India and US together perhaps will become the new centre of gravity.
The existing perception that a Democratic regime is not good for United States’ relations with India is not convincing anymore. On matters relating to Indo-US ties, there has been an emergence of strong bipartisan support and to a greater extent this has led to more convergences than divergences, especially in the last two decades. The way both House India Caucus and Senate India Caucus got unfolded since their creation in 1993 and 2004 respectively is a testimony to the fact that the bipartisan support witnessed a greater intensification in synergy building in bilateral approaches towards each other. The founder of both the Congressional Caucus on India, Frank Pallone Jr and the Senate India Caucus, Hillary Clinton were Democrats. Both these Caucuses worked hard to bring India on the US radar.
The Biden administration will make a serious attempt to understand the emerging significance of India in managing world affairs. Their approach towards internal affairs of India would require to be given a new look. India has emerged as a part of the solution needed to be understood in a broader context by the Biden-Harris team. The elevation of India’s status and the growing acknowledgement that India is a responsible player will certainly be featuring in the strategic planning of the United States.
The Indo-US strategic engagement has come a long way and is predicated on the changing dynamics of geopolitics where it seems China’s rise features prominently in the current dynamics. The evolving global disorder because of the “Wuhan Virus” has provided opportunity to both India and the US to strengthen their relationship. Biden’s probable tilt towards China will remain a part of the challenge in evolving a positive atmosphere in Indo-US ties.
Biden certainly will not take any stand which would prove antithetical to the growing bonhomie in Indo-US ties. India and the United States have converged on a number of issues impacting global peace and stability. More recently, during the 2+2 ministerial dialogue, both India and the US have understood the significance of their bilateral engagement where intangibles will get culminated into tangibles.
India has witnessed a continuity in US approach towards India since India conducted its nuclear test in 1998. The US obviously took time to understand India’s rationale for going nuclear but at the same time it showed an element of seriousness in working with India on important strategic areas. It was through India’s diplomatic maneuvering that the United States was brought to the table in the form of the Strobe Talbott-Jaswant Singh Dialogue. There were fourteen rounds of dialogues between them, based on well articulated benchmarks dealing with civil nuclear cooperation, civil space cooperation, defence technology cooperation and harmonization of national export controls to the international standard.
The Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement—the so called 123 Agreement which got negotiated in 2008—is one such pointer to explain the change in the United States’ approach towards India. India is being perceived as a responsible nuclear player because it has neither proliferated vertically nor horizontally. It must be emphasised here that despite being a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India has adhered to all the principles of non-proliferation.
Irrespective of whether the United States government has been led by Republicans or Democrats, the US approach towards India especially since the last years of President Bill Clinton, to be precise from 2000, there seems to be a continuity in their foreign policy orientations. The bilateral strategic engagement has witnessed a greater emphasis in this emerging world order. The NASA-ISRO cooperation is at its peak in outer space matters. India and the United States have set up a Mars Working Group. Raytheon is playing an important role in India’s Gagan navigation system.
The US remains the largest supplier of conventional weaponry to India. Through “Make in India”, India would very much like to transition itself from a net importer of conventional weaponry to a net exporter of these weapons. The Inter Agency Task Force, which has been a part of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) has been seriously engaging in identifying the parameters for such defence cooperation. India has been contemplating the possibility of manufacturing F-16 and F-18A combat aircraft. Defence co-production involving critical technology will remain a challenge, but the commitment shown on the part of the United States towards India is something worth mentioning. More clarity would be needed mainly on liability issues, intellectual property rights and industrial security procedures, especially on issues relating to co-production.
The Biden administration will see to it that there will be continuity in their foreign policy orientations towards India. Indo-US counter terrorism cooperation has provided good dividends to both sides by realising the containment of threats emanating from terrorism. The military to military exercises have experienced a very positive phase in the maritime domain. India’s role in the Indo-Pacific security architecture is going to be vital along with the United States’. The role of Indian diaspora in Biden’s administration will become dominant in the domain of key policies. Defence technology cooperation also will experience a renewed boost in the ongoing momentum in the bilateral relationship.
India and the US together perhaps will become the new centre of gravity and all the positive atmospherics will continue to enhance bilateral understanding, which, in turn, will finally help in dispelling all the existing misperceptions about the role of Democrats in Indo-US bilateral equations. The Democrats will obviously maintain the legacy which they will be inheriting from their predecessor in January 2021. Whether India would become an ally of the United States in due course of time remains a part of the discourse and whether it will be in India’s interest.
Dr Arvind Kumar teaches Geopolitics and International Relations and heads the department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal.