India emerged from the post-colonial era as the largest independent democracy in the world. One in seven people born in this world are born in India—actually, the number’s a little more than one in seven. India has nuclear weapons. India has the largest potential consumer base. Despite all of these, India is often overshadowed in discussions of US foreign policy. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been characterized as a “pivot to Asia,” which focuses on the administration’s focus on East Asia, but ignores the future of India-US relations.
Almost immediately after Indian independence, talks between American and Indian leaders commenced. President Truman was the first to receive Indian President Nehru, and President Eisenhower was the first US President to visit newly independent India. Like many relationships cultivated in WWII and the years immediately after, it didn’t take long for the US-Indian relationship to get sucked into Cold War tensions. When President Carter enacts the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, aimed at containing the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly to prevent them from spreading to communist countries, India refuses to comply, and tensions reach an all-time high. The source of those tensions, mainly India’s nuclear development and plans, continued to plague US-Indian relations. Despite those tensions, though, meetings between heads of state continued. In the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, India and the United States signed a new Defense Framework for counterterrorism efforts.
More recently, the United States has begun to pay even more attention to the behemoth that is India with its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Washington closely watched the May 2014 elections that saw politician Narendra Modi rise to the position of Prime Minister. Since Modi took office, he has visited the United States (after having his previously revoked visa reinstated), and now President Barack Obama plans a visit with Modi on India’s Republic day—the day when Indians celebrate the creation of their sovereign state. When Modi ascended the ranks of Indian politics, he brought with him the baggage of anti-Muslim accusation, but he also brought about a break with the ruling family of the past (leading back to President Nehru). With new common interests, and fresh leaders on both sides, where does this leave US-Indian relations moving forward?
First, the United States and India have room for economic growth. According to a September Report by Brookings Institute, the bilateral economic relationship between the two countries did grow over the past decade. Even though the US is India’s largest trading partner, the potential consumer base in India still hasn’t been tapped, and India still trails China regarding trade with the United States. Prime Minister Modi has mentioned throughout his campaign and afterwards that growth—of trade, India’s middle class, and the economy in general—is one of his top priorities. That focus on growth, and the possibilities that exist for developing even more trade relationships with the US, is the tie that might be the key to the future of US-Indian relations.
The United States can be quick to forgive friends and enemies when its economic interests are concerned. Growing the economic relationships between the United States and India is integral to the future of both countries, and has the potential to be mutually beneficial. Additionally, the strategic geographic position of India is important to US counter-terrorism defense. The goals of national security and economic interest are sufficient to bind the United States and India together for the long-term. The future of US-Indian relations is in the money to be made, and the lives to be improved.