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US-Indian relations: strengthened by shared threats and interests

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The United States and India are the two largest democratic countries in the world. More importantly, the two countries have a common potential enemy, China. The United States fears that China will supplant its influence and role as a world power, while India fears a threat from China in terms of geopolitical security and because of a historical animosity between them. Due to the common interests and threats, many reasons have been raised to promote the relationship between the two great powers to become global and comprehensive strategic partners. 

The United States seeks to understand India’s concerns and draw this great power into its allies, while India seeks to strengthen its role in the world, develop itself, and maintain its autonomy, sovereignty, and preservation of its national interest through the principles of a multi-polar world order. 

US-India relations began in 1947, after India gained independence from Britain. Although not cohesive, their relationship was less contentious for the first 50 years of their ties. From 1949 until the early 1970s, the United States desperately needed India because at that time the Cold War between the United States and China and the Soviet Union was raging everywhere, especially when the United States went to war on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. 

During this time, US and Indian leaders exchanged visits, especially with the great US human rights activist Martin Luther King, to study Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent approach to leading the struggle to end discrimination in the US. During the Sino-Indian War in 1962, the United States and India joined forces against China by declaring support for the Dalai Lama and organizing bloody demonstrations in Tibet against the Chinese government.  In addition, American scientists have helped train Indians in science and technology. 

However, due to concerns from China and Pakistan, India could not completely trust the United States, having to maintain relations with the Soviet Union, the second largest power in the Cold War. In this sense, India declared itself neutral and, in the middle, did not turn to the US to oppose the Soviets, nor did the Soviets turn to the US to oppose the US. 

In the early 1970s, war broke out between India and Pakistan. Because Pakistan was a Chinese ally, the United States leaned toward Pakistan after turning to communist China to oppose the Soviet Union in 1967. India was beginning to feel overwhelmed and anxious as the United States, a close friend of India for 24 years, turned to China and Pakistan, two of which are India’s biggest enemies.

This fear led India to decide to end its neutrality by turning to a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union. 1974 – Due to security concerns and with the help of the Soviet Union, India strives to successfully build and test nuclear warheads for the first time. The nuclear test has drawn international condemnation and prompted the United States to suspend ties with India.

Although the United States did not like India, and India did not trust the United States, they saw mutual benefits. In 1978, the United States tried to rally both India and China against the Soviet Union, with US President Jimmy Carter visiting India. Another reason was that the United States can not abandon India, because India, like Japan, is an important tactic for the United States to deter China.

In 1978, the United States urged India to sign an agreement on non-proliferation, but it was rejected by India due to concerns from China and Pakistan. Suddenly, in 1989, US-China relations began to strain, with the United States forcing China to change its political system and inciting mass protests against China. In other words, the United States approached China in 1971 to oppose the Soviet Union, but when the Soviet Union began to weaken, the United States turned to force China to follow its path. The United States re-aligned with India to oppose China as the Soviet Union and China began to curb the American wave of democracy. From 1947 until now, relations between India and the Soviet Union have not changed as much as US-India relations.

India continued to try to maintain relations with both the Soviet Union and the United States due to threats from China and Pakistan. In 1990, the United States intervened to prevent India and Pakistan from escalating into a nuclear war. In 1991, Indian leaders began their economic reforms. Since 2000, after nearly 50 years of India-US relations, they have become increasingly close due to geopolitics, security, shared interests, and common values of the political system.

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and China began to rise steadily. At the beginning of the 21st century, while proud of its political system, the United States began to face new crises: the war on terror and the war for expansion of power in the Middle East. Therefore, for the United States, India is valued for its cooperation in security, maritime strategy, economics, energy, and counter-terrorism.

US-India relations are beginning to improve, especially since 2005, when the two countries signed an agreement on a new US-India security relationship scheme. In 2008, with the help of the United States, the Indian spacecraft landed on the moon. At the end of 2008, a major terrorist attack took place in Mumbai, India. 

In 2009, India visited the United States, which coincided with US policy under the new Obama administration focused on the war on terror. Due to China’s steady increase in economic and military influence, both regionally and globally, and as China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, the United States has launched a US-India strategic dialogue for the first time in 2010.

In 2010, Obama also announced his support for India as a candidate for the UN Permanent Security Council. In 2015, due to China’s expanding military influence in the South China Sea by building artificial islands, the United States recognized India as a key security partner and signed an agreement to deepen military ties in 2016.

In 2017, India became an Indo-Pacific strategic partner, an ally of the four great democracies united against China. India-US relations have been promoted as a global strategic partnership, focusing on democratic values, security, and common interests, and resolving issues both regionally and globally.

The strengthening of relations between the two countries has been enhanced under the mottos “We move forward together” and “We work together to grow together.” In this sense, even though Russia and the United States are enemies, India continues to maintain good relations with the two great powers.

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