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US-India Relations: Strategic Partners, Not Traditional Allies

The geopolitical relationship between the USA and India has reached unprecedented heights in recent decades, marked by mutual cooperation and strategic alignment. However, this partnership is driven more by pragmatic considerations than by a deep-rooted alliance. India’s engagement with the USA primarily aims to counterbalance the rising influence of China in Asia, leveraging American military and economic clout to enhance its regional security. While the USA views India as a critical partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy, India’s foreign policy is characterized by a careful balancing act, maintaining traditional ties and pursuing strategic autonomy. Consequently, India’s relationship with the USA is one of mutual benefit and strategic pragmatism rather than a ‘friend in need.’

Pragmatic Partnership

Over the decades, the geopolitical relationship between the USA and India has evolved, reaching new heights. This partnership has garnered significant attention due to the increasing cooperation in various domains, including defense, trade, and technology. However, it’s essential to recognize that India’s engagement with the USA is driven more by pragmatic considerations than by a deep-rooted alliance. While both nations share democratic values and strategic interests, their relationship is not one of unconditional camaraderie. Instead, it is a carefully calibrated partnership designed to serve the specific national interests of each country. For India, this primarily means enhancing its own regional influence and security in the face of a rising China.

India’s ultimate aim in strengthening ties with the USA is to counter the rise of its neighbor, China, rather than to align wholesale with US interests. The growing proximity between New Delhi and Washington is largely a strategic move by India to ensure its dominance in the South Asian region and the broader Indo-Pacific. The US-India pact is driven by regional supremacy over a geopolitical rival, with India seeking to leverage American support to counterbalance China’s increasing assertiveness and expansionist policies. This pragmatic partnership underscores the complexities of contemporary geopolitics, where alliances are formed based on mutual benefits and strategic calculations rather than ideological alignments or historical bonds.

 Strategic Counterbalance

India’s strategic alignment with the USA has been significantly influenced by its need to counterbalance China’s growing assertiveness in Asia. Over the past decade, China has expanded its influence through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and increased military activities in the South China Sea, both of which have heightened regional tensions. Moreover, China’s strong relationships with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other neighboring countries effectively encircle India with China-friendly nations. This expansionist agenda has raised alarms in New Delhi, which perceives a direct threat to its own regional dominance and security.

To address these concerns, India has sought to bolster its strategic partnership with the USA. By aligning with a powerful ally like the United States, India aims to enhance its military capabilities and secure economic and technological support to counteract China’s influence. This alignment is evident in India’s active participation in initiatives such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) alongside the USA, Japan, and Australia, which collectively seek to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. By strengthening ties with the USA, India is not only addressing its immediate security concerns but also positioning itself as a key player in maintaining regional stability against an assertive China.

 Indo-Pacific Strategy

The USA aims to integrate India into its Indo-Pacific strategy to counterbalance China and Russia, leveraging India’s strategic position and capabilities. This region is pivotal for global trade and security, and the USA views India as a vital player in maintaining a balance of power. By enhancing military cooperation, economic ties, and technological exchanges with India, the USA hopes to build a coalition capable of countering the growing influence of its primary rivals, China and Russia. This strategic integration is crucial for the USA’s broader geopolitical objectives, which include ensuring freedom of navigation, promoting democratic values, and preventing any single power from dominating the region.

However, India’s foreign policy is characterized by a careful balancing act, maintaining its traditional partnerships while exploring new ones to safeguard its national interests. Despite its growing proximity to the USA, India remains committed to its historical ties with Russia and other nations. This nuanced approach allows India to maximize its strategic autonomy, ensuring it is not overly dependent on any single power bloc. In essence, while the USA may see India as a crucial partner in its global strategy, India is not the USA’s ‘friend in need’ in the traditional sense. The relationship is one of mutual benefit and strategic pragmatism, reflecting the complex realities of contemporary geopolitics. India engages with the USA to advance its own regional ambitions and security goals, rather than out of sheer allegiance, highlighting the transactional nature of their partnership.

