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Relationship Between India and the USA

Info: 5442 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: International Relations


This piece of work tries to study the relations of one superpower and another emerging power in international order. The relations of India-US have passed through a roller -coaster character since 1950s. The study is about the Indo-US relations during post Cold-War period. It tries to present in- depth study of the relation between two states, with historical background, major events of the period, US involvement in South Asia/India, its stand on India-Pakistan disputes. It observes about the transition from ‘estranged democracies’ to a ‘strategic partnership’ of the relations.

US interests in the region were for many years interpreted as philanthropic rather than commercial or strategic, and the US was closed ally with Pakistan. The study is trying to find out – How the neglected country for almost 50 years got top priority and finally turned to be natural ally. The relations have passed through different stage from ‘neither friend nor enemy’, ‘distanced democracies ’, ‘engaged democracies’ and finally as ‘natural allies’ with nuclear partnership. This achievement and transformation is not happened overnight. To achieve these, both countries have passed through different states overtime.

The thesis tries to find out some reason behind this quick development in the relations. The transformation happened during post Cold -War period. Behind these transformations some reason such as Indian practice of democratization, open market policy, huge development on economy and IT sector played vital role. Likewise, US goal in the region was fulfilled while making good relations with India. After analysing some major events and immediate reaction, the thesis tries to make an argument that, with other reasons side by side, the nuclear test of 1998 by India was the central theme that helped for the transformations of the relations. 

Chapter 1

Introduction and literature review

Topic introduction and Purpose of the study

After the end of the Cold War, the United States is leading in the International Order, and it is experienced that- this time is American time, its hegemony and policy for liberal democracy, human rights or in any colour or form. So its relations with any other part of the world is itself interesting and important.

On the other hand, India is the largest democracy in the world and emerging power in the International order. It is economically and strategically threat to the US, it is tiger in Asia in term of population, economy and nuclear capacity. The relation between the superpower and emerging power is obviously important to the students of International Relations/politics or common people as well. So it is hoped that this research makes some interesting and important line of arguments.

“As the ‘tiger’ economies of South-east Asia roared away in the 1970s and 1980s, India’s biggest achievements remained its ability to feed its own people, and its adherence – against the odds – to democracy. Unshackled by the economic liberalisation of the early 1990s, India is already poised to overtake Japan as the world’s third largest economy. The nuclear status of India has been formally acknowledged by the US And, when the UN is finally reformed, it’s likely to land a permanent seat on the Security Council” (BBC Online, 2009.)

For over forty years, the United States has contended with the problem of formatting a coherent policy toward South Asia- a region that contains approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. During this time, US policy has surrounded between interventions and withdrawal. Detailed analysis of how Washington determines its South Asian policy, especially with regard to the regions two major states: India and Pakistan. The nations of South Asia contain a fifth of the human race.

They include one state (India) that is certainly the world’s largest democracy and one other (Pakistan) that has been an intermittent ally of the US since 1953. For over thirty-five years Washington’s policy has shifted uneasily from neglect of the region to intense involvement in its economic, political, and military affairs, seeing in the former certain ideological and moral values and in the latter certain strategic and military advantages. This research tries to fill a gap in understanding of the reasons for American involvement in and policy toward South Asia especially India.

The literature on US foreign policy is dominated by relations with the Soviet Union and Western Europe. American relations with Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and South Asia are relatively neglected and episodic in nature. This absence of interest is especially marked in the case of South Asia. Yet, American decisions have profoundly affected the lives of most South Asians, the societies of regional states, and their external policies. It has often been noted that this influence and the relationship is excessively one-sided: American decisions affect South Asians far more than South Asian decisions can ever affect Americans.

The purpose of this study is to examine the sources and patters of American responses towards events in India over a period of time, through an examination of some case study. Giving some brief introduction and history of Indo-US security relation after 2nd World War, it talks in detail about the relation during Post Cold War period.

After the end of the Cold War, every country around the world effected, but South Asian countries effected more than others. The US has no rival in world order, but India and Pakistan, two countries from the South Asia emerged as new nuclear power. India could not be the state as neglected before. Post Cold- War period saw dramatic changes in US-India relation.

Research Focus/Research question

The main thrust of this thesis is to present the Indo-US relations during Post Cold War period, to study main events of the period and to explore the reasons behind the transformation in relations. The thesis is focused on the periphery of Post Cold War leading to 9/11. In the short span of time in 1990s how the transformation was possible, how the neglected country for almost 50 years got top priority in American foreign policy, it tries to answer these questions.

