India-US Partnership: Geopolitical Balance Analysis
At a time of rising geopolitical tensions, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US offered a chance to improve relations.
The Ukraine crisis, Taiwan issue, and US-China trade war are the usual US-Russia and China tensions. India-China tensions persist. Since 2014, Modi has visited the US five times, but this was his first state visit. US state visits are by foreign heads of state. Biden has honoured only three statesmen, including Modi.
The US army fired honour platoons, an orchestra played, and an honour guard lined up for the distinguished guest at the White House gala dinner. The visit is significant for Modi, especially since he was denied a visa to the US due to his “controversial” role in the 2002 Gujarat religious riots. The Indian leader told the US Congress that the two countries want to cooperate. He addressed politicians and businessmen.
Technology will underpin the US-India partnership, both leaders said. Modi met with Biden in the Oval Office, attended a gala dinner at the White House, visited the State Department, addressed a group of young entrepreneurs at the John F. Kennedy Centre in Washington, and appeared in Congress.
A Look Back-
History is necessary to comprehend these actions. Americans frequently claim that while India is a friend but not an ally, Pakistan is an ally but not a friend. During the Cold War, conflicts existed between the oldest and largest democracies. Due to its anti-communist stance, Washington enjoyed good relations with Pakistan, which was ruled by Islamists.
India, a secular state and founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, maintained good relations with the Soviet Union, whose economic model it followed. In the US, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared that “neutrality between good and evil is itself evil.”
Relations improved after the Cold War, India’s foreign policy reorientation, and globalisation. India’s 1998 nuclear bomb testing prompted US and Western economic sanctions. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed a defence agreement with India, and in 2008, he signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Under Obama, Trump, and Biden, relations have mostly improved.
Indian economy growth-
Indian trade and investment opened up in the 1990s after the USSR collapsed. Trade liberalisation included steep tariff cuts, licencing reform, and rupee exchange rate deregulation. Technology and economic liberalisation helped India increase exports quickly.
As the Modi government dealt with issues, the biggest changes occurred in the past decade. India’s rise in technology, pharmaceuticals, steel, and IT is the biggest change. American companies have invested heavily recently. India has 1.4 billion people and a young population. India has overtaken China as the world’s 5th largest economy and may become the 3rd by the end of the decade.
What the People Saying on Modi’s India-
The Gallup international relations survey found that Americans rank India 6th in the world. In 2015, 71% of Americans liked India, and 70% in 2023. Other years saw 70%.
After the pro-US government in Afghanistan fell, 79% of Indians viewed the US favourably, compared to 10% who did not. 15 large states have the highest percentage.
Pew Research Centre surveyed Americans about India in March. The majority of respondents liked Modi, but opinions were divided. The Indian Prime Minister was unknown to 40%. 37% of those who had heard of him disapproved of his global leadership, while 21% approved.
Despite Cold War mistrust, Washington has supported India bipartisanly for 20 years. Democrats and Republicans praise India’s liberal democracy and values.
Changed recently. Before Modi’s visit, more than 70 Democratic lawmakers wrote to President Biden asking him to question Modi on “independent, credible reports” about India’s political space collapse and religious intolerance. The letter stated, “We do not support any Indian leader or political party – that is the decision of the people of India – but we support important principles that should be a key part of American foreign policy.” Several Democrats publicly opposed inviting Modi to Congress and said they would boycott his speech. MPs skipped Modi’s speech.
Former President Obama supported critics. “If the president meets with Prime Minister Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in majority Hindu India is something worth mentioning,” Obama told CNN as Modi arrived in Washington.
US presidents and guests usually hold press conferences during state visits. Some journalists criticised the Indian Prime Minister for the state of democracy in his country. Modi responded that his government follows a constitution based on democratic values, so there is no caste or religious discrimination.
Major economic issues-
India’s largest trading partner, the US, has significant trade barriers. One issue is that the two countries disagree on key international economic issues.
