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Relations with America

It is a striking historical coincidence that India came under the grip of colonialism just as the US found its independence. When India gained independence, the world entered the period of the Cold War. As if destined to ignore each other, the US and India looked in different directions. Today, more than ever, the US and India realise that they share common values and security concerns; and that there is an objective convergence of interests.

Although members of the US armed forces, several thousands in number, are known to have served in India at one stage during the British Raj, India had to face a turbulent relationship with the US in its formative years as an independent democracy. It was to witness a radical change in the American attitude towards India only after the Cold War ceased. These years were traumatic for the Indian state which was in the process of building a nation. Many in the government and military establishments, during the 1962 war with China , would recall with a tinge of regret that the India's request for military help did not receive due attention from the American administration. The Indian government asked for aircraft and air defence systems but had to be contented with small arms and communication sets only. Historians have recorded that the Indian Air Force was discouraged from using air power to deal with the threat posed by the Chinese invasion. However, the two air forces flew together during exercise Shiksha and flights of the U2 spy plane were permitted from Indian Air Force bases.

Similarly, the memories of the intimidation from the ships of the US sixth fleet sailing into the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 war with Pakistan remained vivid. There is a strong belief amongst defence analysts that the American indifference persuaded the Indian regime to enter into a treaty with the USSR for its protection. In such a backdrop of perceived antipathy towards the Indian state, the Indo-US Memorandum of Understanding on defence matters, signed in 1984, remained virtually unnoticed.

The year 2002 is considered to be a watershed in this direction from where the two countries have not looked back. The next three years were remarkably vibrant. The navies of both countries conducted several joint exercises under the banners of Ex-Malabar in which complex maneuvers involving war ships, aircraft, submarines and P-3 Orion maritime aircraft were undertaken. The objective was to practise interception of suspect vessels in high seas. In yet another example of visible cooperation, ships of the Indian Navy escorted a flotilla of US ships through the Malacca Straits on their way to participate in the operation Enduring Freedom. The American and Indian soldiers got together on several occasions to participate in joint para-trooping exercises in India and US including high altitude descents in the mountains of the Himalayan range. A US army contingent spent several days in the Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram examining counter-insurgency procedures. The two air forces took part in several joint aerial combat exercises in which frontline aircraft of both the countries participated. The cooperative spirit was quite evident in moving a contingent of Jaguar aircraft of the Indian Air Force, through continents and oceans, to arrive at a base in Alaska after numerous mid-air refuelling maneuvers.

At a deeper policy level, the relationship matured with the setting up of integrated institutional forums and structures between the two countries in matters relating to cooperation in defence research and development,intelligence exchanges etc. The US government showed great sagacity in lifting sanctions on nearly one thousand items which were to be imported for progress of work in on-going projects of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.There is definitely, therefore, a deepening strategic partnership in "moving beyond the next steps in strategic partnership to a strategic dialogue". The American administration acknowledges the capacity of the Indian State in shouldering the burdens of addressing the global and regional security concerns with a shared understanding of human problems and values. In this sense, India and US are opening the doors to each other in an intense engagement and cooperation in high technology trade and space.

The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, announced in January 2004, was designed to increase cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programs, high-technology trade, and missile defense.

Since January 2004, cooperation under the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership progressed through a series of reciprocal steps that built on each other. These steps included expanded engagement on nuclear regulatory and safety issues, enhanced cooperation in missile defense, peaceful uses of space technology, and steps to create the appropriate environment for increased high-technology commerce.

The successful completion of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership is an important milestone in the transformation of the relationship between the United States and India. In particular, completion of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership will enable the United States to expand the scope of bilateral commercial satellite cooperation, remove U.S. export license requirements for unilaterally controlled nuclear items to most end users, and revise export license requirements for certain items going to safeguarded civil nuclear power facilities.

