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India US Relations – US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India – Key highlights

India US Relations – US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India – Key highlights


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || US

 Why in the news?

The newly appointed US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s has visited India. The visit is expected to strengthen India-US relationship further.

India-US relations:

  • India-U.S. bilateral relations have developed into a “global strategic partnership”, based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues.
  • The emphasis placed by the Government in India on development and good governance has created opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral ties and enhance cooperation under the motto – “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas” (Shared Effort, Progress for All).
  • Today, the India-U.S. bilateral cooperation is broad-based and multi-sectoral, covering trade and investment, defence and security, education, science and technology, cyber security, high-technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture and health.

India-US relations: Historical timeline

  • The bilateral relations between India and the US is primarily based on shared democratic values and convergence on various bilateral, regional, and global issues.
  • The relationship enjoys strong bipartisan and popular support in both countries. However, the India-US relations have not been smooth in the past. Both countries came together on many occasions but also got away from each other on several key issues.
  • After Independence, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru met with U.S. president Harry S. Truman on a multi-week tour of the United States. However, nothing concrete came out of this visit.
  • Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for national independence, U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. visited India for a month-long tour.
  • President Dwight Eisenhower was the first serving U.S. president to visit the country in 1951.
  • Nine American universities and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) help establish one of the first Indian Institutes of Technology(IIT) at Kanpur under the ‘Kanpur Indo-American Program’.
  • The United States also supported India in the India-China conflict(1962). It also recognised the McMahon line as the border, and provided essential air assistance and arms supplies.
  • Norman Borlaug travelled to India to begin testing high-yield wheat varieties. His collaboration with Indian scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan resulted in the “Green Revolution,” in India paving the way for food security in India.
  • India had criticised the US’ intervention in Vietnam in 1966. This led to the US curbing the grain shipments to India under the Public Law 480 (PL-480) programme.
  • During the 1972 India-Pakistan war, despite evidence of the Pakistan Army’s violence against its own citizens in East Pakistan, the United States sides with Pakistan.
  • India in retaliation signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in August, sharply deviating from its previous position of non-alignment in the Cold War.
  • India detonated its first nuclear device, becoming the first nation outside the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to have declared nuclear capabilities. India again re-detonated the nuclear bomb in 1998 initiating a furious response from the US.
  • The move contributed to a period of estrangement between the United States and India that lasts over two decades.
  • This period of estrangement could only end in the 2000s, when President Bill Clinton visited India and became the first President to visit India after 1978.
  • The Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum is also established during the visit.

India-US: Strategic Partnership:

  • A “Strategic Dialogue” was established in July 2009 during the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India with the objective of strengthening bilateral cooperation across diverse sectors.
  • India participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in August 2016.
  • India was also recognised by the US as a “major defence partner” in 2016.
  • As a consequence, India has been elevated to the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 list in 2018. This allows India to import high-end sensitive technologies like armed drones.
  • The US has also recently changed US-Pacific Command to the ‘US-Indo-Pacific Command’ and agreement of first tri-service exercise.

Areas of Cooperation: India and the US has a large number of areas for mutual cooperation and assistance.  Some of the prominent areas of cooperation are mentioned below:

  • Economic Relations: The United States is one of India’s largest direct investors. India has always had a trade surplus with the US. The US also accounts for one-third of all Foreign Portfolio Investments into India
    • The trade surplus has widened from USD 5.2 billion in 2001-02 to USD 17.3 billion in 2019-20. Trade surplus had peaked at USD 21.2 billion in 2017-18 and has moderated to some extent.
    • In 2019-20, India exported goods worth USD 53 billion to the US – that’s roughly 17% of all Indian exports that year and imported goods worth USD 35.7 billion in return – that’s roughly 7.5% of all Indian imports.
    • India became the third Asian nation to be granted Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status by the United States. STA-1 enables the export of high-technology products in civil space and defence from the US to India..
  • Military and defence cooperation: The U.S.-India defence relationship has grown over the last decade to become a key component of the overall bilateral partnership.
    • Both countries had signed a new framework for Defense Cooperation in 2005. The Defence Framework Agreement was updated and renewed for another 10 years in June 2015.
    • The US is the second biggest exporter for Indian military equipment after Russia.
    • India now holds more annual military exercises with the United States than any other country, cumulative defence sales have grown from virtually zero to more than $8 billion and high-level exchanges on defense issues have increased substantially.
    • India conducts several joint military exercises with the US. Eg: Yudh Abhyas, Shatrujeet, Vajra Prahar, Tiger Triumph,,
    • Only recently, Indian naval ships on Monday conducted a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the United States Navy’s USS Nimitz carrier strike group near the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) islands.


