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#1213, 12 November 2003
Recent Trends in Indo-US Relations
Report of the seminar held on 10 November 2003
N Manoharan, Research Officer, IPCS


P. R. Chari


Stephen Cohen


            In a crisp presentation, Prof Cohen critically looked into recent developments in Indo-US relations over recent decades. According to him India and the United States have moved closer than before; there are absence of strategic rivalries and bilateral relations on various aspects have remarkably improved. A new element of personal ties has come into place in the belief that “there are no permanent interests, but only permanent friends.” US perceive India as an emerging soft power; it is easier to talk to and deal with; there is no threat from it and there is no competition between the two countries. Both are sustained pluralist democracies and they could help order and stability in Asia.


At the same time China and Pakistan continue to intrude into Indo-US relations. China is important to the US; and this importance has increased because of North Korea. Bush continues Clinton’s rapprochement policy of US vis-à-vis China. US did not have a specific Pakistan policy till recently, but 9/11 changed it all. Though Bush has his reservations on Musharraf, there is no alternative. US assistance to Pakistan is not military related, but development-oriented.


Closer economic interdependence between India and the United States is desirable. The FDI from the US has increased; business outsourcing from India has also improved despite its adverse impact on unemployment in the US. Given the fact of electoral influence of Indian Americans in several states, the reach of US political leadership towards India is not surprising.




The interactive session after the lecture elicited the following points




  • India-US relations have entered a qualitatively different phase especially in military cooperation. There are more joint exercises now and many more visits by senior defence decision makers. At the same time there is slow progress in areas like technology transfer. US military’s close association with Pakistan military is a cause for concern in India.


  • India was disappointed with the US ‘war against terrorism’. There is a strong feeling in India that Washington has failed to prevail on Islamabad on cross border terrorism against India. Indians feel that US gives too much primacy to its own interests.


  • The reason for China-US cordiality is not entirely due to the possibility of China acting as a facilitator between Washington and Pyongyang. China has no leverage with North Korea and the former is not in any kind of negotiations. The real reason is the growing economic and trade ties between the two countries.


  • The use of force by the US outside the UN Charter is at odds with the long-term interests of other powers. It also impinges on the India-US relations as this raises possibilities of such US intervention elsewhere.


  • United States should reflect more seriously on Iran. It will be a big mistake if it freezes its relations with Teheran. There are chances of improvement in Indo-US relations in case of improvement in US-Iran relations for various reasons.


Questions and Responses


Q What are possible options other than war in Iraq? There is a school of opinion in the US for greater involvement in Kashmir. What more could be done when almost all possible solutions have been tried?

R War in Iraq is totally different from ‘war on terrorism’. There is emerging a new debate now in the US on the “imposition of democracy”. There is no possibility of absolute democracy in the near future in Iraq. At the same time there is also no possibility of a dictatorship on the Sadam model. As far Kashmir is concerned it can be managed better. A possible American role could be in this direction. There is no question of mediation and not even facilitation. What we need is a forward looking policy.


Q Domestic politics in America is vital in looking at its foreign policy. After 9/11 neo-conservatives have gained ascendancy and its views have gained wider support. Do you see this trend continuing for sometime?

R I can see this trend to continue indefinitely as long as the international environment such as the current one continues. There is a public support for this.


Q India and Pakistan seem unable to come together to arrive at a settlement over Jammu & Kashmir. What overt and covert steps could America take towards this?

R Various options are available. Firstly, all kinds of confidence building measures could be tried out. Secondly, it is better not to propose a particular kind of solution to Kashmir. And thirdly, slow dialogue, accommodation and inclusion of economic diplomacy would work fruitfully.


Q What is your opinion on US-Pakistan military nexus in the light of India-US relations?

R The military will continue to govern Pakistan and will not let anyone govern the country at least for sometime. The military believes that it is the sole defender of the country and does not trust politicians. Washington does not support military rule, but at the same time democracy is not in sight. We understand this ground reality.


Q The situation in Afghanistan has not yet stabilised. Do you see any room for cooperation between India and US in this regard?

R Bringing stability in Afghanistan is a long-term investment. The US has tried to maintain balance by inviting everybody, including India, in developing the war torn country. But Pakistan thinks that Afghanistan is its natural territory of influence. Unless this thinking goes there is a problem in any kind of smooth and sustained involvement of India in Afghanistan.


Q What is the end state of India-US defence cooperation?

R The end state of India-US defence cooperation is one without mutual suspicion. Such a state is a few years away. Now Pentagon is a major protagonist of such cooperation. The focus however should be on technology and economic aspects of defence rather than joint exercises and exchange of visits.


Q There is a mention of dialogue between democracies. How viable is it?

R There is asymmetry in relations between India and the United States. However, if India changes its economic policy it could gradually get away with the asymmetry. India is also culturally strong and Indian Americans are influential.

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