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Rising Sino-Indian tensions over the past couple of months, topped by the more recent skirmish at the Galwan Valley, has made it evident that in the post-Covid-19 world, New Delhi’s fixation on the principles non-alignment will have to make way for a realistic appraisal of its own limitations along with the need to chart out a more robust partnership with the US. Talks of a new Cold War between the US and China has made it possible to re-imagine a strengthened India-America partnership for addressing common challenges, including a malevolent China.
The upcoming US presidential elections and the start of a new administration next year will be a crucial marker in charting out the future of India-US engagement. However, the recent publication of John Bolton’s book accounting for his time as Trump’s NSA from 2018 to 2019 raises worrying prospects for a strong India-US partnership. New Delhi’s importance during that one year as seen by Bolton merited merely 8 mentions relating to mainly security threats faced by the US, underlining the peripheral role New Delhi continues to play at the highest echelons of Washington’s policy elite.
Consequently, while for many in India, the two democracies may appear to be ‘natural allies’ and may have overcome ‘the hesitations of history,’ is it time for New Delhi to ask if indeed Washington is ready for a stronger Indo-US partnership? This is a question that has often been asked of India but more than any other time in its history, New Delhi is willing to discard the shibboleths of the past. But is Washington ready to accommodate Indian aspirations? India will be a critical anchor in the shaping up of the Indo-Pacific architecture and despite its limitations, has been remarkably upfront in standing up to Chinese assertiveness. Will the US accept this structural logic and make a play for the long-term strategic stability or will it still view managing China as a short-term priority where cutting a deal with Beijing might alleviate some of the pressures off Washington?
Answering these questions is critical not only for the future trajectory of Indo-US partnership, but also in realistically acknowledging the limits of this bilateral engagement. For Indian foreign policy, this will be the central question around which its priorities would pivot in the coming years.
Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
Jeff Smith, Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, The Heritage Foundation
Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis & United Service Institution, India
Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF