No longer seeing eye to eye?

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With India recalibrating its relations with other powers, the India-U.S. equation is not quite balancing out.

Oceanic gulf

  • To begin with, India referred to the Indo-Pacific, a term coined by the U.S. for the Indian and Pacific Oceans region, as a natural geographical region, not a strategic one, while US called the Indo-Pacific a “priority theatre” and a “subset of [America’s] broader security strategy” for his military command, now renamed the Indo-Pacific Command. 
  • While India referred to India’s good relations with the U.S., Russia and China in equal measure, USA vowed to counter China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific, and referred to the U.S. National Defence Strategy released this January, which puts both China and Russia in its crosshairs as the world’s two “revisionist powers”.

A shift in New Delhi’s position

  • government seemed clear in its intention to counter China’s growing clout in its neighbourhood, especially post-Doklam, challenge the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and back a Quadrilateral grouping of India, the U.S., Japan and Australia to maintain an open Indo-Pacific. 
  • Today, the Doklam issue has been buried, the BRI isn’t as much a concern as before, and the government’s non-confrontational attitude to the Maldives and Nepal indicates a softened policy on China in the neighbourhood. 
  • The Quad formation, which is holding its second official meeting today in Singapore, has also been given short shrift. India rejected an Australian request to join maritime exercises along with the U.S. and Japan this June, and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said quite plainly last month that there was no plan to “militarise” the Quad. 

Trade protectionism 

  • Trade protectionism is clearly the other big point of divergence between India and the U.S., which have in recent months taken each other to the World Trade Organisation on several issues. 
  • There has been a surge in disputes between the two countries: on the new American steel and aluminium tariffs, the proposed cuts in H1B professional visas and cancellation of H4 spouse visas, on India’s tariffs and resistance to U.S. exports of dairy and pork products, on Indian price reductions on medical devices, and Reserve Bank of India rules on data localisation on Indian servers for U.S. companies.

The biggest challenges between India and US:

  • The biggest challenges to a common India-U.S. vision are now emerging from the new U.S. law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal with the threat of more secondary sanctions.
  • Both actions have a direct impact on India, given its high dependence on defence hardware from Russia and its considerable energy interests in Iran.
  • In particular, India’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 missile system will become the litmus test of whether India and the U.S. can resolve their differences.
  • Clearly the differences over a big ticket deal like this should have been sorted out long before the decisions were made; yet there is no indication that the Trump administration and the Modi government took each other into confidence before doing so.