A Successful Summit Revives US-India Strategic Partnership
In the late 1990s, after decades of geopolitical alienation during and the Cold War, President Bill Clinton called America and India “natural allies.” In the 2000s, the George W. Bush administration had built a strategic partnership with New Delhi centered on normalizing India’s status as a nuclear weapons state and strengthening military ties. But it was not until President Barack Obama’s visit to India for Republic Day in January 2015 that an American leader found an Indian interlocutor who was unembarrassed to embrace (literally and figuratively) the United States as New Delhi’s premier international partner.
This newfound sentiment reflects not only the unusual strength of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s domestic political base—he is the first Indian leader elected with a party majority in three decades—, but also the changing politics within India over US relations. Unlike their predecessors, India’s aspirational generation is not shy of closer ties with the United States, which they understand is essential for both India’s security in a dangerous neighborhood and its economic transformation. Modi himself appears to have come to understand that the United States can play a pivotal role in helping India prepare against a long-term Chinese military challenge, while serving as a singular source of capital and technology to escalate India’s development trajectory. This is somewhat unexpected. As chief minister of Gujarat, he had been subject to a US visa ban on account of communal violence that occurred on his watch in 2002. Observers had expected him to act cool towards the United States because of this and to prioritize relations with East Asia’s economic giants, such as China and Japan, in order to attract the capital and investment India desperately needs to modernize.