India – US Relations And Their Contemporary Concerns


“If I have to describe the India-US relationship in a single word, I will say we are natural allies. I think the relationship between India and US, and the two countries themselves, have played an enormously important role and continue to play an important role in strengthening democratic values all over the world.”-  Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The research paper starts with an analysis of the relations between the United States and India over the last seven decades. It categorises these relations into three stages-The Cold War era, the post-Cold War era and the twentieth century. Next, it highlights the emerging development of climate change cooperation and the sharing of critical technologies related to developing clean energy infrastructure. In recent years there has been a huge interest in sharing defence technologies between the two countries. Several pacts and agreements concerning them have been highlighted.

Further, the research paper dwells on the increasing trade and investment relations and the areas of cooperation and hindrances in them. In the last decade, the Indo-Pacific region has emerged as the centre of geo-political activity. The two countries have taken massive efforts to work together in this region in areas such as supply chain diversification, trade and navigation. The are several geo-political convergences and divergences between both countries. The areas of convergence are China and the Indo-Pacific and the areas of divergence are Russia and the West Asian region. The paper analyses the reasons behind these divergences and convergences. The recommendations are provided in the end which can prove to be fruitful to accelerate the growing relationship between the two countries.


India is the world’s largest democracy and the United States is the world’s oldest. The relations between both of them have seen constant ups and down. These relations have not just been a result of bilateral arrangements and conditions but also because of various multilateral factors. The roller coaster journey between the two can be categorised into three stages- The Cold War era, the post-Cold War era and the twentieth century.

After the end of the second world war, the world was divided into two camps. One led by the United States and the other by the Soviet Union. India under its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru chose to be non-aligned. It avoided being dragged into any of the two groups but because of the socialist leanings of the ruling elite of that time India was seen to be leaning towards the Soviet Union block. On the other hand, Washington was pursuing its containment plan of encircling the Soviet Union and in this endeavour, Pakistan became its significant ally. The growing Pakistan-US relations created hostilities and fear in the minds of the ruling elite. However, after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, cooperation and coordination were seen between both countries as the United States provided food aid and supported India in other forms. The deadlock emerged in 1971 when the United States supported the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan and India in its response signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. India had earlier refused to be part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in 1974 it conducted what it called a “peaceful nuclear test” which led to loud protests from the United States. The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the Soviet Union and the American support to the Mujahudins by using Pakistan as a base led to further alienation of India from the United States.

During the 1970s and the 1980s, the Soviet Union had been India’s biggest trade and investment partner. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 came as a big shock for India’s external financial sector, coupled with the newly enacted economic reforms that compelled India to chart out a different foreign policy. The United States had emerged as the sole superpower, this compelled India to further its engagement with it. The opening up of the Indian economy led to rapid economic growth in the mid-1990s this attracted the United States as it saw India as a potential market and investment destination. The Pokhran test led to some temporary setbacks in the emerging relations but due to a continuous dialogue between the two countries, the United States realized that it was necessary for India to have nuclear weapons as it had two nuclear-armed hostile neighbours.

The arrival of the twenty-first century brought new energy and scope for partnership between the two countries. The United States of America became worried about the rapid growth of China and realised its threat to the American influence in the Indo-Pacific. It saw India as a possible responsible balancer in this region. The attack of 9/11 led to further cooperation among them for a global war on terrorism. Pakistan was pressured to take steps to reduce terrorism on its soil. The biggest boost was the nuclear deal signed in 2008 by the Bush administration and the UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Sign. This deal ended the thirty-year-old nuclear sanctions imposed on India by the United States. The US recognised India as a responsible nuclear power that would not proliferate. It opened up India’s nuclear equipment market. The most significant aspect of the deal would be the assistance to develop civil nuclear energy which would be a much-needed boost for India’s woeful power generation sector. This deal opened the gates for further technology transfer related to military hardware and weapons.

Clean Energy and Climate Change Cooperation

In the last decade climate change and clean energy have been the talk of the town. Both of them cannot be pursued independently by any country without any cooperation with other countries. This is because of the high interconnectedness and dependence that has increased over time. India and the United  States are one of the world’s biggest economies. This has led to significantly more net carbon emissions and a high presence of greenhouse gasses in both of them. The United States is considered a world leader in the sphere of clean energy technology. On the other hand, India is on a path to increase the share of renewable energy in its power generation sector. It plans to make the utmost use of the abundant solar and wind energy capacity that it possesses. The United States has a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and India has to achieve it by 2070.

Even though there should be no debate in regard to the necessity of cooperation among them, there has been a history of conflicts, debates and disagreements with regard to climate change. The First World has put an onus on developing countries( like India) to reduce their carbon emissions as they have emerged as significant polluters due to their recent years of rapid economic growth. On the other hand, Global South has put the responsibility on developed countries first to put their house in order as they have been historical pollutants and now are forcing the developing countries to take responsibility when they themselves have been evading it for decades. This has been the scenario right from  Rio to Paris conferences.

However, there are several instances of collaboration among them. Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) was formed in 2009 with several US-based government agencies working to develop and finance renewable energy projects in India. It has established a Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre to promote solar, wind, biofuel and other forms of renewable energy. Clean Energy Acces Network (CLEAN) comprising not-for-profit organisations, businesses and governments has come together to promote innovation in the renewable energy sector, generate finance and advocate climate change mitigation policies. U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the Gujarat Energy Transmission Corporation Limited (GETCO) have collaborated to ensure efficient loading of the newly built solar and wind energy into the large power transmission grid. The United States private sector has also shown interest in the project, with Quanta Technology participating in it. A climate change working group had been formed post-Paris summit in order to encourage sustainable development, afforestation, energy efficiency, smart grid developments, etc.  

The recent visit by the Prime Minister to the United States has culminated in forming of India-US New and Emerging Renewable Energy Technologies Action Platform which will work together in fields like onshore and offshore wind energy, green hydrogen and many such technologies. The major focus of this platform would be to reduce the cost of green energy production. A Global Biofuel alliance has been announced with the United States being the founding member. United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Indian Railways has signed a memorandum of understanding under which the United States will deploy several technologies for renewable energy, and energy storage technologies to help the Indian railways achieve its target of becoming a net zero carbon emitter by 2030. The deployment and manufacturing of electric buses; the development of small-scale modular nuclear reactors are also points on the card for both countries. An innovative investment platform has been formed to attract private finance and capital for deploying in sectors of battery storage, renewable energy, etc.

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Author : Shashwat Oza