US-India Relations and Lessons for the Philippines
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Amicable relations between India and US trace back to the Democratic Party government spearheaded by Barack Obama. The partnership was mainly focused on the security, energy, and technological fronts which eventually expanded through bilateral economic engagement and people-to-people exchanges. The relationship has now evolved to a global strategic partnership based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on regional and global issues. The evolution of this relationship can be credited to the foreign policies of both the countries.
India’s foreign policy has evolved since the Nehruvian era encompassing the Non-Aligned position to its recent engagements with foreign powers beyond its neighborhood. Among other things India’s foreign policy is now based on 5 pillars: Conventional Security involving hard power relations and partnerships; Economic Growth stemming from the internally driven socialist ideology and the subsequent policies ‘Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization reforms of 1991’ to open up to foreign powers and its recent impetus to establish a base for supply chains; Energy Security given that it imports 70% of its oil and 50% of its gas; Nuclear Capability and Non- Proliferation given its unpredictable neighbors and; Prestige Security as India aims to take its “rightful” place at the global arena by building a strategic stature and leadership among other things.
Given such a stance, India has reinvigorated bilateral ties and enhanced cooperation through its mottos, “Chalein Saath Saath” (Forward Together We Go) and “Sanjha Prayas, Sab ka Vikas" (Shared Effort, Progress for All), adopted during the first two summits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama in September 2014 and January 2015 respectively. Following this was the summit-level joint statement issued in June 2016 addressing Washington and Delhi as “Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century”. Such is the multifaceted cooperation covering trade and investment, defense and security, education, science and technology, cyber security, high-technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture, health and people-to-people interaction, among other things. Further encouraging this engagement is the regular exchange of high-level political visits discussing the way ahead, involving strategic consultations, civil nuclear cooperation resolving ongoing disputes, defense cooperation through drills, joint exercises, personal exchanges, etc. The duo has also taken up initiatives to tackle terrorism, enhance internal security, and instill cultural cooperation.
As claimed by experts, India-US relations flourished under President Donald Trump. Due credit to such relations is to be given to the collective rivalry against China resulting in the development of a shared approach to a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. With the onslaught of the pandemic accompanying a change in leadership at Washington, there seem to be new developments between the duo. As is customary, the change in Washington’s’ White House seems to have pushed analysts to rethink the relationship between the duo. Although the leadership at New Delhi welcomed Joe Biden’s spectacular victory with enthusiasm while signaling the establishment of better relations, only time will decide the future discourse.
Washington and Delhi’s leadership has undeniably deepened given the challenge posed by the pandemic. Now, the duo seems to have focused on vaccine diplomacy among other areas. It is imperative for countries to establish friendly relations with India given that it is the world’s pharmaceutical giant. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, nailed Covid-19 vaccinations as a key dimension of ties during the Biden presidency. Among other arenas of cooperation, Blinken underscored India as Washington's preeminent partner in the Indo-Pacific region and emphasized on the importance of working together to enhance regional cooperation, including through the Quad. Given the massive rise of cases in India with the second strain, India’s healthcare set up have taken a heavy blow with hospitals being overburdened, medicines being overpriced accompanied by a massive rise in COVID deaths which stands at a total of 3.5 Lakhs (355,374), although many claim it to be an understatement. At this point in time, the meeting with Washington focused mostly on India’s requirements of medical supplies comprising oxygen, Remdesivir, and vaccines given that the United States had earlier stalled the supply of vaccine raw materials to India, in order to focus on domestic self-sufficiency first.
The pandemic has placed the duo’s relationship under vaccine diplomacy but the other areas of cooperation include conversations involving the analysis of India’s immediate and extended neighborhood and the UNSC agenda, as India has ascended the council as non-permanent member. Analysts observing the change in America’s foreign policy have remarked that it has evolved from the antiquated friend-or-foe classification, under which transgressions by a “friend” or an “ally” were overlooked if the country was helpful to US self-interests, to one where a country’s stance on an issue has become the categorizing principle and not the country.
At this point in time, it is obligatory for India to adapt to this paradigm shift to remain a US ally. But Blinken clarified the remarks and called it “arguably the most important relationship that we have in the world. Going forward it’s going to shape a lot of the future that we all live in and increasingly that relationship has some adversarial aspects to it. It has competitive ones and it also still has cooperative ones.” Through this he states that US’s engagement is issue-based (with human rights and national security taking a higher stance) and can be characterized by competition, cooperation, and confrontation.
With the new framework at hand strengthened by technocracy via smart sanctions, America will be engaging with countries on parallel lines with a multifaceted engagement instead of labelling them as friend or foe. The leadership at Delhi will thus have to carefully curate and develop policies in order to adapt to America’s policy especially along the lines of human rights, as India ranked 111th out of 162 countries as per the Human Freedom Index 2020, in order to stay on Washington’s good side.
In the Philippine context, the country is due to internalize the need to shift its thinking and go beyond remaining a US ‘ally’. The relationship between the duo has faced turbulence as President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to end US Visiting Forces Agreement. If the Philippines chooses to remain an ally to Washington similar to India, it must expect to be called out for issues in contravention to the core policy interests of the Biden administration, i.e, human rights. The Philippines is oscillating between the major powers: the United States and China. President Duterte wields the most power to steer and decide on how the country must pursue its foreign policy relations between the two major powers. He needs to carefully weigh investments from China, Chinese incursions and interventions, and military ties with the US before he makes a decision that’ll not just affect the Philippines but also the stability of the whole region.
Srimedha Bandi is a Foreign Policy and International Affairs Enthusiast. Her research interests range from Peace and Security Studies to Maritime geopolitics, India’s Diplomatic Engagements and Domestic Political Affairs. She is an undergraduate student of Economics and Political Science at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She looks forward to exploring the fields of public policy and diplomacy while trying to unpack world dynamics and comprehend global interconnectedness.