The thesis tries to make an argument that the nuclear test of 1998 was the central theme that helped for the transformation of the relation. The Indo-US convergence was abruptly interrupted by India’s May 1998 nuclear tests. President Clinton’s initial reaction was simultaneously emotional: ‘To think that you have to manifest your greatness by behaviour that recalls the very worst events of the 20th century on the edge of the 21st century when everybody else is trying to leave the nuclear age behind, is just wrong.’

Because of the fact that both India and Pakistan had been de facto nuclear weapon states, US concerned about the possibility of nuclear war in South Asia, but it was obviously a challenge in Western hegemony as well. Although the US imposed suspension of most military-military contacts, the nuclear tests started a high-level engagements between the US and India. Overtime, the Clinton Administration adapted itself to the reality that India’s great-power aspirations included becoming a full-fledged nuclear weapons state. India’s 1998 nuclear explosive test were a blessing in disguise for long-term Indo-US relations. Once the tests exploded the illusion, Washington and New Delhi could get on with the important task of relating to one another on a more equal footing.


The study is based on academic writings such as books, journal and online resources. While using such material a great care has been taken in term of their credibility. The books studied for the research are written by academics mostly of Indian background in origin. Mostly they are educated in American Universities and working there in US Universities. Their academic background and research area is about American foreign policy, Asian studies, Asians security.

Likewise the online resources have been used with great care such as produced by the academics and trustworthy organizations like Asia Foundations, governmental bodies and well -known research centres. Though writers are educated and being engaged in US academia, care have been taken while developing arguments from their writing, being India origin, emotional behave might affect on their writing about American or Indian perspective.

The thesis also contains three major events which were supposed to play determinative role for the transformations of the relations. Likewise it also collects immediate reaction after the test. For reactions the samples have been collected in three groups.

Structure of the thesis

The thesis is composed of six chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction explaining the topic and subject matter, rationale, and methodology. This chapter also includes the literature review.

The second chapter traces the history of Indo-US relations. It talks about the US engagement in Asia and India. It simply presents the history of the relation explaining some major events of the period. The third chapter is about the post Cold -War scenarios. It begins with how the US started tilting to India not Pakistan. The change in American policy to South Asia and India begin at this point of time. This chapter explains three major events of the period as case study: Kashmir Issue 1999, nuclear test 1998 and Clinton visit 2002. After this, in Chapter Four to know the immediate reaction after the test, it collects some thoughts expressed in news Medias and thoughts by think tanks especially in the US. How the think-tank and the governments reacted to the test and talked about the bilateral relations. 

After analysing three major events and reactions of the governments, think tanks and views expressed on newspaper, Chapter Five, the main part of the thesis makes an argument that it was the nuclear test 1998, which helped to transform the relation. This chapter once again makes a revision of the relation since 1950s. Finally, the thesis contains the conclusion and bibliography.

Literature Review:

As mentioned above, literature on American foreign policy is easily accessible and available everywhere but regarding the US relations to the South Asian region; book and journals are not available enough as compared to other regions.

The literature on US foreign policy is dominated by relations with the Soviet Union and Western Europe. For example, Ambrose S E. (1993) exclusively presents the history of American foreign policy since 1938. Ambrose gives detail survey of American Foreign Policy from the period America was secure in the world-neither of the great totalitarian political forces of the century, Fascism or Communism.

The author presents the overview of the evolution of American foreign Policy focusing on major events like World War II, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam War, and the SALT treaties. It also talks about the individual Presidents and their changed attitudes to the different regions. Ambrose begins with the starting years of American Foreign Policy and its strength overtime up to Bush Policy and US engagements in Gulf war.

Ambrose presents a chronological history of American Foreign Policy, but this book hardly discusses the development in South Asian region. The author is quite on US engagement in South Asia/India or US involvement in Indian/Pakistani War, Kargil issue

As compared to Ambrose, Spanier J (1983) talks about the US and third world (author’s term) developments. Spanier presents an account of American foreign policy from the closing days of World War II to the beginning of the second Regan administration.

The author presents interpretation of the roles of the Unites States on the world stage since it became a nuclear superpower. It also talks about the theoretical frameworks of American foreign policy like the American approach to foreign policy, the state system, the American national style, the contrast between systematic and national behaviour. Spainer clearly tries to explore the reason behind World War, its significance and detailed survey of impact of nuclear weapons on the pattern of American-Soviet relations. The author explains in detail about the role of 3rd world during the Cold War to conflict with-and-in-the Third World.

Bertsch K. Gary et.al. (1999) collects twelve essays by US educated academics with background study in South Asian studies. Most of the authors are with Indian background, educated and engaged in US intuitions. The write-up reflects their long experiences with their work either academic or institution like US based South Asia Program, Institutes for Defence Studies.

