Tue. May 21st, 2024


From the ice-cold chill of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, where the United States, under President Richard Nixon, blatantly tilted towards Pakistan, to the warm camaraderie of the 21st century, India-US relations have come a long way. The ghost of the Seventh Fleet, which the US dispatched into the Bay of Bengal in a flagrant display of power, had cast a long, brooding shadow on Indo-US relations, a schism that took years of diplomacy to mend.

Nevertheless, in the subsequent decades, the two nations recognized the strategic value of each other and made relentless strides to bridge their differences. The economic liberalization policies enacted by India in the late 1990s and early 2000s served as a beacon for US businesses, marking a turning point in bilateral ties. The narrative further pivoted from discord to dialogue with President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000, which considerably elevated the tone and tenor of bilateral engagement.

The relations have come a long way from the era when the US imposed sanctions in 1974 after India conducted its first nuclear test, titled ‘Smiling Buddha’, to the surprise nuclear tests in May 1998, and the landmark civil nuclear deal of 2008. The nuclear deal signified a tectonic shift, lifting a protracted three-decade US embargo on nuclear trade with India. This move was emblematic of a substantive policy shift and underscored a profound alteration in the geopolitical alignment.

In more recent years, the relationship has been galvanized by a confluence of strategic interests, predominantly the rise of China. In today’s landscape, the US-India relationship extends far beyond these earlier milestones, flourishing across a wide spectrum of sectors. The two nations now engage in deep-seated collaboration in defense, trade, investment, regional security, counter-terrorism, climate change, health, and science and technology. This multifaceted partnership, rooted in shared democratic values, respect for human rights, and adherence to the rule of law, stands in stark contrast to the turbulent dynamics that once pervaded the relationship. This transformation testifies to the resilience of international diplomacy in fostering cooperation even amidst divergent geopolitical pressures.

There are primarily three factors driving this strategic coupling with the US.

(a) China’s expansionist policies have increasingly become a source of international tension, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. This has acted as a significant catalyst in bringing the US and India closer in recent years. China’s territorial aggrandizement and its aggressive maneuvers, especially in the East and South China seas and the Himalayas, have ignited apprehension globally, making the Indo-Pacific region volatile and unstable.

(b) The Indian diaspora has been a significant force in fortifying the bond between India and the US. These overseas Indians have served as a conduit of transformation for the Indian society, ushering in fresh ideas, and bringing back a wealth of economic, human, and social capital from the US. Their active political engagement in the US has also served to benefit India, as they have been instrumental in shaping policies that favour their homeland.

(c) The closeness between India and the US has been fostered through consistent efforts by successive Indian governments and the adept use of diplomacy. India’s diplomatic relationship with the US has been an ongoing success story spanning various administrations, signifying the bipartisan nature of this alliance.

Against this backdrop, the Prime Minister’s state visit to the US is extremely important and significant. The American President, Joe Biden, has arranged an elaborate state dinner in his honor at the White House. The presiding officers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives have extended an invitation for him to address a unified session of Congress for the second time – a distinction that was formerly bestowed on statesmen such as Winston Churchill.

This state visit of the Prime Minister to the US signifies more than mere diplomatic engagement; it represents a substantial strategic alliance in specific sectors. This strategic collaboration has begun to surface publicly. Notably, the US government has finalized the necessary executive permissions for the domestic production of F414 engines in India. The US Congress will be shortly informed about an imminent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This development holds profound significance. It is noteworthy that the US, historically, does not typically share such strategically crucial technological assets with nations with whom it has not entered into a formal treaty.

In addition to these developments, there are numerous sectors where we strongly believe there is a need for heightened collaborative efforts between India and the US.

(1) The recent agreement between India and the US, designed to enhance private sector collaboration in the semiconductor industry, epitomises a strategic initiative to minimize their dependence on China and Taiwan. It is imperative to intensify and broaden this alliance to stimulate a more diversified semiconductor supply chain. The objective ought to encompass creating an expansive range of sourcing alternatives, benefiting not just India and the US, but also other emerging economies. This could prevent the peril of excessive reliance on a single region for indispensable semiconductor supplies. Such an alliance could prove pivotal to the global semiconductor supply chain, fostering enhanced robustness and accessibility for all nations.

(2) The US and India are acutely aware of the escalating global predicament instigated by China’s assertive strategies, notably in the technology and rare earth metal sectors, where China has been diligently expanding its dominance. China’s relentless acquisition of these vital minerals punctuates the urgency of the situation. In response to this burgeoning challenge, it is crucial for the US and India to ally with nations sharing analogous democratic values, establishing a unified consortium dedicated to addressing the pressing issues related to the control and distribution of rare earth metals.

