India-U.S. Relations

India is expected to become the world’s most populous country, home to about one of every six people. Many factors combine to infuse India’s government and people with “great power” aspirations: its rich civilization and history; expanding strategic horizons; energetic global and international engagement; critical geography (with more than 9,000 miles of land borders, many of them disputed) astride vital sea and energy lanes; major economy (at times the world’s fastest growing) with a rising middle class and an attendant boost in defense and power projection capabilities (replete with a nuclear weapons arsenal and triad of delivery systems); and vigorous science and technology sectors, among others.

In recognition of India’s increasingly central role and ability to influence world affairs—and with a widely held assumption that a stronger and more prosperous democratic India is good for the United States—the U.S. Congress and three successive U.S. Administrations have acted both to broaden and deepen America’s engagement with New Delhi. Such engagement follows decades of Cold War-era estrangement. Washington and New Delhi launched a “strategic partnership” in 2005, along with a framework for long-term defense cooperation that now includes large-scale joint military exercises and significant defense trade. In concert with Japan and Australia, the United States and India in 2020 reinvigorated a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) as a flagship initiative in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The Biden Administration has strongly embraced the Quad mechanism. In 2021, mutual efforts to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have been at the forefront of bilateral engagement. Bilateral trade and investment have increased, Yet more engagement has meant more areas of friction in the partnership, many of which attract congressional attention. India’s economy, while slowly reforming, continues to be a relatively closed one, with barriers to trade and investment deterring foreign business interests. The recent global health pandemic was damaging to India’s economic progress. Washington also has issues with New Delhi’s cooperative engagements with Russia and Iran, countries where India has long standing equities.

Differences over U.S. immigration law, especially in the area of nonimmigrant work visas, remain unresolved; New Delhi views these as trade disputes. India’s intellectual property protection regime comes under regular criticism from U.S. officials and firms. Other stumbling blocks—on localization barriers and civil nuclear commerce, among others—sometimes cause tensions. Meanwhile, cooperation in the fields of defense trade, intelligence, and counterterrorism, although progressing rapidly and improved relative to that of only a decade ago, runs up against institutional and political obstacles. Moreover, the U.S. Administration and some Members of Congress take notice of human rights issues in India, perhaps especially those related to religious freedom, and most recently regarding changes in the status of India’s Jammu and Kashmir region and to India’s citizenship laws while a relatively wealthy Indian-American community is exercising newfound domestic political influence, and Indian nationals account for a large proportion of foreign students on American college campuses and foreign workers in the information technology sector.    Purchase at Amazon