The author addresses the broad range of non-proliferation and foreign policy issues that affect Indo-American relations. It not only describes missile control and space cooperation, chemical and biological weapons, and the use of sanctions versus incentives, the individual authors with their expertise knowledge provide practical recommendations for how a stronger and more meaningful dialogue can be established between the policy makers of the world’s two largest democracies.

Authors present about the history of Indo-US relations in different perspective like strategic, economic, political, technical aspects but its main focus is to talk about broad insight into India’s relations with the rest of the world in the shadow of India’s 1998 nuclear tests. Likewise Ganguly&scobell (2006) present a series of perspectives about US-Indian strategic cooperation. The authors make an effort for the current status and future instructions of the relation.

The identify the strategic context for and logic behind India’s emerging security cooperation with the US, the strategic context for and logic behind growing US security cooperation with India, growing bilateral cooperation in the US-led Global War on Terrorism. Likewise, it raises an important issue of the US assessment of India’s role in the anti-terror struggle, Indian assessment of the US worldwide anti-terror effort, Chinese view of the growing security ties between Washington and New Delhi. Likewise it identifies some military-to-military ties between the United States and India, one from the perspective of Washington, and the other from a New Delhi perspective.

S. Ganguly et.al. (2006) traces the origins, development and the current state of Indo-US strategic cooperation. The authors access the strategic cooperation of the world’s two largest democracies. They entirely talk about the strategic relation of the two countries. The book provides an assessment of Indo-US relations with a particular focus on the evolution of contemporary bilateral relations, focuses on the current state of military-to-military cooperation. The authors highlight the development of Indo-US defence ties over the last few decades and examine its underlying causes. Likewise they addressees key areas of future strategic cooperation including high technology trade, participation in multilateral peacekeeping operations.

S. Ganguly’ (1990) identifies the key issues of how Washington determines its South Asian policy, especially with regard to the region’s two major states: India and Pakistan. Using case studies the author bases his study on US policy in four major South Asian crises: the 1962 India-China War, the India-Pakistan conflicts of 1965 and 1971, and the massive draught of 1966-1967. Ganguly’s research not only talks about the American foreign policy during different presidents in office and major events but also it talks about the theoretical aspect of American foreign policy. It describes analytical perspective of US foreign policy, South Asia and US foreign policy, history of Indo-US relations and Indo-China War, 1965 War, The 1965-67 Crisis, the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. The author provides the detailed explanation of the major events of the history between two states and mostly incidents are based on American perspective.

As mentioned earlier since the region itself did not get priority, so the discussion about the region in world affairs was limited. Only after late 1990s and especially after the nuclear test, the literature on American policy to Asia and India seems growing. One of such discussion is J. Singh (1998). It provides both historical and contemporary analytical insights on a variety of subjects that impose upon a nuclear India. Singh checks out the nuclear reality as it exists today, at the national and international level.

He begins with why nuclear weapons are required and what are they all about. It further examines the rationale for the possession of nuclear weapons, detailed history of the Indian nuclear policy formulation between 1964-1998, presents history to trace the origin of nuclear weapons. It also demonstrates about the paths of proliferation and non-proliferation over the last five decades. The author also looks at the increasing proliferation concerns in the Indian neighbourhood, lists out the major proliferation challenges that have emerged after the Cold War.

Likewise, it further focuses specially on ballistic missiles and their implications for international security. Likewise it also presents a detailed study of both China and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile programme, examines the traditional Indian position on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, impact of the nuclear test ban on the post-Cold War environment. It gives enough information about the nuclear weapons, their introduction, how they work and why they are required. It also presents the history of nuclear weapons, telling about the nuclear have countries when and how they conducted it.

Jain, Rashmi (Ed.) 2006) presents the record of the transition of Indo-US relations from ‘estranged democracies’ to a ‘strategic partnership’ in the 21st century. It is the inclusive and current study of the political, economic/trade, military/defence and nuclear proportions of Indo-US relations from 1947 to 2006. Jain discusses the overall trends in relations between India and the United States during the Cold War and after.

It deals with the implications of the American alliance with Pakistan, the extension of limited arms assistance to India following the India-China war of 1962 and support to the Tashkent and Simla agreements, Nixon’s tilt towards Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, India’s nuclear test of 1947. The study contains a selection of 692 basic documents from official sources, including Congressional hearings, and provides the full texts or extracts from various agreements, joint communiqués and statements and interviews by Government dignitaries. It is the collection of official documents related between the relations of two countries for about fifty years. It works as primary source for the researcher.

Beside these books, Journal and other reports have been used while conducting the research. Journals like Foreign affairs, International Affairs, Strategic Affairs, and online edition of The Economist and news sites of BBC, CNN, The New York Times and Indian newspapers such as Hindu, the Times of India has been used.