 Doklam and Galwan

The Doklam standoff in 2017, where Indian and Chinese troops faced off at the Bhutan-China-India tri-junction, exposed the tangible nature of the threat posed by China’s territorial ambitions. This 73-day military standoff underscored the potential for direct conflict and highlighted the strategic vulnerabilities India faces on its northern borders. Subsequently, the deadly clashes in the Galwan Valley in 2020, which resulted in the loss of lives on both sides, further emphasized the volatile state of Sino-Indian relations. These incidents starkly illustrated the ongoing and escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

In response to these threats, India has been propelled to seek stronger security and economic ties with the USA, a nation with the military and economic clout to counterbalance China. The Galwan Valley clashes, in particular, served as a catalyst for India to reassess its strategic partnerships and defense postures. By aligning more closely with the USA, India aims to enhance its defense capabilities, gain access to advanced military technologies, and secure economic partnerships that can bolster its strategic position. This approach also includes increased participation in multilateral initiatives like the Quad, which seeks to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, implicitly countering Chinese influence. In essence, the Doklam and Galwan incidents have underscored the necessity for India to forge and strengthen alliances with powerful partners like the USA to ensure its regional dominance and security in an increasingly complex and contested geopolitical landscape.

 The Quad

India’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the USA, Japan, and Australia, is a clear manifestation of its strategic counterbalance against China. The Quad aims to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, implicitly countering China’s growing influence and assertive policies in the region. This coalition is committed to ensuring maritime security, enhancing regional connectivity, and upholding international law, all of which are vital to maintaining a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

India’s involvement in the Quad indicates its desire to leverage US support to ensure regional stability and prevent any single power, particularly China, from dominating the Indo-Pacific region. By aligning with like-minded democracies, India not only bolsters its defense and economic ties but also amplifies its strategic footprint in a region critical to global trade and security. The Quad’s collaborative initiatives, such as joint military exercises, infrastructure development projects, and coordinated responses to regional crises, reflect India’s strategic intent to forge a multipolar Indo-Pacific. This alignment also allows India to assert its leadership role and protect its interests in the face of China’s aggressive expansionism, thereby enhancing its own security and regional standing.

 US Perspective

From the US perspective, India represents a critical partner in its broader strategy to contain the influence of both China and Russia. The USA recognizes India’s strategic location, vast market, and growing military capabilities as valuable assets in maintaining a balance of power in Asia. India’s position along vital maritime routes and its proximity to key regions make it an indispensable ally in the Indo-Pacific strategy. Moreover, India’s large and expanding economy provides significant opportunities for trade and investment, which can bolster economic ties and create a counterweight to China’s economic dominance.

In reality, India is the only state that can play a significant role in counterbalancing America’s geopolitical rivals. Its substantial military capabilities and ongoing modernization efforts make India a formidable force capable of contributing to regional security. The USA views India’s participation in initiatives like the Quad and its increased defense cooperation as essential to promoting a rules-based international order and deterring aggression from authoritarian regimes. Additionally, India’s democratic values align with the USA’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, making it a natural partner in efforts to support democratic governance and human rights. The US-India partnership, therefore, is not just about immediate strategic gains but also about shaping a stable and secure regional order in the long term.

Counterterrorism and Soft Power

Washington’s foreign policy under successive administrations has consistently emphasized counterterrorism efforts in Asia. Over the past two decades, the USA and its allies have focused on using hard power to neutralize terrorist threats, particularly in regions like the Middle East and South Asia. However, while Western nations were deeply engaged in the ‘War on Terror,’ China was quietly expanding its influence in these destabilized regions through soft power strategies, such as economic investments, infrastructure projects, and diplomatic initiatives.

China’s use of soft power has allowed it to build strong relationships with several nations that were otherwise preoccupied with security issues, effectively extending its reach and influence. After two decades of counterterrorism operations, the USA and its allies have found themselves with limited strategic gains and facing increasingly hostile postures from the affected nations. This realization has prompted a reevaluation of geopolitical strategies to cover up this time-lapse dent with more comprehensive engagements.

