The dramatic transformation of US-India relations over the past decade

Reviving the momentum in US engagement with India: an American perspective

From India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs

Headlines last week announced President Barack Obama’s support for India to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This can be recognized as a major foreign policy statement by the United States. The two leaders emphasized US-India ties, saying relations between the two countries would be “one of the century’s defining partnerships”.

This article considers the dramatic transformation of US-India relations over the past decade, and recognizes the positive changes are likely to be long-lasting. This most recent pledge of support from Obama helps maintain the strong momentum established by George Bush. Over the last ten years the US has moved away from a view of suspicion to an attitude of acceptance. For some time India has been perceived as a balancing power in Asia. It is situated in a highly unstable region, and its comparative political, economic and military strength will continue to attract American interest as several of the major threats to the US are a product of the instability in India’s neighborhood. Both nations have some shared goals: each oppose the spread of nuclear weapons. Other areas prioritized to co-operate are likely to be space, cyber space, energy, agriculture, health and nanotechnologies. Beyond that would be the protection of the vital Indian Ocean sea lanes that transport such a large part of the world’s oil and gas resources. The prospects for a stable Indo-US relationship are good as both sides have similar strategic goals in Asia.


Indo-US relations have undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade, and the positive change is likely to be long-lasting. The Obama administration benefits from the strong underlying momentum behind recently improved bilateral relations. While important long-standing differences exist, such as Iran, Pakistan, and nuclear proliferation, these factors are unlikely to destabilize the relationship seriously, as there are important strategic interests that sustain it, as well as strong incentives on both sides to advance the well being of the global commons in space, the oceans, and technology. The Obama administration, however, has not yet been able to sustain the relationship with India at the level achieved under the previous Bush administration. So far, it has yet to come up with a positive emblematic centrepiece comparable to the civil nuclear deal pushed by the Bush administration. In large part, this is due to the greater focus now on terrorism rooted in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where India plays a relatively minor role whereas the Bush administration’s concentrated on India’s role as a balancing power in Asia. The challenge of the Obama and Manmohan Singh administrations is to come up with a big idea that prompts both sides to invest the political capital to reset the relationship.

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Article details

Andersen, W. (2010). Reviving the Momentum in US Engagement with India: An American Perspective India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, 66 (1), 13-33 DOI: 10.1177/097492841006600102

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