Where India-US Relations Stand in 2024?
Dr Sweta Kumari, Associate Fellow, VIF

In his recent visit to New Delhi, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and former Ambassador of the United States to India, Richard R. Verma presented a “long-view” of the India-US relationship in his talk. As highlighted by Amb Verma, the two countries have come a long way in the last 77 years. The 21st century, in particular, has witnessed a transformation in the India-US relationship from scepticism to cooperation given the ever-increasing convergence of interests at the bilateral, regional and global levels. Efforts have been made upright from the leadership-level to overcome hesitations of the past and engage in recognising the potential of the ties and several foundational agreements have been signed in areas ranging from defence to S&T to healthcare have been characteristics of India-US relations in the last two decades.

The year 2023 was exceptionally significant in terms of giving a futuristic vision to the India-US partnership. This paper captures some of the exceptional visits, agreements and frameworks that have focused on deliverables that would lead to long-term defence and technological cooperation. It analyses the existing barriers and inconsistencies in the implementation of these agreements. Trade is an area that requires a deeper cooperation given historic challenges are addressed. The article briefly looks into the major geopolitical tensions and conflicts and what are the stances of India and the US. The India-US relations have often been overshadowed by the irritants that affect the sensitivities with regard to India’s national security. The article also makes an assessment of this problem in the relationship. How the developments of 2023 pave the way for the relationship in 2024 and beyond, form the conclusion of this article.

Milestones of 2023
iCET

On January 31, 2023, the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan formally launched, first of a kind, US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) in Washington, DC. This endeavour is the outcome of years of collaboration between the two governments and their agencies. The fact that the national security agencies of both countries are playing the nodal role, it is expected to have more coordination among various stakeholders and better implementation. The objective behind iCET is to project the roadmap for collaboration and to keep India at the forefront of the technological revolution in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technology, space commercialisation, biotechnology, and semiconductors. The intention has been to bring India up to date on cutting-edge technology in order to make it self-sufficient or Atmanirbhar, as well as to investigate how the India-US relationship can contribute to this.

High Level Visitations & Joint Statements

In 2023, there were frequent visits of senior government officials between New Delhi and Washington. Prime Minister Modi was in the US in June on a state visit, while President Biden visited India in September for the G20. A number of agreements and deals have been signed as an outcome of these visits. The support of the United States was crucial in avoiding the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the outcome of the G20 and bringing out the Delhi Declaration with a consensus. The two countries held the annual 2+2 meetings in November at a time when the US was heavily invested in the crisis in the Middle East.

Joint statements of these meetings have underscored a “shared commitment to advance democracy, human rights, and pluralism” with increased references to growing trust and confidence in the relationship along with identifying new areas of cooperation between India and the United States. The joint statements also find mention of ongoing conflicts globally and an acceptable stance of the two countries on them including the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Defence Ties

Initiatives such as Roadmap for Defense Industrial Cooperation, Security of Supply Arrangements, and INDUS-X project a greater degree of defence cooperation.

The United States and India have entered into a strategic technology partnership called the India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) to revitalise defence industrial cooperation and unlock innovations in technology and manufacturing. The initiative aims to strengthen ties between the defence industrial ecosystems of both countries, with a focus on collaboration in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and space technology. An MoU has been signed between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for the manufacture of GE F-414 jet engines in India. India is also purchasing MQ9-B drones from the US. India is the first country to receive this variant of MQ9 drones.

Challenge of Implementation

A significant test of the iCET would be whether the US shares cutting-edge technologies with India. Both India and the United States face obstacles related to legislative, policy, and regulatory frameworks that hinder joint technology development and innovation partnerships.

  • Problems with regulations: The MoU for F414 has been signed between GE and HAL, a public entity and not any private player which demonstrates that systemic limits still exist. The public-private partnerships planned for INDUS-X aim to ease regulations that have been identified as potential stumbling blocks. The role of the governments would be critical in lowering barriers to business-to-business transactions and standardise the technological start-up certification processes between the two countries.
  • Technological Alignment: Both nations need to ensure that their respective government agencies are aligned for innovation collaboration and technology co-development. While the United States has a well-established defence innovation ecosystem, the US would expect the Indian government to ensure that its agencies are on the same page for collaboration with the US.
  • Easing Procurement Procedure: India needs to create policies and structures for joint technology development to ensure sufficient funding, testing, certification, and procurement of the technologies and systems developed through INDUS-X. This involves addressing challenges related to investment and acquisition processes.

While there were initial speculations regarding the legal clearances from the US Congress regarding the sale of the defence equipment to India, significant progress has been made in this domain. The US State Department has formally informed Congress of a potential foreign military sale of 31 MQ-9B drones to the Indian government, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee recently gave their approval to the deal.

Trade & Economic Barriers: New Initiatives

The value of India-US commerce in goods is approximately 136.7 billion USD. The United States is now India's top trade partner, with whom it has the highest export surplus. India is the ninth largest trading partner with the United States. With regard to the trade deficit with China, both countries share similar concerns. Over the years, Indian firms have made significant investments in the United States. The Indo-US trade relations encompass various issues and key areas for enhanced cooperation. The year 2024 began with the India-US Trade Policy Forum Meeting to discuss the solutions to overcome major roadblocks in trade relations.

