Topic: General Studies 2:
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.
Under Biden, the future of US-India ties
Context: The long drawn out US elections finally resulted in Joe Biden being declared President-elect. The Biden-Kamala Harris administration will be sworn in on 20th January 2021.
For the US, the Indo-US relationship is an extremely consequential one —
- China Factor: India is essential to the US’s hopes of counterbalancing China. As a result, security cooperation has become the cornerstone of any Indo-US strategic partnership.
- New Millennium New Direction: The George W Bush administration first began the US commitment to co-opting India as a “natural ally”, a commitment that resulted in the landmark civil nuclear deal in 2008.
- Since then, while there had been progress, it had also not been as rapid or deep as the US would perhaps have liked.
How has India-US relationship progressed in Trump era?
- Fast Diplomacy: In the past four years under the Donald Trump administration, Indo-US security cooperation moved at breakneck speed.
- Status of Major Defence Partner: In 2016, the US designated India as a Major Defence Partner, which led to, among other things, India being able to receive access to a wide range of military and dual-use American technologies.
- Foundational Defence Agreements Signed: Over the space of three years, three defence agreements – LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA – were reached and signed.
- Institutional Structure for Strategic Dialogue: In 2018, the two countries began the 2+2 strategic dialogue, one of the highest level dialogues ever institutionalised.
- Joint Exercises: In 2019, the US and India conducted Tiger Triumph, the first ever tri-service (ground, naval, and air forces) exercises between them.
- QUAD taking shape: In 2020, Australia joined India, Japan, and the US in conducting the India-led Malabar naval exercises, giving a big impetus to the Quad.
- Chinese aggressiveness acted as catalyst: In the US view, while it had always been ready to engage in this level of cooperation, it was the border clashes with China that made India more willing to engage deeply with the US.
Despite both the US and India being on the same page in terms of the deepening relationship, there are obstacles that have remained like:
- Indian Military’s systemic dependence on Russia: The US believes that India, which is still 60% to 70% dependent on Russia for military resupplies and hardware, will, in the future, have to choose with the kind of warfare that India wants to align itself with. India can no longer choose from an à la carte military menu; rather it has to choose a system.
- India’s insistence on Strategic Autonomy: The real Achilles’ heel is, as experts have pointed out, is India’s economics and the continuing harping on strategic autonomy. PM Modi’s use of power (full majority) to promote a nationalistic agenda is viewed by US as a lost opportunity which has not brought the expected economic growth.
- Domestic Issues: President Biden would be more committed to human rights which could lead to a rift with India, on, for example Kashmir.
Potential for India-US Relationship under President Biden
- Despite these obstacles, a Biden administration will not particularly change the relationship. And, in many ways, it may even come out stronger.
- Any US concerns, like that of Kashmir, are more likely to be conveyed privately rather than publicly.
- Under President Trump, decision-making was more ad hoc and at times chaotic. The dismantling of US national security decision structure by Trump, due to his deep suspicion of bureaucracy, added to this chaos.
- President Biden will restore the US national security decision structure – like regular inter-agency meetings, National Security Council meetings – and a process by which bureaucracy recommendations and decisions will make its way up to the President’s office.
- Biden is also more likely to be considerate when it comes to Climate funding, which India needs so as to fulfil its Paris Climate Commitments
- President Biden will reverse the US withdrawal of leadership role in International affairs and help in resurrecting the rules-based international order under the leadership of US. This is in the interest of India because the space left by US will be occupied by China (which is against India’s interest)
While it is undeniable that Trump and Modi had a bond, both Biden and Modi are likely to be extremely pragmatic about a relationship which is really about the geopolitical compulsions.