Avoiding U.S.-India Drift
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Avoiding U.S.-India Drift


After being fundamentally transformed by the landmark Civil Nuclear Agreement and other accords, are U.S.-India relations beginning to drift apart?  Numerous government-to-government initiatives remain stalled. U.S. companies have yet to benefit from the landmark 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. U.S. defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin were “deselected” from consideration for India’s $11 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract.  As an article in The Times of India – the country’s largest English-language newspaper – noted recently:

“Dirges have been sung over the India-US relationship for some time now. U.S. makes no secret of a growing disappointment with India, while India realizes that the warmth in ties subsided with George Bush's exit.”

Indeed, it appears President Barack Obama has placed less effort on the relationship than his predecessor. President George W. Bush viewed India as a natural partner bound by shared ideals and interests.  Despite wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush himself is credited with championing the relationship’s forward movement. Obama – despite jovial relations with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – hasn’t shared this same enthusiasm. 

All too often, this has led to whispers throughout halls in Washington suggesting the two nations simply do not share common interests.  Doubters of the relationship are quick to note New Delhi’s and Washington’s opposing responses this year to events in Libya, Syria, and the greater Middle East.  However, a closer look at three important and more recent developments reveals that, despite various tactical and strategic regional differences, the interests of the United States and India are increasingly aligned.

First, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns recently announced the launch of a new trilateral dialogue between the United States, India, and Japan, to be held this year. This will provide a formal framework for senior officials from the three nations to discuss regional interests and possible ways to strengthen cooperation. For the United States, the dialogue is another positive step in a growing and maturing security relationship with India. Already, Washington and New Delhi hold a series of high-level military dialogues and personnel exchanges, and India’s navy now holds more military exercises with the United States than any other nation. 

Additionally, the dialogue will enhance strategic ties between India and Japan. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will visit India later this year, and defense ministers of the two countries recently agreed to enhance military-to-military relations by conducting joint naval exercises for the first time next year.

Second, relations between India and Pakistan are beginning to thaw, albeit slowly. Though major issues – Afghanistan, Kashmir, and terrorism – remain unresolved, the two nuclear powers have taken small but important confidence building steps in recent months. Last month, Pakistan’s cabinet voted to normalize trade with New Delhi. This comes as the two nations continue to discuss the possibility of allowing Pakistan to import energy from India.

Third, India is taking a greater role in Afghanistan.Since 2001, India has played an important role in Afghanistan’s transformation, largely through expansive diplomatic and development efforts. But as the Obama administration moves forward with plans to drawdown U.S. forces beginning as early as 2012, New Delhi has committed to taking a more active role building up the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. In October, Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic defense pact to enhance security cooperation between the two nations. Specifically, the agreement will allow India to train Afghan combat units and pilots. 

These three points further demonstrate the growing convergence of U.S.-India regional interests and ideals. Regionally, both nations seek to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan, the peaceful and democratic rise of China, free access to the global commons, and regional maritime security. And while traditional allies – Australia, Japan and South Korea – will remain the cornerstone of America’s Pacific strategy, the United States will increasingly need India to be a critical regional partner. Obama echoed this sentiment last November, when he proclaimed that relations between the United States and India will be one of “the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

However, the task of expanding this important relationship won’t be easy.  Some leaders in New Delhi remain skeptical of increasing ties with Washington. After all, in recent decades the United States has closely engaged with Indian regional rivals in China and Pakistan.  Additionally, India’s non-aligned tradition continues to carry weight within much of New Delhi’s diplomatic establishment. But if the United States is “making a strategic bet on India's future,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine, the administration must take the lead in prioritizing and moving this important relationship forward. 

Though India and the United States are unlikely to sign a binding security agreement in the foreseeable future, there’s room for the relationship to grow. Over the past decade, security cooperation has grown to new heights. With the three nation dialogue between the United States, India, and Japan, set to begin later this year, New Delhi has shown its openness to partner with Washington and democratic allies on important regional matters. The White House should lay the groundwork to expand this multination initiative to include another regional partner and close friend, Australia.  Just this week, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd expressed interest in expanding cooperation with India and the United States.