India’s Minister of Energy and Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh, criticised the Biden administration’s climate initiative because it disadvantages developing countries that cannot subsidise their green energy transition. India dropped the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’s trade pillar, the Biden administration’s main trade initiative.
Most analysts think economic cooperation will yield more than lucrative US military exports. US-India trade relations can be improved in several ways. They include removing Trump’s national security tariffs on steel and aluminium and restoring India’s preferential status.
Indian-American influence and geopolitics-
Over four million Indian-Americans are the biggest factor strengthening US-India relations. Indian Americans earn the most in the US, including whites.
Indian voters are becoming more influential. The Samosa Club, which raises money for political campaigns, and Indian representatives in Congress. Two governors and seven congressmen are Indian-American. Kamala Harris’ mother is Indian, and Nikki Haley’s parents are Punjabi Indians.
Many Americans of Indian descent influence American policy towards India, regardless of their political affiliation. Over 150,000 Indian students study in the US annually, strengthening Indian influence. Indian students bring new perspectives and nearly $8 billion to the American education system and related services. Indian-Americans can influence US policy towards India like Jewish-Americans do towards Israel.
Chinese threat in the modern era-
Xi Jinping’s assertive foreign policy has helped New Delhi-Washington relations. China is America’s main rival for global dominance.
The US sees China as their main threat, not Russia or the EU, and is actively seeking regional allies to limit its global influence. Biden hopes India will balance Beijing’s rising economic power. India has traditionally been non-aligned on geopolitical issues, but China’s territorial ambitions in the Himalayas and the June 2020 Chinese military killing of 20 Indian soldiers have alarmed policymakers.
While India maintains its independence, the recent G7 summit in Hiroshima included the second-ever QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) summit between Biden, Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumi Kishida, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The four leaders pledged a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific at the meeting.
China has been warned. India seeks US and Western help to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Beijing and others, even though it claims to be a partner, not an ally.
New relation between US-India-
Democracy, innovation, and entrepreneurship unite the US and India, except for China. According to Henry Kissinger, the countries have “no conflict of interest in the traditional and fundamental sense.” India-US relations can improve after the US military withdraws from Afghanistan in 2021, making Pakistan a less important US ally.
Biden and Modi’s friendship symbolises a new phase in bilateral relations. India has been a non-aligned nation for decades, but Russia’s growing alliance with China may push India closer to the US, especially as American multinational corporations move their factories out of China. US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen visited India last year to shift global supply chains away from China. American investors may consider India. Modi’s jet engine and chip deals in the US continue successful economic cooperation.
A Clear Fact: India wants good relations with the US but not an ally!
In June, Modi visited the US, indicating an American-Indian alliance against China. Expectations are exaggerated. As Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar stated, a formal alliance is not possible.
Indians no longer talk about non-alignment, but they don’t want political alliances. Indians attend QUAD meetings, the army occasionally exercises with the US army, the country is a member of the I2U2 Group, and economic cooperation with the US is growing. India is not a US vassal like Japan or South Korea. Why? India has good diplomatic, military, and economic relations with Russia. India still imports more than half of its weapons from Russia, buys Russian oil along with China, and often votes against Western initiatives at the UN. Modi continued to refuse to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the US.
In addition, India is a key member of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and trades extensively with China, Iran, Cuba, and the world.
India prioritises multipolarity to maintain access to Russian weapons, oil, gas, and other resources and avoid pushing Russia closer to China. The two largest democracies’ “shared values” declarations are nice, but they are not an alliance.
India-US relations aim to balance power with China, not isolate Russia. This includes maintaining the global balance between the US and China and China and India in Asia and beyond. India is rising. As China’s population stagnates, India overtook it this year. India’s GDP is growing faster than China’s.
The Indian economy could match the Eurozone’s by the middle of the 21st century if its growth rate continues. India will play a major role in geopolitical balance due to its large population, growing workforce, educational system, culture of entrepreneurship, diaspora influence, nuclear weapons, and soft power (yoga, Bollywood). New Delhi prioritises multipolarity.