In this context, India is considered an ideal ally to create a coalition that can present a united front against authoritarian regimes in Beijing and Moscow. India’s significant regional presence, democratic governance, and growing economic power make it a key partner for the USA in countering China’s soft power influence and addressing the broader strategic challenges posed by authoritarianism. By aligning with India, the USA aims to enhance its geopolitical strategy with a partner that can contribute both military and economic strengths, thereby ensuring a more balanced and multi-faceted approach to maintaining regional stability and countering authoritarian regimes in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Encouragement of Alignment

The United States has consistently encouraged India to align more closely with Western policies and perspectives on global issues, reflecting a strategic convergence of interests between the two nations. This encouragement extends beyond mere military cooperation to encompass economic policies, technological exchanges, and diplomatic stances. As the USA seeks to bolster its alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, India’s growing influence and strategic positioning make it a crucial partner in advancing shared objectives of regional stability and economic prosperity.

A key example of this encouragement is evident in the USA’s advocacy for India’s inclusion in various international forums, including its support for India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This backing underscores the USA’s recognition of India as a major global player and its willingness to enhance India’s role in shaping international norms and governance. Furthermore, the USA’s promotion of closer alignment with Western policies aligns with its broader strategy to create a resilient global order that upholds democratic values, free trade, and human rights.

In essence, while the USA values India’s strategic partnership for its military capabilities and regional influence, the encouragement of alignment also reflects a deeper alignment of values and shared goals on the global stage. By fostering closer ties across multiple domains, the USA aims to strengthen India’s role as a responsible global actor while advancing mutual interests in a rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape.

 Historical Ties with Russia

Despite its growing ties with the USA, India has maintained a historically significant relationship with Russia that dates back to the Cold War era. During this period, India, under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, adopted a policy of nonalignment, striving to maintain independence from the two superpower blocs led by the USA and the USSR. Despite this stance, India leaned towards the USSR for strategic support in critical areas such as defense, technology, and economic cooperation.

The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation signed in 1971 during the Liberation War of Bangladesh marked a milestone in bilateral relations, solidifying mutual trust and collaboration. The USSR’s diplomatic and military assistance was crucial for India’s success in the conflict against Pakistan, which further strengthened their ties. Over the decades, Russia has remained a steadfast partner for India, providing advanced defense equipment, technology transfers, and supporting India’s space and nuclear programs.

Even in the post-Cold War era and amid India’s increasing engagement with the West, particularly the USA, Russia continues to play a vital role in India’s defense preparedness. The enduring nature of this relationship is rooted in shared historical experiences, trust, and mutual benefit, making it challenging for India to completely pivot away from Russia in favor of closer alignment with the USA. This historical bond underscores India’s strategic autonomy and its ability to maintain diverse partnerships to safeguard its national interests in a multipolar world order.

 Indo-Soviet Friendship

The strong bilateral relations between India and Russia have evolved significantly since the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation in 1971. This treaty marked a pivotal moment during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, where the USSR’s diplomatic and military support played a crucial role in India’s successful diplomatic and military campaign against Pakistan. The support from Moscow not only bolstered India’s position internationally but also strengthened the foundation of trust and cooperation between the two nations.

Since then, Russia has continued to be a vital partner for India, particularly in the defense sector. Russia remains a significant source of advanced defense equipment, technology transfers, and joint research and development projects. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, a flagship example of Indo-Russian collaboration, illustrates the depth and success of their defense ties. Jointly developed by India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya, the BrahMos missile showcases the technological prowess and strategic synergy between the two countries.

The enduring nature of the Indo-Russian relationship extends beyond defense cooperation to include economic collaboration, space exploration, and cultural exchanges. Despite shifts in global geopolitics and India’s expanding partnerships with other nations, particularly the USA, Russia continues to hold a special place in India’s strategic calculus. The Indo-Russian friendship remains rooted in mutual respect, shared interests, and a commitment to enhancing bilateral ties across various domains in an evolving international landscape.

