THE BLOG

US-India Relations Under the Second Obama Administration

What's ahead for US-India relations now that President Obama has won reelection? With ties between Washington and New Delhi continuing to flourish over the past four years, the US-India bilateral partnership will likely be characterized by continuity and growth during a second Obama term. The fundamental pillars underlying President Obama's foreign policy towards India--strengthening security and military cooperation, boosting trade, and encouraging New Delhi's collaboration on various regional and global issues--will remain largely intact.

The US-India strategic partnership has thrived during Obama's first administration. Initial concerns from some Indian officials that the newly elected president would "re-hyphenate" relations with New Delhi, prioritize ties with China, insert the US in the Kashmir dispute, and view India exclusively through an Af/Pak lens proved unfounded. On the contrary, President Obama quickly established himself a reliable champion of the bilateral relationship which witnessed Washington and New Delhi expand their engagement in a number of substantive areas.

On the security front, cooperation reached unprecedented levels under Obama's first term. The United States now conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country in the world, while counter-terrorism and intelligence collaboration between the two has increased dramatically following the infamous November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. President Obama has also taken significant steps to relax export-controls to India to allow New Delhi greater access to advanced US technology. Additionally, since 2008, the Obama Administration has approved the sale of more than $8 billion in military equipment from US defense suppliers to New Delhi. Administration officials have described India as the "linchpin" of its strategic rebalancing towards Asia and are relying on New Delhi to play a greater role stabilizing Afghanistan once the US begins its military withdrawal there.

Economically, trade with India is on track to cross the $100 billion mark for the first time, US investment in the country has skyrocketed compared to just a decade ago, and the two sides have worked to conclude a US-India Bilateral Investment Treaty that would further bolster their economic relationship.

These positive trends will likely continue during a second Obama administration. Although the basic contours of US-India ties remain unchanged, reflecting the potent durability of the bilateral relationship, this is not to say that the two countries are in perfect harmony with one another on every issue.

As President Obama embarks on a second term, Washington will want New Delhi to continue reducing its dependence on Iranian oil, implement significant economic reforms that eliminate barriers to foreign investment, and modify liability legislation enacted by the Indian parliament that has precluded the United States and India from realizing the full benefits of the landmark US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement. President George W. Bush signed the historic accord with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 and President Obama moved to quickly implement the deal by concluding a reprocessing agreement with India shortly after taking office.

New Delhi, for its part, will want Washington to resolve the Iran question exclusively through non-military means, resist entering into any formal security pact with the United States that would appear to compromise its inviolable strategic autonomy, and press Washington to make it easier for Indian tech workers to obtain visas to come to the United States.

Yet none of these issues--or any other differences that may remain between the two sides--is capable of arresting the overall upward trajectory of US-India relations. Areas of convergence far exceed areas of disagreement, indicating that earlier misgivings by some observers that bilateral ties had been oversold have been misguided.

President Obama has established himself as an able and effective custodian of the US-India strategic partnership. Although the bipartisan consensus that has emerged in Washington around the importance of deepening ties with India would suggest that US engagement with New Delhi would have continued regardless of whether he had won reelection, President Obama is uniquely well positioned to strengthen the US-India relationship during his second-term. His enduring popularity within India, close relationship with Manmohan Singh, and widespread support amongst the Indian-American community are just some of the distinctive factors that will help ensure ties with New Delhi remain robust and continue to grow over the next four years. If the past is any indicator of what's on the horizon, the future looks bright for US-India relations.

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