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FILE - President Joe Biden, right, meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Quad leaders summit at Kantei Palace, May 24, 2022, in Tokyo. Biden is honoring Modi with a state visit this week. Modi arrives in the U.S. on Wednesday, starting his visit at the United Nations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
3:51 pm August 5, 2023

INDO-US Tango: Strategic underpinnings

India’s desire to protect its border and sovereignty on one hand and grow its economic interests aligns with US interests, it knows that too. The new dawn of mutual trust and accommodation should lead to a symbiotic growth of the two large democracies.  — KK Srivastava

Modi’s recently concluded visit to US was certainly historic, a watershed moment in establishing harmonies ties between the two democracies which are large economies too. It underlined the convergence of commercial, economic, strategic, technological, and defence interest between the two nations. More importantly, the visit and its fall outs are clear pointers towards India’s ascension as a rising economic and strategic power, in addition to its soft power as a pluralistic, democratic society.

Thus, at 4.5 million Indians our Diaspora constitutes the second largest immigrant community in the US. It has made a mark for itself everywhere in the US – scientific institutions, universities, tech hub, politics, government, and other businesses. Modi’s visit deepened the level of engagement between the two largest democracies and their people, governments, business and establishments. There was high voltage optics in the form of Modi’s meetings with the top shots of American business from Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft – you name it. This led to some serious deal being signed with both the government and private business, spread across technology health, defence, high end manufacturing. All this signals a strategic alignment of the two nations at a deeper level. 

Thus in a major defence deal involving technology transfer GE will produce jet engines in India for HAL’s Tejas aircraft. There is Micron which will invest more than $800 million towards a $2.75 billion semi conductor assembly and test facility in India. This is a work in progress towards developing alternative supply chains to the China-Taiwan duo. 60,000 Indian engineers will be trained for this. Then a critical minerals partnership will diversify and secure critical mineral supply chains for EV batteries – again to mitigates Chinese dominance. The underlying underpinning of course is that it suits both nations that India has a bigger role in the Indo-pacific and acts as a countervailing force against a ‘menacing’ China. And to achieve this goal, US decided to downplay the differences between India and US on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. 

Also, the six outstanding WTO disputes, three from US side and other three initiated by India, were resolved too; these will help India’s steel, aluminums and renewable energy industries. New US consulates will be opened in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. And HIB and L visa holders now will be able to renew their visas in the US without returning to India. All this has meant that some leading western publications started playing new tunes on India. Certainly deals like massive orders for killer drones and commercial aircrafts by India constituted a great deal in this change of heart of western media, business, and government. Inescapable should be the fact to any discerning observer that both soft and hard power played their respective roles. Thus Economist ran a cover on ‘indispensable’ India which is America’s ‘new best friend’. Not only that, it declared Modi to be the world’s most popular leader. It emphasized, the influence of Indian Diaspora on American affairs. Even Jai Shankar, the Indian External affairs Minister, occupied a lot of prime space in the Economist issue. All this from a publication which generally fails to have a few kind words for India.

However, more noteworthy now is the growing hard power of India that is at the base of recently Found interest in strengthening bilateral ties between India and US. Don’t forget the India’s growing military and economic heft, and a mouth drooling size of Indian market for everything. As such it is the only ‘democratic’ nation that can counter the challenges faced from Chinese expansionist policies and designs in all spheres – commerce, economic, political influence, diplomacy, etc. China, in purchasing power parity terms, is already the largest economy at $30 trillion with a per capita GDP in PPP terms of about $18200 (year 2022). Even in current US dollar terms its economy is second largest in the world. Herein comes the importance of India for US and US for India. Look at hundreds of commercial aircraft deals signed between Indigo and Air India with Boeing, and you get the picture of a mutually beneficial relationship. India is world’s fifth largest economy, soon to ascend to third largest, is nothing to scoff at. Don’t forget that while Indian economy is only 15% of the US economy size, India contributes 60% (to world growth) of the US contribution since India’s GDP growth annually is nearly four times as fast, compared to that of the US.

India is the only nation in the Indian Ocean which can thwart the sinister designs of China there. India’s military is being reinforced by order of American Poseidon aircrafts and drones that will help in surveillance and thwarting attack from an enemy. Indeed, US defence product manufacturers drool over Indian market since India is world’s biggest defence importer with its defence budget being the world’s fourth largest. Not to miss the GE deal.

The Indo-US ties are monumental in their implications for the rest of the world. The rest of the world is searching for clues about as to how a deepening US-India engagement is likely in influence the world order being reshaped, a global order which may soon lead to Asian dominance, India and China both included, than US. Baiden has termed the challenge to the current global order as one of democracy vs autocracy. Thus he know that friction had to be kept minimal. So India’s ties with Russia did not come in the way; focus instead was on ‘no-limits’ friendship between Russia and China which means Indo-Pacific region has to be secured. So what if in the process New Delhi’s purchases of Russian oils or anti-missile firepowers (in the face of US sanctions) had to be side stepped. A closer embrace between the two nations, consigning hesitations to history, needed ample dose of pragmatism.

Geostrategic agenda set by both the nations had of course commercial agreements entwined with it. India’s economic rise world help America since the former would provide a potential market; in turn US technology transfer would act as an enabler in transitioning of India to migrate to being the world’s third largest economy. Strained Sino-US ties, talks of China plus one, and of course kinks free bilateral trade between India and US all can contribute. That both the nations are steadily working in this direction is evident from resolving of the six trade disputes that we mentioned above. Both the countries here understood that a zero-sum game is not possible; it is a question of give and take. 

But while its clasp with the US is getting deeper, stronger, and more comprehensive, India has not lost sight of the objective of not compromising its strategic autonomy US still wants a bipolar world (at best) idea with which India is not comfortable. And yet, India’s desire to protect its border and sovereignty on one hand and grow its economic interests aligns with US interests, it knows that too. The new dawn of mutual trust and accommodation should lead to a symbiotic growth of the two large democracies.  

Author: swadeshijoin

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