India-US Relations

The geopolitical landscape post the Cold War era witnessed a seismic shift that significantly influenced the trajectory of India-US relations. This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of the historical background, ongoing challenges, and multifaceted areas of collaboration that characterize this strategic partnership.

Historical Background

Before the transformative year of 1991, India and the United States, despite both being the oldest and largest democracies, maintained a certain detachment. India’s non-alignment and independent foreign policy during the Cold War era created tensions. However, with the end of the Cold War, a paradigm shift occurred, setting the stage for improved relations. Subsequently, each U.S. president has made a historic visit to India, underscoring the evolving nature of this diplomatic relationship.

Key Milestones

Several pivotal moments underscore the metamorphosis of India-US relations:

  • The 9/11 attacks in 2001 redefined the global security landscape, prompting increased collaboration between the two nations.
  • The India–U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement, known as the 123 agreement, finalized in 2008, allowed India access to civilian nuclear trade by separating its military and civilian facilities, placing the latter under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The deal aimed to enhance energy cooperation between the two countries and boost India’s nuclear capabilities. This deal marked a watershed moment in the strategic partnership.
  • The ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership Agreement’ in 2020 solidified the multifaceted collaboration, encompassing diplomatic, economic, and defense dimensions.

Challenges in the Relationship


  • The U.S. has labeled India as the ‘tariff king’ due to its imposition of significantly high import duties.
  • Former President Trump terminated India’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) scheme. This scheme, designed to foster economic development, allows duty-free entry for numerous products from specified beneficiary countries.

Intellectual Property:

  • The United States continues to express concerns about India’s intellectual property (IP) regime.
  • India has once again been placed on the “Special 301” Priority Watch List by the U.S.

India and Russia Relations:

  • The S-400 missile system deal and other defense collaborations between India and Russia are noteworthy, particularly in the context of the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversary through Sanctions Act). This U.S. federal law imposes sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
  • India’s stance on Russia during the Ukraine crisis remains a significant aspect of the complex relationship.

Areas of Cooperation

Amidst challenges, various domains showcase the depth of collaboration:

Defense Cooperation: 

Joint Military Exercises:

  • Participation in the Malabar Naval Exercise
  • Engagement in Vajra Prahar
  • Involvement in Yuddha Abhyas
  • Active participation in the PASSEX Exercise
  • Contribution to the Tri-Lateral Exercise – Tiger Trumph
  • High-level ‘2+2’ foreign and defense ministers dialogue

Bilateral Agreements:

  • Establishment of GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) in 2002
  • Adoption of LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in 2016
  • Enactment of COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018
  • Signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on 27 October, 2020
  • Implementation of the Industrial Security Annex, fostering greater collaboration between the private defense industries of both countries

Multilateral Engagement:

  • Active participation in the QUAD, a collaborative effort involving India, the U.S., Japan, and Australia in the realm of defense and security. Even both the countries are also a part of IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association).

Political Cooperation: 

The U.S. staunchly supports India’s permanent candidature in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership.

Energy Cooperation: 

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal of 2006 and the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue on Energy in 2018 exemplify collaborative efforts in the energy sector.

Economic Cooperation: 

The USA is a significant source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for India, and both countries are vital trading partners.

Current Collaborative Initiatives

  • 2021 – U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership 
  • Quad in-person meeting in Sep 2021 and Foreign Affairs Minister Meeting in March 2022. 
  • 4th Edition of 2+2 dialogue organized in April 2022. 
  • Quad security dialogue 

Recent Agreements and Developments

One significant milestone in India-US relations is the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on October 27, 2020. This agreement focuses on the exchange of geospatial information, enhancing operational efficiency for U.S. platforms operated by India. The BECA comes amid heightened geopolitical tensions, particularly deteriorating U.S.-China relations and the India-China border clash in the Galwan Valley.

Latest News Highlights

In recent developments:

  • The USA appreciated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement to Russian President Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, emphasizing that “it’s not an era of war.”
  • India expressed objection to the USA’s decision to provide a $450 million package for the sustenance and maintenance of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar questioned the merits of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership, emphasizing that such support had “not served” either country.

Scholarly Perspectives

Views from scholars offer nuanced insights into the complex nature of India-US relations:

  • David Malone reflects on the historical context, stating that the relations between the world’s oldest and largest democracies have been a saga of “50 wasted years.”
  • Former Prime Minister Vajpayee envisioned India and the U.S. as “Natural Allies” in 2003.
  • David Malone metaphorically describes the India-US relationship as “like the proverbial blind man and elephant trying to understand each other.”
  • C. Raja Mohan, in the context of the Modi era, notes that a “new chapter has started” after numerous false dawns.
  • Prof. Amitabh Mattoo observes that India’s alignment with the U.S. in the Modi era is a “WOW moment,” indicating a significant departure from past attitudes.


The foundation of the U.S.-India partnership rests on shared values such as the rule of law and democratic principles. Despite challenges, the trajectory of this relationship seems poised for continued growth in strategic, political, security, defense, and economic terms. The evolving dynamics require both nations to formulate realistic expectations and share the burden of ensuring security in the Asian region. The future of India-USA relations holds promise, as the two nations navigate complex geopolitical landscapes and work towards mutual prosperity and stability.

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