  • In 2015, both the governments had announced the launch of Promoting Energy Access through Clean Energy (PEACE) – a new tract under the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE).
  • Under PACE, Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre (JCERDC) was also established.
  • Recently the US has become the second biggest exporter for Indian Oil after Iraq.
  • The India–United States Civil Nuclear Agreement also referred to as the “123 Agreement”, signed in 2008 is a bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation which governs civil nuclear trade between American and Indian firms to participate in each other’s civil nuclear energy sector.
  • Only recently, India and the US signed an agreement to “strengthen bilateral security and civil nuclear cooperation” including the construction of six American nuclear reactors in India.

Science and Technology(S&T)

  • The India-U.S. S&T cooperation has been steadily growing under the framework of U.S.-India Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement signed in October 2005.
  • There is an Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Joint Commission, co-chaired by the Science Advisor to the U.S. President and Indian Minister of S&T.
  • The India-U.S. Technology Summit takes place annually every year with participation from both countries.
  • India and the USA have also established a ‘Science and Technology Endowment Fund’.
  • NASA and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) continue to make progress on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission

Recent initiatives between India and the USA:

  • Quadrilateral Agreement: India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and its distinctive inclusiveness in the region is against the premise of multilateralism that the Quad presupposes. ‘Quad’ grouping of like-minded democracies has the potential to dramatically change the region’s security landscape.
  • Indo-pacific: The US under its Pivot to Asia policy views India as an ideal balancer to check the aggressive rise of China. Therefore, the US has formulated the concept of Indo-Pacific to counter China in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
  • 2+2 dialogue: It is the dialogue between Indian External Affairs and Defence Ministers, and their US counterparts. The main outcomes of 3rd India-USA 2+2 dialogue are- BECA is one of the four foundational military communication agreements between the two countries. The other three are:
    • GSOMIA– General Security of Military Information Agreement.
    • LEMOA– Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement.
    • COMCASA– Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement.
  • India’s participation in Five Eyes meeting- India’s first-ever participation, in a meeting of the exclusive Five Eyes grouping that facilitates intelligence-sharing among the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Exercise Malabar: Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India as permanent partners.

Challenges in Indo-US relations:

  • Challenges in trade relations: Though India-US bilateral trade has grown recently, the trade relations has been marred in several challenges including several disputes at WTO, the US decision to end GSP for India, tariff and non-tariff treatment, sanctions on Iran, etc. Other than this, the USA has also been resentful against India’s weak intellectual Property rights protection system.
  • Challenges in defence cooperation: The US has enacted Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which prohibits India from buying critical weapons from Russia posing threats to India’s strategic autonomy.
  • H-1B issue: The attitude of the US President towards H-1B Visa policy affects the India-US relations considerably as a significant number of Non-Resident Indian(NRI) reside in the US for livelihood.
  • Issue of Afghanistan: The US is in a rush to leave Afghanistan and conducting peace negotiations with Taliban without caring about Indian interests in the country. This issue can jeopardise the Indo-US relations.
  • China Factor: At a time when the China-US relations are at its lowest, both countries need to re-examine whether increasing proximity between India and the US is organic and not because of the China factor.
  • Challenge on Climate Change: India suffers considerably from climate change impacts and therefore, it needs countries like the US to cooperate more on climate change and global warming issues.
  • Other Issues: Other points of contention between India and the US – such as the tricky issue of data localisation or capping prices of medicines and medical devices – have a chance of getting towards a resolution.
  • Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights in India: The newly elected government under Joe Biden in the US has expressed concerns over the human rights situation following the revoking of J&K’s special status under Article 370 and passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act alongside the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Way out:

  • Both countries need to respect the sentiments of each other if both want an enduring strategic partnership.
  • The national interests of one country must not be imposed on the other forcing it to compromise her strategic autonomy.
  • India and the US both need to strengthen institutional mechanisms of engagement so that the relationship remains enduring and does not give on temporary set-backs.
  • The emerging areas of cooperation such as Quadrilateral agreement, 5G communications, weapons imports, issues in Afghanistan etc. must be carefully considered and then should be implemented.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Examine the increasing India-US bilateral relationship in the backdrop of rivalry of both countries with China. Do you think the common rivalry with China has brought two countries ‘too close’ and ‘too fast’? Examine.