  • Settlement of WTO Disputes: The settlement of longstanding trade disputes at the World Trade Organization. India and the US resolved all seven outstanding disputes in the World Trade Organization in 2023. This indicated the growing recognition of the need to augment trade ties.
  • Tariffs: The US looks at Indian markets as having very high tariffs whereas the US farmers’ support programme as market distorting. There are a lot of domestic sensitivities on both sides on this issue. There are discussions over market access issues, technical regulations, and import requirements for IT hardware.
  • Supply Chain Diversification:The US has been making attempts to bring changes in its economic policy post -pandemic. The key objectives have been to reduce the manufacturing dependencies from China especially for critical goods including the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) within the global pharmaceutical supply chain and make steps towards diversification. India emerges as a major market in this area.
  • Social Security Totalisation Agreement: A bilateral social security totalization agreement is under negotiation that would aid in enhancing service trade between India and the US. This agreement would exempt short-term visa holders, especially Indian IT professionals working temporarily in the US, from mandatory contributions to social security.

A large number of areas ranging from critical minerals to trade in high technology products for collaboration in trade are being explored which provide a roadmap for joint initiatives in future. India has expressed its interest towards being recognised as a Trade Agreements Act-designated country and also given a GSP status by the US to promote trade and investment between the two countries. Trade is a politically charged issue in the US. In this year of the presidential election in the US, the chances of India getting such preferences seem thin. Any major developments in trade relations could be expected only with the next administration in the White House in 2025.

Indo-Pacific

Given the signing of new agreements between India and the United States, as well as the strengthening of the existing partnership, there are speculations within the strategic community regarding the potential role that India would be expected to play in the event of a crisis across Taiwan strait, including options such as providing logistical support, geospatial information sharing, or a specific position of the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean. However, no such indications have been given India or the United States.

Avenues in Middle East: IMEC and I2U2

The joint ventures of the US and India in the Middle East– the I2U2 and the recently launched India-Middle East Economic Corridor (IMEC) on the sidelines of G20– are on a backburner after the Israel-Hamas Conflict. The Biden administration is facing criticism at home for not being able to restrict the actions of Israeli forces that have claimed several civilian populations as the conflict has progressed for months. For India, stability in the Middle East is of great importance. The Houthis attack in the Red Sea has pulled the Indian Navy into this turmoil. Both India and the US have a critical role to play in the region.

Glitch in the PartnershipM

The presence of pro-Khalistan elements in the US is one of the areas of huge concern for India. The recent indictment of an Indian citizen for allegedly plotting the murder of a Khalistani leader Pannun has again highlighted the issue. The US has handled the issue more maturely in comparison to Canada as the Indian authorities were notified on time and the investigation is taking place through due process and no conviction has been made so far. India has also been cooperating with the US on the matter.

While this matter was highlighted by the American media and “activists”, it is discouraging that incidences such as the vandalism and causing fire in the Indian consulate in San Francisco, stopping Indian diplomats from entering a gurdwara by the pro-Khalistan elements residing in the US; were neither judiciously covered by the media nor the US authorities took an adequately firm stance on this. The official twitter handle of the US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller after the San Francisco vandalism stated “The U.S. strongly condemns the reported vandalism and attempted arson against the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on Saturday. Vandalism or violence against diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats in the U.S. is a criminal offense.” It is unfortunate that despite the mob carrying Khalistani flags and sloganeering against India, the issue finds no acknowledgement in the official statements.

Lookout for 2024

India and the United States saw some major developments in the relationship in 2023. What makes it unique is the futuristic vision with existing and emerging technologies being one of the key elements. The two countries are emphasising enhanced collaboration in vast areas. In the space sector, India has signed the Artemis Accords and the vision for future space exploration. Key areas of collaboration include clean energy, defence and security, space exploration, multilateral cooperation, and people-to-people ties. The two countries also made progress in deploying clean energy at scale, collaborating in renewable energy technologies, and enhancing minerals security cooperation. India and the US have been conducting the largest number of military exercises. The rich people-to-people connect, including over 200,000 Indian nationals studying in the US and a vibrant Indian diaspora community, contributed significantly to the India-US ties.

However, it is also time to address some “pet peeves” that could have significant implications for growing ties. It is high time that the US understands the vulnerabilities of India and the threats imposed by some Indian-origin diaspora threatening India's internal security and its social fabric. It is also an opportune moment for Indian authorities to make their American counterparts/ “partners” aware of the whole Khalistan issue that no longer holds any relevance within India and take assurances that, unlike Canada, such anti-India activities would not be tolerated on US soil. It must be highlighted that not addressing irritants that affect the internal security and social fabric of India does not go well with the democratic and pluralistic ethos of the United States as well.

The India-US relationship is literally reaching the moon and beyond. As the official statements mention shared commitment to advance democracy, human rights, and pluralism, it must be supplemented through actions as well. The existing glitches should be handled with more sensitivity and objectivity and they should not be allowed to overshadow the exponentially growing India-US relationship.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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