Completion of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership demonstrates that President Bush's and Prime Minister Singh's vision of a U.S.-India strategic partnership is becoming a reality, and paves the way for greater cooperation on strategic, energy security, and economic matters.

The hallmark of the visit of Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee to the United States in June 2005 was the formalisation of the Defence Framework between India and the United States. It was a major milestone on a path charted by the Agreed Minutes of Defence Relations mutually arrived at between the two democracies in January 1995.

The document, 'New framework for India-US Defence Relations" signed by him and the US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld in Washington followed the completion of 10-year India-US Defence Cooperation Agreement (1995 - 2005). "The ten-year framework document for the period 2005-2015 has been finalised after a great deal of bilateral discussion and it is a blueprint for India-US defence relations for the next ten years", the Minister informed. He asserted that "the four-page document is neither a treaty nor an agreement".

The framework document focuses on cooperation in training, joint exercises, technology transfer and disaster management. Emphasising the importance of co-production, transfer of technology and joint marketing of armaments with the US, the Defence Minister said that the closer relations with Washington would in no way lead to parting with old friends.

In December 2006, Congress passed the historic Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Cooperation Act, allowing direct civilian nuclear commerce with India for the first time in 30 years. U.S. policy had opposed nuclear cooperation with India because the country had developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international conventions and never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The legislation cleared the way for India to buy U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel for civilian use.

In July 2007, the United States and India reached a historic milestone in their strategic partnership by completing negotiations on the bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, also known as the "123 agreement." This agreement, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on October 10, 2008, governs civil nuclear trade between the two countries and opens the door for American and Indian firms to participate in each other's civil nuclear energy sector.

In July 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to India to launch the “Strategic Dialogue,” which called for collaboration in a number of areas, including energy, climate change, trade, education, and counterterrorism. Prime Minister Singh visited Washington, DC in November 2009 for the first state visit of the Barack Obama administration. The inaugural session of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue was held in June 2010 in Washington, DC. The event was successful and showed progress in the U.S. India relationship. President Obama visited India in November 2010.

In July 2011, Secretary Clinton led a U.S. delegation to India for the second round of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which took place in New Delhi on July 19, 2011, followed by a visit to Chennai.

President Obama’s decision to accept Prime Minister Modhi’s invitation to attend the 26 January 2015 Republic Day extravaganza further buttressed Modi’s prestige and popularity within India and elicited a wave of “Mobama” triumphalism in the press, much to China’s discomfiture. However, in the end, Modi played true to form by publicly and bluntly rejecting President Obama’s call to limit India’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A strategic partnership built between India and the United States in the last two years was expected to deepen under a Trump administration. However, India’s famed information technology sector could suffer, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to turn the country into a manufacturing hub, if President-elect Donald Trump acts on campaign pledges to restrict immigration and bring jobs back to the United States, some Indian analysts and observers say. But there is much more uncertainty about how a Trump administration will affect wider Asian geopolitics. Concerns about China’s growing assertiveness in Asia and its expanding influence in India’s neighborhood helped prompt Modi to deepen India’s military cooperation with the United States, shedding its traditional hesitations about moving too close to Washington.

But there could be major changes in Asia Pacific geostrategic landscape if the US took a more insular policy. He pointed to the possibility of the US scaling back its presence in the South China Sea. What Trump said about not wanting to be engaged in military terms in the Asia Pacific in effect would mean ceding space to China. New Delhi, conversely, wanted to see Washington deepen its engagement in the region.

If election rhetoric targeting both immigration and outsourcing translates into policies, India’s $150 billion information technology sector, already battling a slowdown, could face more turbulence. The United States, one of India’s largest investors, employs millions there and accounts for 60 percent of the country’s software exports. The biggest perceived threat is to H-1B visas, which allow foreign professionals to work in the U.S. and are heavily used by Indian software companies. Indians received more than two-thirds of the H-IB visas in 2014.

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Page last modified: 25-11-2016 12:05:01 ZULU