. efforts to prevent the emergence of any hostile hegemon on the Eurasian landmass, a function that the United States continues to fulfil today with the help of its Asian partners.
  • China has chosen episodically to ignore global nonproliferation norms, a pattern of behaviour that the United States has assiduously sought to curtail. Though no nation can a priori prevent future Chinese proliferation activities, only a U.S.-led international effort has any chance of success.
  • India will be better able to protect its national interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan in coordination with the United States.
  • The United States will continue to be important for India’s economic success. India’s economy has been built around unleashing domestic consumption rather than relying on exports.
  • The United States has also remained one of the top sources of foreign direct investment in India, bringing important managerial expertise, capital, and technology with it to the dynamic Indian market.
  • The United States has a long-term commitment to maintain security and freedom of navigation on the high seas, something critical to India as a net energy importer.
  • Washington retains unparalleled power and influence in global governance institutions.
  • As India seeks a larger role in the UN Security Council and international monetary institutions, U.S. support for India will be critical to reforms that benefit New Delhi’s national interests.
  • The United States retains a sizable technological edge on many commercials, aerospace, and defence technologies, the access to which benefits Indian national interests as well as Indian firms and customers.

India-USA: Five Pillars of Strategic Partnership

  1. Strategic Issues
  2. Energy and Climate Change
  3. Science and Technology
  4. Health and Innovation
  5. Education and Development

India-US Civil Nuclear Deal

The deal is seen as a watershed in India-USA relations and introduces a new aspect to international nonproliferation efforts. Since July 18, 2005, the deal lifts a three-decade U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India. It provides U.S. assistance to India’s civilian nuclear energy program and expands India-USA cooperation in energy and satellite technology.

Terms of the deal:

  1. India agrees to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog group, access to its civilian nuclear program. By March 2006, India promised to place fourteen of its twenty-two power reactors under IAEA safeguards permanently.
  2. India commits to signing an Additional Protocol (PDF)-which allows more intrusive IAEA inspections of its civilian facilities.
  3. India agrees to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.
  4. India commits to strengthening the security of its nuclear arsenals.
  5. India works toward negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) with the United States banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes. India agrees to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that don’t possess them and to support international nonproliferation efforts.
  6. US companies will be allowed to build nuclear reactors in India and provide nuclear fuel for its civilian energy program.

An approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifting the ban on India has also cleared the way for other countries to make nuclear fuel and technology sales to India. India would be eligible to buy U.S. dual-use nuclear technology, including materials and equipment that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, potentially creating the material for nuclear bombs. It would also receive imported fuel for its nuclear reactors.

Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace-who was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India as a senior adviser to the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairssaid in congressional testimony in 2005 that the deal recognizes this growing relationship by engaging India, which has proven it is not a nuclear proliferation risk. (Reference: Council on Foreign Relations)

Five developments in the India-US relations since the deal:

  1. The US has removed many high technology sanctions imposed on India since 1974. If Delhi was prevented by law from importing anything for its nuclear programme over the last few decades, it is boosting atomic power generation in India through imported uranium and is negotiating with multiple vendors for the purchase of new reactors.
  2. The US has become India’s largest trading partner in goods and services, and the two sides have set an ambitious goal of half a trillion dollars for future trade. The growing commercial engagement has been reinforced by an intensification of people-to-people contact and the presence of the 3 million strong Indian diasporas in America.
  3. Cooperation on counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing have expanded rapidly over the last decade. The US has become one of India’s major suppliers of arms, and the two sides are discussing ideas that would once have been dismissed as inconceivable — for example, US support in the development of India’s next-generation aircraft carrier.
  4. In refusing to extend the civil nuclear initiative to Islamabad, Washington removed the hyphen in its relations with Delhi and Islamabad. Since 2005, America has also discarded the idea of mediating between India and Pakistan, especially on the Kashmir question.
  5. While traditional differences between Delhi and Washington on global issues have endured, the two sides are now avoiding confrontation in multilateral fora dealing with trade and climate change.

Controversial issues with the deal:

In March 2006, the U.S. Congress also took up the agreement and formally made it into legislation (Hyde Act) after the committee level deliberations and conciliations in terms of words by both the House and the Senate.

On 1 August 2007, U.S. and Indian negotiators concluded a separate technical agreement under section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, which spells out the precise terms, conditions, responsibilities, obligations and promises that each party undertakes.

As the Hyde Act had imposed restrictions on how India could utilize U.S. nuclear supplies, the implementation of the agreement has received a setback because of the opposition by the Communist parties that supported India’s UPA government from outside. Leaders of almost all the political parties of India had categorically expressed their dislike and apprehensions for provisions that provided for cutting off aid if India conducts any future nuclear tests and the return of the all nuclear material or equipment provided by U.S. suppliers.

Section 17b in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 according to which the Operator cannot seek recourse in case of nuclear accidents because of patent or latent defects in the material, equipment and even in the services provided. The US defies it to be against international norms whereas India says that it is according to Convention on Supplementary Compensation.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010

  • The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Bill, 2010 fixes liability for nuclear damage and specifies procedures for compensating victims.
  • The Bill fixes no-fault liability on operators and gives them a right of recourse against certain persons. It caps the liability of the operator at Rs 500 crore.  For damage exceeding this amount, and up to 300 million SDR, the central government will be liable.
  • All operators (except the central government) need to take insurance or provide financial security to cover their liability.
  • For facilities owned by the government, the entire liability up to 300 million SDR will be borne by the government.
  • The Bill specifies who can claim compensation and the authorities who will assess and award compensation for nuclear damage.
  • Those not complying with the provisions of the Bill can be penalized.

