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India And US Relations: Warming Up In Spite Of Differences

Photo courtesy of Speaker John Boehner via Flickr

India and the U.S., the world’s largest and oldest democracies, are natural partners with much to gain from one another — but several key issues keep them at arms length.

Since India sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a political leaning that injured its relations with the United States, the country has gradually redeveloped its friendship with America and the EU amidst its own enormous economic growth.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”OAOkAwMwvYwhX7Lb5ZhWfpXtD5cAfzRU”]Today, India is Americans’ 6th favorite country, according to Gallup polls, with a 72 percent rating of favorability in 2014. Geopolitically, America has made a long-term strategic bet on India as part of a “rebalance to Asia,” and is pushing for the nation to join the UN Security Council on a permanent level.

Under India’s newest prime minister, Narendra Modi, a stronger partnership could be underway after years of causally effective diplomacy and missed opportunities. But the countries have several conflicts to smooth over (or look past) in order amend relations.

Points of conflict

  • Travel bans: The U.S. placed a visa ban on PM Modi in 2005, based on his failure to stop deadly riots by Hindus against Muslims three years prior. The decision was made under a 1998 law that holds foreign officials responsible for extreme violations of religious freedom (Modi is the only person ever to be banned under this provision).
  • Trade blocks: India has been accused of discriminatory policies in regards to its solar export program, and recently blocked the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement meant to streamline custom practices to developing countries, citing a need for solutions to help its own poor first.
  • Nuclear disagreements: India was barred in 1974 by the U.S. and others from any sort of nuclear trade, and has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Though India entered a nuclear trade deal with the U.S. in 2008, India’s liability laws have effectively shut U.S. businesses out of its energy market.
  • India’s weak intellectual property laws: Lax IP laws allow India to produce generic versions of patented drugs for cheaper and more accessible health care, worrying large American pharmaceutical companies.
  • Preferential market access: India’s PMF policy (pdf) prioritizes domestic manufacturing due to security concerns and promotion of their IT sector.

Friendship with Benefits

In spite of these unresolved tensions and personality differences, America and India have much to gain from a continued, and furthered partnership — hence their standing strategic cooperations in regard to “energy and climate change; education and development; economics, trade and agriculture; science and technology, health and innovation.”

A mutually beneficial relationship works in favor of both parties without either having to sacrifice differences, autonomy, of belief. Now that the U.S. is shifting its focus away from the Middle East, these partnerships will likely see new growth, as indicated by Modi’s meeting with President Obama in September of 2014.

  • Counterterrorism: The US and India need each other to counter Islamic insurgency, a priority for both countries. The two nations signed the US-India Counterterrorism Initiative in 2009 as part of a bilateral strategic partnership that has since steadily expanded.
  • Space: U.S. and India’s space programs are teaming up, having signed a charter for joint Mars and Earth explorations, a strategic Indo-U.S. space cooperation that will allow future collaboration in space.
  • Science and technology: the U.S.-India Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2005, created a Joint Committee to move research forward. At their most recent committee in 2012, over a dozen projects regarding science, health, and technology have emerged and grown.
  • Military defense: Over the past decade, the U.S. has sold $10 billion in military arms to India, and is eager expand this relationship. The two countries will be renewing their ten-year Defense Framework Agreement, and moving forward with a Defense Technology and Trade Initiative to co-develop new high-tech weapons and military systems.

Beyond niceties, many speculate this friendship is indicative of a goal on America’s part to counterbalance China’s economic and military clout in an increasingly competitive global economy. But for India, their own economic growth alongside (and even in stride with) China’s, is of key importance.

So as cozy as the U.S. and India might appear, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it’s a selfless kind of warmth: when it comes to each nation’s individual growth and ambition, the relationship has no strings attached.

Originally published on October 16, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert