Contradictions Complexities


The India-US relationship is one of cooperation, yet also one of contradictions. There is visible cooperation on the ground, in areas ranging from trade to technology and defence. But the US appears reluctant to help India build a broad military industrial base. Its policies in the region present complexities and challenges for India. BY Vice Admiral Venkat Bharathan(IN) Retd.

Nation building and its management is intrinsic in the charter of our elected representatives. National security and foreign policy are integral to developing, rejuvenating and sustaining our sovereignty. This is the apparent and very obvious truth, known to you all.

Global changes in the context of geo-politics, world trade order, shifting international and regional Interests, the ominous rise of radical Islam, improvement in India-Bangladesh relationships, China’s strident posture, its military strength and the yet to be resolved impasse on our borders; Pakistan’s volatility and Afghanistan’s instability, are dominant factors impacting India. Where does and where America-India relations would or could become strategic catalytic factors in elevating the South Asian sub-continent into a more stable platform and focus on economic growth, human development and regional peace, Is also an imperative question.


The sub-continent presents an intransigent impasse across sovereignty, security, trade and inter/intra-regional relationships. On the ground, illegal migration, smuggling, NGO activities and cultural interactions continue unabated. A notional SAARC now and then inches up to dialogue and some discussion. Yet it is nowhere near bringing in a consensus on acceptable effective changes for the greater good of the region.

American Awkwardness in the region is never as dire as it is today. Pakistan feels betrayed and let down by US actions including and especially the killing of Osama Bin Laden on its own soil by US Navy Seals; the AF Pak and US led NATO forces contrarian positions in Afghanistan, drone strikes and growing US India cooperation are illustrative examples. Antagonism or ambivalence about America is the prevailing sentiment among the Pakistani people!

India is learning to be silent on the paradoxical US-Pakistan relationship. The failure of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to restrain the Pakistan Army (and ISI), let alone control the former is becoming increasingly evident. India cannot comprehend the aspect of continuing US aid and support to Pakistan despite all its internal and external transgressions. Will there be yet another coup in Pakistan is also an open ended question!

Afghan Angst is past, present and future. The imminent withdrawal of US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan, with high probability of a Taliban take over; India- Pakistan imbroglio over anything and everything; the possibility of an insidious Chinese influence in a Taliban dominant Afghanistan are realities that have neither answers nor any possibility of dialogue. ISIS inroads in Iraq and Syria are stark reminders of what awaits the region. By default or design, US India dialogue on cooperation seeks to be rather passive on the impending Afghan implosion post US/NATO military withdrawal.


Americans like Agreements and Articulations. Indians love Arrangements and Adjustments. The former likes commitment, while the latter operates in diffused accountability of a tentative collectiveness in decision making. Despite these, it is enigmatically remarkable that America India relations continue to rise above and beyond expectations

Differing Patterns of National Security & Governance in India America

The military is inherent in American governance and national security. The Indian military is expedient in both internal and external security. It is also stands outside of governance. This stark divergence in both democracies continues to hinder and hamper significant aspects of security and optimizing military cooperation.

A ready recent example is the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) between the two countries. Military cooperation and exercises have increased in scope along with some international dimensions. In more ways than one, these have enabled greater understanding between America and India and has helped FMS sales of $9 billion in the last eight years. Yet, America is far removed from helping India become a Builders Military mainly due to:

-Lack of professional military understanding by both our polity and bureaucracy

-The military not becoming a much needed proactive part of the Indo US Security and Military dialogue and limited only to discussing aspects of conducting military to military cooperation exercises

-DRDO and Indian Armed Forces not having an integral approach towards progressive self reliance strategies across low, medium and high technologies

-The Indian ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Home and Finance lacking a cohesive, collaborative, integrated and institutionalized policy, strategy and consequently the organization towards “Make In India”

-The Indian DNA of neither fostering nor developing an inclusive holistic approach in our relations with any other country, let alone America India relations.


The Indian diaspora has made positive inroads into positions of decision and influence in the government, major business houses, financial and commercial entities. America too, is conscious of the objective relationship value add that this brings to the discussion table. India is yet to maximize what this can do towards the bilateral relationship. NRI investments and also their ability to bring US small and large Industry along with their monies (that is already part of PM Modi’s approach) has to be formalized into a policy action plan

The 5th Strategic Dialogue blessed by the leadership of both countries to repair the political and business relationship track in education, defence commerce and energy cooperation is getting more focused attention.


Most important, India needs to become a Builder’s Military from a Buyer’s Military. America has the bandwidth and capability to help India become competently self-reliant and technologically advanced with combat preparedness. India can also repair and prepare, upgrade its defective and aging assets in a cost effective manner to reduce operational and maintenance hollowness.

India has private and public assets to transition to a Military Industrial complex sooner than later. America is a Technology Civilization that can enable India to learn and earn this transformation. Of course it would take time, effort and investment to prepare and ready India to become self-reliant in the true sense of the word. This new foot print of a US-India military cooperative relationship can only add to the eclectic nature of India’s military construct and infrastructure. It would be inclusive of all other countries already in India. This is perhaps the unwitting or witting wisdom of an American-Indian Balance of “Acceptance and Expectation”.

It is a unique opportunity for strategy and commerce to co-exist without the temper of turbulence associated in such arrangements. Both the aye and nay sayers have to come together on both sides to nurture Attention to Intention. Only then can America India relations evolve into a relationship from cooperation to partnership.


The Indian Ocean is a bridging waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific. The American proposal is to build a South Asia–ASEAN economic corridor that would bring immense regional strategic and economic benefit. It would also hopefully bring down tensions in the South China Sea. It is also a harbinger for the Indo-Pacific corridor that Washington is pushing. The UK, Russia and China have all expressed interest in building corridors with India. Japan being already in the corridor should give greater comfort to the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan in the context of the disputes over the islands in that sea!


There is tacit support for India to be a member in the modified UN Security Council and for India’s phased entry into the Multilateral Export Control Regimes.

A mutually calibrated mature US India dialogue that takes into account the statics and stagnancies, their causes and effects, the opportunities offered by kinetics and flow is the optimal way ahead.

India and America need each other, above and beyond the narrow confines of diplomatic visits and regional geo-politics. Their elevation from present cooperation to several umbrella partnership arrangements within the limits of their Interests and threats, is in itself a catalytic process of lessening military conflicts, containing radicalism and countering terrorism.

Consequent collateral advantages of being able to focus more on regional cooperation, trade/economic development, health, education and improving state of human securities need to be impressed upon the polity of the region.

A step-by-step approach to deepening bilateral trade and investment to make a free-trade agreement possible at some point in the future may be the most effective way to advance each country’s specific geopolitical interests. Such an approach would incrementally tackle challenges to a comprehensive agreement, and it would best serve India’s development aspirations and buttress the United States’ international pre-eminence


Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

India and America need each other, above and beyond the narrow confines of diplomatic visits and regional geo-politics. Their elevation from present cooperation to several umbrella partnership arrangements within the limits of their Interests and threats


  • The India-US political relationship has never been better yet the cooperation and collaboration in other areas has been limited
  • US policies towards Pakistan have complicated India’s situation by deepening the contradictions in the region
  • Nor has the US been very cooperative in helping India build a broad military technical industrial base, they prefer to keep selling equipment
  • Yet there is hope in that both sides recognize their need of each other and want to explore new dynamics
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