In the context of the India-U.S. bilateral relationship, “There is a need to minimise differences and maximise opportunities” said Lt. Gen (Retd.) D S Hooda, former General Officer Commanding- in-Chief, Indian Army’s Northern Command. He was speaking at a virtual workshop, titled
“India-U.S. Geopolitical Relations: Past, Present and Future” which saw distinguished panellists addressing thematic issues relating to the bilateral partnership, with a special focus on defence ties.”
The workshop was organised by CUTS International under the Defense News Conclave Project, being implemented with the support of the U.S. State Department (U.S. Consulate Kolkata). This project aims at creating awareness about the importance of India-U.S. defense relations, particularly in the context of contemporary developments in the Indo-Pacific region.
Gen. Hooda spoke about recent geopolitical events and accompanying strategic realignments, and their consequences in terms of the challenges and opportunities for the India-U.S. relationship. He noted that the India-U.S. partnership is strong today, driven by a recognition of the need to work together to handle geopolitical challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and a rising China.
He pointed out three geopolitical challenges that the relationship will have to navigate – (1) the differences over positions on the Russia-Ukraine war, driven by India’s strategic autonomy; (2) the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover, which has the potential to destabilise the region; and (3) India-China relations, which have deteriorated over the past two years.
Gen. Hooda observed that, “India will like to manage its relations with China in a manner that does not result in open hostilities”, noting that while this did throw open opportunities for grouping like the Quad, it also meant that India would not join U.S.-led alliances.
Raymond Vickery, Senior Adviser, Albright Stonebridge Group, stated that 1991 was a crucial year for the India-U.S. strategic relationship, being the year the Soviet Union collapsed and India opened up its economy – therefore creating a window for India and the U.S. to cooperate across the board.
While the period from 1947-1991 saw relations fluctuating, including many ups and downs, the trajectory of the relationship since 1991 is noteworthy. He pointed to the period from 2005-2008 being a great breakthrough, when the Civil Nuclear deal was put in place, which was in essence more about the strategic relationship than about civil nuclear cooperation.
Vickery opined that there was a tension between India’s foreign policy and strategic posture. He emphasised that the “strategic values of defending democracy, having non-aggression, building
peace and stability, rule of law, is a very strong factor”, and that the strategic convergence between India and the U.S. should not be restricted to views on border and territorial concerns, but also be on thebroader question of values.
Anit Mukherjee, Associate Professor, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, stated, on the other hand, that as opposed to values, the issues which bring India and the U.S. together are interests alone. While the interests don’t align perfectly, Mukherjee observed that “best friendships are shaped by the interests that bind them”, and for India and the U.S., the interests align mainly because of shared concerns of a rising China.
On bilateral defence ties, he noted that the military-military and defense relationship has been growing from strength to strength, across areas if defence trade and joint military exercises.
Mukherjee also stated that at the government-to government level, there is a fair degree of open speak and engagement in the India-U.S. relationship, where they are talking honestly about the things that both divide and unite them.
Swasti Rao, Associate Fellow, MP-IDSA, discussed the evolving multilateralism in the Indo- Pacific region, nothing that the various coalitions in the Indo-Pacific address both threat perceptions as well as larger normative goals (climate change, resilient supply chains, green energy, COVID-19 vaccines etc.). In her view, the Transatlantic and the Indo-Pacific security architectures are merging, driven by geopolitical changes. Rao also spoke at length on the role of Europe in the evolving landscape.
Overall, she emphasised the need to “declutter the crowded, complex space of initiatives in the Indo-Pacific.” Pointing out that no two countries can have an identical foreign policy and a complete convergence of interests, she stressed on the imperative of mapping conferences.
Delivering the vote of thanks, Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International thanked the speakers and audience for their enthusiastic participation. Giving an overview of the workshop series and the roadmap for further activities under this project, he also spoke on the future of the India-U.S. relationship. He highlighted that in the coming decades, the way forward would be for the two great democracies of the world to work together, and show that democracies not just can, but will deliver.
The virtual session saw enthusiastic participation, with over forty participants joining to hear experts deliberate on these issues. This was the final virtual workshop under this series, which have been conceptualised as capacity-building sessions for medi professionals, so that they can have a more informed view of defense and strategic matters.
With its headquarters in Jaipur, India,CUTS International has regional centres in Accra, Lusaka and Nairobi covering West, Southern and East Africa. Besides them, it has centres in Hanoi, Geneva and Washington DC. In India, it has a regional centre in Kolkata, a rural development centre in Chittorgarh and a liaison office in New Delhi.
Report – Pratyusha Mukherjee