Additionally, senior White House officials should make clear to their Indian partners that the United States defense industry is open for business. India is in the midst of a massive military modernization effort, and is expected to spend $80 billion over the coming years. Strategically, these purchases will bolster India’s strategic military capabilities, and increase opportunities for bilateral training and exchanges between Indian and U.S. forces. Economically, further defense sales will provide a much needed boost to American exports.  The U.S. defense industry has greatly benefited from this expansion as India’s defense orders have topped $8 billion over the past decade. For example, India’s Ministry of Defense has purchased six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules cargo planes, and has quickly become the largest international customer of Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III airlifters. 

Though friction within the relationship will continue to persist, this period marks an important time in the U.S.-India partnership. Indeed, as President Obama looks to “pivot” west towards the Asia-Pacific, he should seek to enhance cooperation with India, a natural ally of the United States.  

Patrick Christy is a policy analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C.

February 23, 2012 at 22:16

India and US are natural allies, partners and friends. One defense deal wont make any difference as India is already buying lots of weaponry from USA. Trade, economy and cultural ties are on the rise. We are the worlds two largest democracy and India plays an important part in USA’s 21st century priorities. We 3 million Indian Americans are the one of the important bridge between two countries. I do not question about importance of the ties between other countries and India but the ties between India and USA are indispensable and will shape the future of the world in 21st century. God bless India and America.

Jayadevan, India
December 7, 2011 at 06:57

We,Indians, Love George Bush.He is the only US president, who really helped India.

December 4, 2011 at 15:53

India should go back to it’s traditional and so far, the most dependable ally, the Russians.
In their time of need, India should help the Russians by empowering their economy, and then Russian can respond with stronger military ties.

John Chan
December 4, 2011 at 04:06

Leonard R. is showing his true colour; he is telling USA to suck it up with India’s temperament. I guess USA is better to ask the British on how to become a proper lackey for India, so that USA can pick up British style of lackey manners to serve India, the superpower of the 21st century.

Being Indian
December 2, 2011 at 16:59

Indo-U.S. relation is just now very important,not only in military treats but also in other field as well..
Now coming to another point,India has become the 4th biggest power on earth.Because of this we are expanding our military power to secure our borders from outer threats..like China and Pakistan.
And @Kimbo Laurel and Leonard R. see India as friend not as an ally.. AND pllzz don’t compare us with pakistan because in that sense Russia is a better ally than U.S. coz history says everything..

December 2, 2011 at 15:13

The essay is a good analysis of some recent developments but seemingly has failed to include certain important developments too.
1) Inida’s growing relationship with East and south-east Asian countries, many of them are perfect US allies, supposedly who will not move an inch without the consnet of US
2) The recent US effort to deepen its reach in Asia Pacific.(The recent Obama visit to Australia). We witnessed a dramatic reversal in Australia’s stance to supply Uranium to India. For the past 3 years it was a persistent no form them, is there any explanation for such a development (if, minus US influence !)
3) It will be very natural for US to move along with India provided the recent souring of relations with Pakistan !
4) Developments in Afghanistan and central Asia, where post withdrawal US has to look somebody like India to reach out to people !

December 2, 2011 at 14:17


the only solution for peace and Economic is PRIDE!….erase the PRIDE!!!!

December 2, 2011 at 13:15

The relation between India and US must be friendly and may be there might be a possible security agreement between the two countries in not near future. The reason is that as in past there had been sanctions by US on India at critical times, the Indian establishment and people need time to feel that these wont happen again. The trade relations must grow but for US expecting major exports indirect Indian market is still difficult due to domestic issues such as poverty etc.
The relationship will be beneficial for United States if they treat them as equal and not a ally.

December 2, 2011 at 12:47

if european union collapses,the collapse of US is inevitable..cos all the major banks are common over there..and as happend in 2008,the banks would go burst,nd hence the US economy also will…thats y Obama is on a roll to visit all the countries in the world nd also sendin ambassadors to places they discarded 50 years ago..
i hop US falls and those people to know,its not the terrorists that pulled them down,but their on monetary policies..