 Ongoing Defense Procurement

Even in the face of Western sanctions and international pressures, India maintains substantial ongoing defense procurement and energy imports from Russia. This steadfast relationship underscores India’s commitment to prioritizing its national interests over geopolitical rivalries, as articulated by Foreign Minister Jaishankar. Despite growing ties with the USA and other Western nations, India’s longstanding defense cooperation with Russia remains crucial, rooted in mutual trust and strategic alignment.

India’s reliance on Russian military hardware, including advanced aircraft, tanks, and naval equipment, reflects decades of collaborative efforts and technological dependence. Moreover, India continues to import significant quantities of crude oil from Russia, meeting its energy needs amidst global fluctuations and strategic uncertainties. The durability of this relationship is bolstered by joint projects such as the BrahMos missile system, which exemplifies successful Indo-Russian defense collaboration.

While India seeks to diversify its defense procurement and expand strategic partnerships globally, its historical ties and ongoing cooperation with Russia present a complex dynamic in its foreign policy calculus. The challenge lies in balancing these enduring partnerships with emerging geopolitical alignments, ensuring India maintains its strategic autonomy while leveraging international relations to safeguard its national security and economic interests effectively.

Geographical Advantage

The Indo-Pacific strategy stands as a cornerstone of US foreign policy, strategically devised to counterbalance China’s expanding influence across the Asia-Pacific region. India’s integral role in this strategy is underpinned by several critical factors. Firstly, India’s geographical location offers a strategic advantage, particularly in controlling vital maritime routes in the Indian Ocean. These routes are crucial for the global economy, facilitating the transit of a substantial portion of international trade and energy supplies. By partnering with India, the USA aims to strengthen maritime security, ensure freedom of navigation, and promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Secondly, India’s significant presence in the Indian Ocean region enables it to exert influence over key sea lanes, which are increasingly contested due to China’s assertive maritime policies. India’s navy, one of the largest in the region, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding these crucial sea routes and maintaining regional stability. Moreover, India’s strategic location offers access to critical chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, further enhancing its importance in global trade and security dynamics. As such, the USA views India not only as a crucial partner in its efforts to counterbalance China but also as a linchpin in fostering a rules-based order that ensures open seas and unrestricted navigation for all nations.

 Military Capabilities

Secondly, India’s robust military capabilities and its emerging role as a regional power are viewed by the USA as pivotal factors in maintaining Western supremacy and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s military strength, bolstered by significant investments in defense modernization and indigenous defense production, positions it as a key player capable of countering China’s expanding military influence and assertive actions in South and Central Asia.

The USA sees India as a strategic partner whose military prowess can effectively balance against China’s military expansionism and aggressive posturing. India’s growing naval fleet, air force capabilities, and ground forces play a crucial role in ensuring regional security and upholding the principles of freedom of navigation and international law. As tensions mount over territorial disputes and maritime claims in the Indo-Pacific, India’s role as a capable military force is increasingly vital in deterring potential threats and maintaining stability in collaboration with its allies. This perspective underscores India’s significance in the USA’s Indo-Pacific strategy and highlights its potential to shape regional security dynamics in alignment with Western interests.

Democratic Values

Thirdly, the USA values India not only for its military capabilities but also for its shared commitment to democratic values, which serve as a foundation for cooperation in promoting stability and good governance in the Indo-Pacific region. As the world’s largest and oldest democracies, the USA and India share common ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law, which are seen as crucial pillars for maintaining a stable and prosperous international order.

From the US perspective, India’s adherence to democratic principles aligns it closely with Western values and objectives in countering authoritarian regimes and promoting democratic governance. The USA views India as a natural partner in championing these values and as a counterweight to the influence of alternative regimes like China and Russia, which often operate with different ideological frameworks and governance models. While the USA recognizes India’s strategic autonomy and diverse geopolitical interests, it also expects India to align closely with Western perspectives on global issues concerning democracy, human rights, and regional stability.

