There is a strong bipartisan support for India-US relationship in the US Congress, and it will be crucial for Indian policymakers to invest more attention to sustaining as well as broadening and intensifying this support.
India-US relations came under scrutiny when a lack of commitment was shown on part of the Joe Biden Administration with regard to the supply of raw materials for vaccines in India. Despite knowing about India’s need to vaccinate everyone, the US took a completely callous approach. Later on, the United States calibrated a more cautious strategy and finally came around.
Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s maiden visit to the United States after President Biden assumed office, has been garnering attention especially because of the timing. Prior to this visit, President Biden sent two of his most important emissaries to India, Defense Secretary Llyod Austin and climate change envoy John Kerry, which to an extent signifies the importance accorded to India-US partnership. While most of America’s steadfast allies were critical of Trump’s presidency, India-US relationship seemed to be on firmer grounds, particularly on strategic convergence over the management of the Indo-Pacific region. While there seems to be broader continuity as far as Biden’s approach to the Indo-Pacific geopolitics is concerned, some changes are apparent in America’s domestic milieu, and in how it engages with the rest of the world. The Biden administration has emitted many signals, to show a growing appetite for multilateral ways of handling global affairs. In the context of Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s meetings with Biden’s core team, it will be imperative for India to work on the long term commitments of the India-US partnership, as it sets out to create better synergies on the more immediate challenge of combating the pandemic.
No doubt, the Biden administration in its first 100 days has set out to focus its energy on restoring the national economy and ensuring health security. Nevertheless, Biden at the same time has not lost sight of some of the crucial and enduring foreign policy challenges for the United States, which includes managing the ramifications of an aggressive China. By convening the first leaders’ virtual summit of the Quad countries, President Biden solidified convergences to build a stable regional security architecture. In this context, cementing the bilateral defence relationship in terms of both interoperability and growing defence trade reflects a strong continuity from the Bush to Trump and now the Biden presidency. How to make the next moves in this dimension, and navigate the Biden presidency for the great goal of improving India’s defence preparedness and military readiness in all domains, will remain a priority for Indian diplomacy. In addition, the uncertainties prevailing on the future of Afghanistan, amidst the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the war-torn country after two decades, will require India to come up with a new set of ideas to deal with the challenges. Any permutations and combinations will invariably involve India working closely with the United States.
Wasting no time in appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate change envoy and making clear his intention to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord showed Biden’s intention to restore US leadership. President Biden made his intentions loud and clear by convening the virtual climate summit, bringing together 40 leaders from across the world. One of the highlights for India-US relations was the launch of the “India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership” with the vision and mission “to help mobilise investments, demonstrate clean technologies, and enable green collaborations”. Taking into consideration India’s energy demands and its national commitments, there will be opportunities as well as challenges in terms of aligning the specifics of India’s commitments and priorities vis-à-vis the United States.
The goal of reviving a pandemic hit American economy is clearly on the top of Biden’s agenda, which has both domestic and foreign policy implications. Despite showing signs of a breakthrough prior to Trump’s India visit, India and the United States could not sign a trade deal. Trump’s approach to economic relationship, irrespective of which country he was dealing with, was extremely transactional, and excessively focused on tariff reciprocity and balance of trade. The economic partnership has remained an area, which, despite huge potential and vision of touching new heights, has not really materialised. Therefore, how the Indian policymaking community can create opportunities out of Biden’s own economic priorities for Americans in the near and long term remains a task.
India has been hit hard by the pandemic, as was the United States earlier, and despite initial hiccups, the Biden administration has now gone full throttle in terms of providing assistance to India’s efforts to tide over the health crisis. As India and the US, during Jaishankar’s visit, discuss efforts cutting across public and private sectors to deal with the more immediate health crisis, a roadmap for long-term health security cooperation for future exigencies becomes paramount. India-US relationship has indeed come a long way, and currently, it stands on a strong footing, and there seems to be a broad strategic convergence. There is a strong bipartisan support for India-US relationship in the US Congress, and it will be crucial for Indian policymakers to invest more attention to sustaining as well as broadening and intensifying this support. Moreover, Jaishankar’s visit to the UN headquarters in New York also provides opportunities to create more synergy in India-US engagement at the UN, during India’s non-permanent membership at the UN Security Council. There is no denying the fact that the evolving geopolitical necessity will warrant to strengthen the existing synergy in India-US partnership. There are still areas such as vaccine cooperation, trade issues, Quad and Indo-Pacific region on which a deep sense of commitment is needed from both sides to see robust and constructive engagements. The positive atmospherics will be of greater value only when all the intangibles get culminated into tangibles. How India-US strategic partnership will remain indispensable for world peace and stability remains an important question to address in international politics. India’s role in the post pandemic world will keep increasing and the rest of the world in general and the US in particular will expect India to assume more responsibilities and lead both regional and global affairs.
Arvind Kumar is a Professor of United States Studies at the School of International Studies (SIS), JNU, New Delhi. He is also the Chairperson of the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies at SIS. Monish Tourangbam teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at MAHE, Manipal and specialises in American Studies.