Analysis of the Bill and further issues:

  • The liability cap on the operator:

(a) may be inadequate to compensate victims in the event of a major nuclear disaster;

(b) may block India’s access to an international pool of funds;

(c) is low compared to some other countries.

  • The cap on the operator’s liability is not required if all plants are owned by the government. It is not clear if the government intends to allow private operators to operate nuclear power plants.
  • The extent of environmental damage and consequent economic loss will be notified by the government. This might create a conflict of interest in cases where the government is also the party liable to pay compensation.
  • The right of recourse against the supplier provided in the Bill is not compliant with international agreements India may wish to sign.
  • The time-limit of ten years for claiming compensation may be inadequate for those suffering from nuclear damage.
  • Though the Bill allows operators and suppliers to be liable under other laws, it is not clear which other laws will be applicable. Different interpretations by courts may constrict or unduly expand the scope of such a provision.

The understanding reached with the United States on January 25, 2015, during the visit of President Obama to India:

India and the United States have reached an understanding on the issues related to civil nuclear liability and finalized the text of the Administrative Arrangement to implement the September 2008 bilateral 123 Agreement. This will allow us to move towards commercial negotiations on setting up reactors with international collaboration in India and realize the significant economic and clean energy potential of the civil nuclear understanding of 2005-2008.

There is no proposal to amend the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 Act or the Rules.

How have U.S. concerns over the CLND Act then been resolved?

During the course of the discussions in the Contact Group, using case law and legislative history, the Indian side presented its position concerning the compatibility of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). The idea of the India Nuclear Insurance Pool as a part of the overall risk-management scheme for liability was also presented to the U.S. side. Based on the presentations by the Indian side, and the discussion thereon, there is a general understanding that India’s CLND law is compatible with the CSC, which India has signed and intends to ratify.

India-US Trade Relations

  • There are more than 50 bilateral dialogue mechanisms between the two governments.
  • India-USA bilateral trade in goods and services increased from $104 billion in 2014 to $114 billion in 2016.
  • Both countries have made a commitment to facilitate actions necessary for increasing the bilateral trade to $500 billion.
  • In June 2016, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama pledged to explore new opportunities to break down barriers to the movement of goods and services, and support deeper integration into global supply chains, thereby creating jobs and generating prosperity in both economies.
  • The U.S. is the fifth largest source of foreign direct investments into India.
  • Among large Indian corporations having investments in the U.S. include Reliance Industries Limited, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, Essar America, Piramal, Mahindra, Lupin, Sun Pharma, etc.
  • There are several dialogue mechanisms to strengthen bilateral engagement on economic and trade issues, including a Ministerial Level Economic and Financial Partnership and a Ministerial Trade Policy Forum. For greater involvement of private sector in the discussions on issues involving trade and investment, there is a bilateral India-USA CEO’s Forum.
  • India and the US have set up a bilateral Investment Initiative in 2014, with a special focus on facilitating FDI, portfolio investment, capital market development and financing of infrastructure.
  • US firms will be lead partners in developing Allahabad, Ajmer and Vishakhapatnam as Smart Cities.

India-US Defence Cooperation

  • Defence relationship has emerged as a major pillar of India-USA strategic partnership with the signing of ‘New Framework for India-U.S. Defense Relations’ in 2005 and the resulting intensification in defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, collaboration and cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy, and exchanges between each of the three services.
  • India participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July-August 2016.
  • The agreements signed during the past one year include:
  1. Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA)
  2. Fuel Exchange Agreement
  3. Technical Agreement (TA) on information sharing on White (merchant) Shipping
  4. Information Exchange Annexe (IEA) on Aircraft Carrier Technologies

Pending agreements are:

  • Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA)
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)

India-US: Cooperation in Energy and Climate Change

  • The India-USA Energy Dialogue was launched in May 2005 to promote trade and investment in the energy sector.
  • There are six working groups in oil and gas, coal, power and energy efficiency, new technologies and renewable energy, civil nuclear co-operation and sustainable development under the Energy Dialogue.
  • As a priority initiative under the PACE (Partnership to Advance Clean Energy), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Government of India have established the Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center (JCERDC) designed to promote clean energy innovations by teams of scientists from India and the United States, with a total joint committed funding from both Governments of US$ 50 million.

India-US: Cooperation in Education

India is learning from the U.S. experience in community colleges in order to meet our demands for skill-development. It has been agreed to collaborate with U.S. institutions in the area of Technology Enabled Learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to extend the reach of education in India. Under the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) launched by India, up to 1000 American academics will be invited and hosted each year to teach in Indian universities at their convenience. The two sides are also collaborating to establish a new Indian Institute of Technology in Ahmedabad.

India-US: People to People Contacts

The 3.5-million-plus strong Indian American community is an important ethnic group in the U.S., accounting for about 1% of the total population in the country. Indian American community includes a large number of professionals, business entrepreneurs and educationalists with increasing influence in the society. The two countries have been working together to facilitate travel of their respective citizens, and to this end, an MOU has been signed in June 2016 to facilitate India’s joining of the Global Entry Programme for expedited immigration for eligible Indian citizens at U.S. airports.

It appears highly likely that in strategic, political, security, defence and economic terms, relations between India and the USA will continue their upward trajectory under President Trump. Impact of USA’s relations with Pakistan over India is likely to be beneficial and positive. Geopolitical manoeuvres can have significant impact on India-USA relations, however, it would remain to be multi-faceted and an “indispensable partnership”

Article by: Mausam Bharati

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