(3) The necessity of academic collaborations between the US and Indian institutions in the field of science is unequivocally critical, given its potential to yield benefits for their respective populations and contribute towards the global public good. This academic alliance could foster pioneering research endeavors, amalgamate intellectual capital, and enable knowledge exchange, thereby catalysing scientific innovations to tackle pressing global issues. Furthermore, it could promote the growth of a globally conscious scientific community, enriched by a multitude of perspectives and cooperative problem-solving methodologies. This academia-to-academia partnership could prove instrumental in rendering science more inclusive, impactful, and congruent with the goal of a sustainable and equitable global future.

(4) India and the US can advance global scientific progress collaboratively by initiating cooperative research ventures across diverse sectors like healthcare, technology, environmental science, and space exploration. This partnership could be enhanced through academic exchange programs, promoting the interchange of ideas and nurturing a global perspective among emerging researchers. Consolidating resources for significant scientific projects, harmonizing policies on intellectual property rights, data sharing, and research ethics can further streamline this collaborative endeavor. Public-private partnerships could expedite scientific progress, hasten the application of research findings, and fortify research capabilities. The inauguration of mutual citizen science projects could also amplify public participation in science.

(5) The necessity for researchers from the US and India to unify their efforts in addressing some of the most formidable global threats cannot be overstated. Foremost among these challenges is the intensifying issue of antibiotic resistance, which requires immediate attention. Such a collaboration could represent a pivotal stance against an impending healthcare disaster, thereby sculpting a more secure future.

(6) The US and India, both giants in their spheres, stand on the cusp of an era characterized by unparalleled technological cooperation. The potential fusion of their distinctive abilities could stimulate groundbreaking progress across a vast array of fields. Within the domain of Information Technology and Software Development, India’s impressive IT skill set, in concert with the US global tech leaders, forms an influential partnership primed to cultivate innovative software solutions, IT amenities, and cutting-edge Software as a Service (SaaS) products.

(7) The subsequent wave of technological revolution is dictated by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Both nations are perfectly positioned to amalgamate their research strength and financial resources, thereby advancing these fields.

(8) 5G Technology, a critical component of digital infrastructure, offers an opportunity for mutual efforts. Both nations can align their resources towards the advancement and implementation of this pivotal technology, focusing on setting international standards and innovating use cases.

(9) The recent pandemic has underscored the critical role of Healthcare Technology. Emphasizing telemedicine, digital health records, health analytics, and AI in diagnostics could potentially transform global healthcare standards.

(10) Within the realm of Space Research and Technology, the revered space research entities from both nations (NASA in the US and ISRO in India) could consolidate their resources. Satellite technology, Mars explorations, and state-of-the-art space exploration methodologies are merely the beginning.

(11) Climate change remains a prominent global concern that calls for the development of Clean Energy and Climate Technologies. Through collaboration, the US and India could devise advanced clean energy technologies, encompassing but not limited to solar, wind, renewable sources, battery technologies, electric vehicles, and carbon capture and storage technologies.

(12) In an increasingly digital world, Cybersecurity takes precedence. Cooperation in this area could involve establishing extensive strategies for threat detection, robust data safeguarding, and creating secure communication and information systems.

(13) The digital metamorphosis in finance, or Fintech, presents a plethora of collaborative possibilities. Digital payment technologies, blockchain, AI for financial services, and regulatory technology could constitute the focus.

(14) Agriculture Technology (Agtech) is becoming increasingly crucial in the face of climate change and the quest for sustainable agriculture. Precision farming, AI for crop forecasting, farm management software, and other innovative Agtech solutions could undergo a transformative shift with mutual efforts.

(15) Lastly, Edtech emerges as an exciting area of collaboration. The nations could jointly develop groundbreaking solutions in the education sector, enhancing online learning, adaptive learning software, and education management systems, ultimately shaping the future of global education.

The further strengthening of India-US relations holds profound implications for the global order. As the world’s oldest democracy, the US, aligns with the largest, India; they form a democratic bulwark in an increasingly volatile geopolitical climate. Their collaboration could help promote global security, counterbalance authoritarian regimes, and advocate for human rights and democratic values worldwide. Economically, their partnership can boost global growth, promote technological innovation, and address pressing issues like climate change and public health crises. Moreover, the burgeoning partnership could foster cultural exchange, encouraging mutual respect and understanding in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

Bibek Debroy is the Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) & Aditya Sinha is Additional Private Secretary (Policy & Research), EAC-PM.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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