This alignment of democratic values forms a significant aspect of the USA-India partnership, fostering mutual understanding and cooperation in addressing shared challenges and advancing common goals in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

 Economic Potential

Furthermore, India’s burgeoning economic potential as a rapidly growing market and a hub for technological innovation aligns strategically with the USA’s objective of diversifying supply chains and reducing dependency on China. India’s large consumer base and expanding middle class present lucrative opportunities for American businesses seeking to expand their global footprint and mitigate risks associated with over-reliance on any single market.

The USA’s information technology sector particularly benefits from India’s skilled workforce and expertise in software development, engineering, and IT services. Indian professionals and engineers play crucial roles in various sectors of the US economy, contributing significantly to innovation and competitiveness. Moreover, the USA’s collaboration with India in military, surveillance, and intelligence technology not only enhances India’s defense capabilities but also strengthens bilateral strategic ties aimed at countering China’s growing influence and aggressive tactics in the Indo-Pacific.

This economic and technological partnership underscores the mutual benefits derived from closer US-India cooperation. It not only enhances economic growth and job creation in both countries but also reinforces their collective efforts to maintain regional stability and security in the face of complex geopolitical challenges posed by China and other global adversaries.

 Strategic Necessity

India’s engagement with the USA is primarily motivated by strategic necessity rather than a purely ideological or deep-rooted alliance. The rapid ascent of China as a regional hegemon and its assertive policies in Asia have compelled India to forge closer ties with the USA. However, this strategic partnership is multifaceted and navigates through various complexities.

India’s historical and longstanding relationship with Russia, dating back to the Cold War era and characterized by shared defense cooperation and geopolitical alignments, continues to shape its foreign policy outlook. Despite growing convergence with the USA on strategic issues, India remains committed to maintaining its strategic autonomy and preserving its traditional partnerships. This stance underscores India’s pragmatic approach to international relations, where it seeks to balance its interests between major powers rather than aligning exclusively with any single power bloc.

While the USA values India as a crucial partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at balancing China’s influence, India’s nuanced foreign policy reflects its careful navigation of global power dynamics to safeguard its national interests. This approach ensures that India remains a significant player in shaping regional security architectures while preserving its sovereignty and independence in a rapidly evolving global landscape.


The USA aims to integrate India into its Indo-Pacific strategy to counterbalance China and Russia, leveraging India’s strategic position and capabilities. However, India’s foreign policy will likely continue to be characterized by a careful balancing act, maintaining its traditional partnerships while exploring new ones to safeguard its national interests. In essence, while the USA may see India as a crucial partner in its global strategy, India is not the USA’s ‘friend in need’ in the traditional sense. The relationship is one of mutual benefit and strategic pragmatism, reflecting the complex realities of contemporary geopolitics.

Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain, a seasoned professional with a Master's degree in Mathematics, has built a rich and varied career as a banker, economist, and anti-money laundering expert. His journey in the financial sector has seen him in leading roles, notably in AL-Rajhi Banking Inc. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as Foreign Relations and Correspondent Maintenance Officer of Bank-AL-Bilad. Beyond the confines of traditional finance, Billal has emerged as a prominent writer and commentator, contributing thought-provoking columns and theses to various newspapers and online portals. His expertise spans a wide range of important global issues, including the complexities of economics, political dynamics, the plight of migrant workers, remittances, reserves, and other interrelated aspects. Billal brings a unique analytical perspective to his writing, combining academic rigor with practical insights gained from his banking career. His articles not only demonstrate a deep understanding of complex issues but also provide readers with informed perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. Billal Hossain's contributions stand as a testament to his commitment to unraveling the complexities of our interconnected world, providing valuable insights that contribute to a broader and more nuanced understanding of the global economic landscape.


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