Yang zi
December 2, 2011 at 09:41

@Girish, I think China has been trying to be friends with neighbors, just that neighbors naturally want to diversify relations, it is a good thing. Every one has their own calculations, india and Myanmar has different calculation, but everyone want to be masters of their own destiny. Not too tied to anyone.

Despite what seems, most China’s neighbors still enjoys good relationship with China.

December 2, 2011 at 05:31

todays news, India has rejected to be part of US-Australia-India strategic defense collaboration (which is unofficially there to contain China).
India will never want to get into ganging up to contain China. It doen;t suite India’s own interest in the light that Indo-China relationship will be a turning point of Asia and as a whole world.
India priority is to have good relationship with all the country and continue with its non alignment philosophy.
But that doesn’t means India will not play strategic games to fulfill its short term objectives. India is already working to create situation to bring China on negotiating to resolve the outstanding issues with India.

But in broader prospective, we do not want to alienate China or form gangs against any country (specially in our own backyard). India’s better future require better relationship with all its neighbors and we are committed for the same too. There is a learning too from current situations. China didn’t forged better relationship with its neighbors and prefer the policy of hostility which is drifting its neighbors towards outside power.
India don;t want that to happen

December 2, 2011 at 05:05


your comments are contrary to your own idea. India should have good relationship with Russia, Beijing as well as USA. Excluding USA doesn’t make any sense for anyone (even for China as well as Russia).

India enjoy good relations with Russia and US and now I hope as Indo-China relationship will also improve with time as both the giants which cannot effort hostility for the sake of their own people and as a whole world.

Even in next 30 years, the dynamic of this world will be completely different where we will see that the world has 3 economic giants that is China, US and India. (excluding Europe as I believe their economic union will collapse).
All the three nations will have massive domestic market, massive industrial setup and massive amount of financial power to buys companies, resources around the world and huge scientific community. And also massive defense forces. Specially, India will have the youngest people too.

It is important that all three nations must work in parallel on that common future in parallel to the existing issues they are facing in their relationship.

December 2, 2011 at 02:52

It is not just “If India remembers the legacy of Ghandi”, but “If India keeps faith with Ghandi’s legacy”.

December 2, 2011 at 02:48

This is the 21st century yet Washington is creating alliances to stir up tensions and divisons to promote and encourage war; War in which millions of East and SOuth Asians will die while Americans sleep snugly in their beds on Ameican soil. The 20th and 21st century has and will be the most convulsed and conflict-prone world since the ascent of Pax Americana – the biggest oxymoron and lie ever; And Obama and Bush – Nobel Peace Prize winners?!!

If India remembers the legacy of Mr Ghandi – the founder of independent India – it should have as its guiding policy the civilised and peaceful non violent philosophy of Mr. Ghandhi. And the last thing New Delhi should do is get close to bad-hats company like Washington and get closer to Moscow and Beijing instead. There is more benefits to India by associating with these two big powers. The U.S. is bankrupt and seek “friends” only to parasite on them.

Indeed, better for New Delhi to keep its distance from Washington. The world will be more peaceful and prosperous and secure without Washington. In fact, it is a boon if America is ostracized and contained.

Kimbo Laurel
December 2, 2011 at 01:19

I have to agree that India is better ally compare to Pakistan but the problem with India for the US is India expand its influences in the region as well.

Leonard R.
December 2, 2011 at 00:42

The US should not expect India to be a reliable ally. It won’t be.
Agreements will be reached and then fall apart because of the Indian

Unlike the US, India is a real democracy. Agreements can be broken by a judge,
a bureaucrat or by an election that brings a new party into power.

But the bottom line is that India is too important to write off. Friendly relations are critical.
The US can easily afford bad relations with the PRC. But it can’t afford bad relations
with India.

The US should have reasonable expectations here. It should not expect much tangible benefit
even if India is an ally. The good news is though, India will be a better ally than Pakistan.

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