Under the new Biden administration, India-US relations can receive a boost from a wide array of opportunities. Much of the discussions on bilateral relations have focused on how India can be an effective counterbalance to Chinese hegemony, and why the US would benefit from such a balance.
Undoubtedly, geopolitical competition with China is a major concern for both the US and India.
But, even without the spectre of China driving strategic considerations, the two countries share a broad array of interests, going beyond traditional defence-oriented geopolitics. Nurturing a broad-spectrum relationship, based on cooperation on multilateralism, regional humanitarian crises, pandemic relief, and clean energy, can benefit the people of both countries — and beyond.
A Polarised India & US
This is a difficult time for the United States and for India. In the United States, the past four years have compounded and magnified long simmering problems, particularly deep political polarisation and structural inequalities. Moreover, the US’s reputation in the world is at a historic low — and it will take a monumental effort to rebuild its global stature. Meanwhile, India’s international image has been battered by internal repression and the erosion of democratic norms, neutralising its efforts to build up its case for being seen as a global leader. Fortunately, 2021 and beyond provide opportunities for the two countries to work together on the world stage, thereby providing redemption for both.
- United Nations Security Council: In January 2021, India started a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. This is an opportunity for the country to finally show its capacity and willingness to be a global leader. At the same time, the Biden administration must work to reclaim US leadership and commitment to multilateralism — and rebuild the US’s role in the organisation. The world has an urgent need for countries who can stand up for a rules-based international order. By working together in the Security Council, India and the US can jointly demonstrate their willingness to be champions for human security around the world.
Why India Must Take The Lead In Rohingya Crisis & COVID
- Rohingya refugee crisis: One catastrophe calling out for international action and leadership is occurring in India’s backyard — the Rohingya refugee crisis. Our research has shown how gross human rights violations committed by the government of Myanmar has forced its Rohingya population to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. As a result, Bangladesh finds itself hosting 900,000 Rohingya refugees. This situation is not just a regional issue; it is a global calamity. It has exposed the international community’s unwillingness to find fair and responsible solutions to humanitarian crises. On this issue, India is well positioned to assume a leadership position, provided it finds the political will to do so. As we have previously argued, the country can and should lend a helping hand to its neighbour and friend, Bangladesh, and call on Myanmar to change its genocidal policies. Because China is a close ally of Myanmar, India’s words and actions alone cannot change the dynamic. By partnering with India to address this crisis, the US can help neutralise China’s influence and provide a strong international voice.
- Healthcare: India recently launched the largest COVID vaccination drive in the world. Its domestic vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity is virtually unparalleled in the developing world. At the same time, it has had to confront skepticism regarding the efficacy of its homegrown vaccine. Lack of data transparency and incomplete clinical trials threaten to undermine India’s efforts. Meanwhile, the US has made extraordinary progress in vaccine development through strong public-private sector partnership. At the same time, its many failures in tackling COVID are well-documented. The experiences of the two countries, including their missteps, can serve as an example to other countries struggling to secure vaccine supplies. If India can demonstrate a commitment to transparent scientific rigour; it can, with the cooperation of the well-resourced US Centers for Disease Control, take a lead role in making the COVID vaccine available to low-income countries, within and beyond South Asia.
Climate Change Focus Should Be At The Heart Of India-US Ties
- Climate & Clean Energy: Cooperation with India on climate and clean energy initiatives was a priority for the Obama administration. For the Biden team, such initiatives are of top urgency – and India, with its own severe climate challenges, stands to gain from this shift. Both countries currently face significant domestic obstacles to pressing forward with clean energy initiatives; however, the imperative to do so has never been clearer. Collaborative action can both drive progress and neutralise skeptics who may resist such efforts. Focusing on climate cooperation should, therefore, be at the heart of US-India relations. A recent Asia Society report notes, for example, that the two countries can work on renewable energy investments, and the US could extend its support to the International Solar Alliance, which is an India-led platform for countries rich in solar resources. Such cooperation would reap international benefits beyond India and the United States.
- Third-country international development: In 2010, the United States and India launched an initiative to use shared technologies and expertise to build capacity in food security in developing nations. After ten years of limited progress, the two countries should recommit themselves to this effort and expand it to include other issues, such as sustainable growth. The need for such assistance is no less urgent now than in 2010. And the United States and India continue to be the two countries best positioned to provide it. By collaborating on efforts in less developed countries, they can demonstrate the global importance and impact of their bilateral relationship.
Way Forward For India & US
Undoubtedly, the US’s domestic troubles, including a botched pandemic response, intense polarisation, and fears of more domestic violence, will command much of Biden’s energy and attention. Similarly, India’s internal problems, including a struggling economy and growing democratic deficits, also continue to take centre-stage.
Still, the two countries have much in common, not least of which is the experiences of being two large, unwieldy democracies confronting deep-rooted inequalities.
Now is the time to make this relationship both deeper in foundation and wider in reach. Doing so will, of course, provide a counterbalance to China. Just as importantly, it will demonstrate the rich promise that a deep India-US partnership holds for people both within and outside their borders.
(Bidisha Biswas is Professor of Political Science at Western Washington University. She has published extensively on security, immigration and diaspora politics. Her twitter handle is @Bee_the_Wonk .
Anish Goel is a senior fellow in the International Security Program at New America. He previously served in the White House’s National Security Council as senior director for South Asia. He is currently an employee of the U.S. Department of Defense. The views expressed here are strictly personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. government.
This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)