India-US ties a partnership for Global Good
In September 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited USA on a three-day tour at the invitation of the US President Joe Biden. While the visit was PM Modi’s first, beyond South Asia after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several other reasons due to which its significance was enhanced considerably. It was was the first face-to-face summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden, who had earlier twice met PM Modi as Vice President. The visit was also the first in-person Quad Summit. During the meeting, PM Modi and President Biden underscored their commitment to consolidating India-US relations and buttressing their mutual understanding on a range of regional and international issues. Regular summits allow leaders to connect, get acquainted with current bilateral issues, build an entente on regional and international issues, and then resolve differences, taking account of each other’s sensitivities and concerns. In that sense, the exchanges between PM Modi and President Biden reflected the bipartisan consensus in both countries that the partnership between India and the United States, underpinned by the 4-million-strong Indian diaspora in the United States, be cast in a global character and rooted in a broad convergence of values and geopolitical interests.
Like his predecessors, President Biden expressed support for Indian membership of the United Nations Security Council. The United States needs to take the extra step to undertake the necessary steps to make it happen, as it did to canvass its friends, allies, and interlocutors to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India. The India-US Joint Statement reflected the resolve of India and the United States to nurture democracy and pluralism as also to work together to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and climate change and widen the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’s (Quad’s) ambit of cooperation.
The United States is India’s most valuable trading partner, accounting for both merchandise trade and the disembodied trade in services. It is, by far, India’s largest export market, with India historically enjoying a positive balance of trade. The US Census Bureau reports that Indian exports in the first eight months of this year were $46.268 billion, compared to $51.214 billion in 2020. Among the priorities is for the two countries to achieve a trade agreement, under negotiation since 2018. The two leaders tasked their ministers to inventively disentangle the respective interests of the two countries and energise commercial exchanges and investments. The India-US Trade Policy Forum is expected to meet in the next couple of months and the India-US CEO Forum and the Commercial Dialogue will take place next year. The Investment Incentive Agreement is expected to be concluded early.
Significantly, the leaders discussed supply chain resilience and agreed to revive the High Technology Cooperation Group, originally set up in 2001 to stimulate commerce in dual-use, defence, and high-technology goods. Their focus on technology and innovation was evident from the recognition in the Joint Statement that space, cyber, health security, semiconductors, AI, 5G, 6G, blockchain, and future generation telecommunications technology were areas of their future cooperation. Since the designation of India by the United States in 2016 as a Major Defence Partner and its subsequent elevation to the Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier 1 status, India gained license-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the US Departments of Commerce and State. The two countries have since concluded the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement, the Industrial Security Agreement, and the Basic Exchange and Communications Agreement on the sharing of geospatial intelligence. The growing defence relationship has been a driver of the India-US strategic partnership.
On issues related to AfPak (Afghanistan and Pakistan), PM Modi and President Biden affirmed the commitment of the two countries to stand together in a shared fight against global terrorism, condemned cross-border terrorism, denounced the use of terrorist proxies, spoke of the need to take action against groups proscribed by the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions Committee, and the importance of denying any logistic, financial or military support to terrorist groups that could be used to launch or plan terror attacks. Their message to the Taliban was that it must abide by the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2593 (2021), which demands that Afghan territory must never be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, ensure the safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals, and to respect the human rights of all Afghans.
The first in-person Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is a strategic dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia) summit was also a significant part of PM Modi’s visit to Washington DC. Before the summit, he individually met with Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Yoshihide Suga of Australia and Japan, respectively. The Quad agenda widened a range of non-kinetic actions buttressing the security of the countries within the Indo-Pacific region. These include adopting a positive agenda comprising norms, standards, economic partnership, and pandemic cooperation. By broad-basing their agenda, the Quad leaders sought to dispel China’s notion that they represented a military coalition in the Indo-Pacific region (China describes the group as an “exclusive closed clique”). The Quad remains committed to keeping the Indo-Pacific region “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion” as expressed in their earlier meetings. In their Joint Statement in Washington DC, the Quad leaders championed adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, “to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas.” On countering terrorism in the AfPak region, the Quad leaders reiterated what the India-US Joint Statement stated. They committed to “deepen” their counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation in the months ahead by following UNSCR 2593. Despite their divergent geographies and socio-economic contexts, the India-US relationship has prospered in the past two decades. PM Modi and President Biden expressed their intent to ensure that India and the United States become the closest nations in the world. Their Joint Statement entitled ‘A Partnership for Global Good’, underlines their commitment to build global public goods. India seeks a “transformative” turn in the India-US relationship, as PM Modi remarked at the White House. The challenge for the two countries is to move in that direction.