Likewise US congress report, governmental publications and the reports published by the Ministry of Indian External Affairs have been used.

Chapter 2

Historical Background

‘South Asia and US Foreign Policy-US meets India’

This chapter briefs about the American Foreign Policy and US involvement in South Asia/India. It is an account of US-Indo relations after 1950s to late 1980s. It is not chronological history of the relation, but it includes major events and trends of the time.

South Asia comprises a subsystem of powers with two major nations; India and Pakistan that are actually within South Asia and there others, China, the US and the USSR, that are extra-regional players in the region. South Asia also contains other states with minimal military and economical power; Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. By virtue of their global status, the US and the USSR have been involved in South Asia until 1990s. South Asian Countries are often introduced by political instability, a relative diffusion of powers and slow economic development. These characteristics and weakness prompted the two superpowers to fill the apparent power vacuum and to change it in order to strengthen their respective global and regional policies (Ganguly S. 1999.)

South Asia has been usually been regarded as only marginally important to the United States. In the major American security decisions regarding the stability of the international system, maintenance of nuclear balance or the problem of war and peace, South Asia was not considered a determining factor. Some reasons can be traced behind less priority of US to South Asia – First, it was not vital strategically; it did not offer any major resources essential to American industry. Second, the low level of economic and political interaction could not generate a positive image of South Asia in the American mind. In American perceptions, the area remained a preserve of British interests. Thus, US interests in the region were for many years interpreted as philanthropic rather than commercial or strategic (R.Arthur, 2006.)

The central dilemma of US policy in South Asia since 1947 has been to deal with the competing claims of the two principal states of this region, India and Pakistan. In a sense, the constant dilemma of Americas South Asia Policy is a result of the regional contest between these two states.Of these two Sub continental states, if India was often a unimportant factor in US perception of the global strategic equation, Pakistan was an insignificant factor unless military aligned with the US.

The initial US involvement in South Asia was barely influenced by the regional developments. What did shape the US role was the shrinking British Empire and the rapid decline of the KMT regime in China. Succeeding US military links to South Asia (especially Pakistan), a subsidiary of its concern in relation to the Soviet Union, accidentally emphasized the level of hostility between India and Pakistan. US involvement not only annoyed India but also brought the Soviet Union and later China into the Subcontinent and made the region an arena of Cold war politics (Ganguly S, 1990.)

In many ways, US involvement in India started during World War II, before this both officials and unofficial contacts with India were minimal. While the US maintained a few consular officers in India to look after commercial interests, it relied largely on British Foreign Office communications for information on the Indian political situation. The US really became involved in South Asia after its entry into World War II.

British India served at that time as a spring –board for allied military operations against the Japanese in China and Southeast Asia. India’s relations with the Unites States have been described variously as ‘estranged democracies’ and distance powers by Americans. Indian have tended to describe it as ‘distanced democracies’, ‘engaged democracies’ and finally as ‘natural allies’. Another common refrain often articulated from India, describes the United States as the oldest and most powerful democracy and itself as the largest. The expectation from both sides appears to have been that ‘democracy’ will somehow transcend national interests and security imperatives and shape the relationship (B.Dipankar, 2006.)

Relations between India and the US have varied widely over the last sixty-five years and adopted a roller-coaster character with many ups and downs and high and lows. In recent years India –US relations has transformed into what both sides claim to be a strategic partnership. Even as both countries move towards that desirable goal, it is useful to recall that divergences in perceptions and policies have varied widely over the years. At the end of the Second World War the Unites States emerged as the undisputed leader of the free world. Its lead in almost every area of consequence remains unchallenged for decades.

All its possible peers were largely destroyed by the war and indeed needed Washington’s help to revive themselves. The United States did not just dominate the emerging world order, but had the opportunity to shape it by laying out its figures and establishing the international institutions that would determine its future. Within a few years of the War’s end, the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc emerged as the only group that could conceivably challenge this order, but only in a limited military sense.

For India, the immediate concerns were different. It was to emerge from colonialism and external domination as an independent entity. It had first to fully assert its independence, in which it only got success partially as the nation itself was split into India and Pakistan addressing the region to internal conflict for decades. India’s identity and nationalism had to be developed an additional based on its own values and heritage and its territories needed to be consolidated. In addition to these concerns, a modern state had to be created almost from the beginning with all its associated institutions. (C. Raja Mohan 2003)

To achieve these immediate goals, India needed a peaceful external environment, uncomplicated by the rivalries of the global power struggle. New Delhi needed to craft a policy that would provide it a meaningful and autonomous role in a future world, in keeping with its own size potential and aspiration. In accordance with these needs it choose a policy of ‘non-alignment’. The term itself was much misunderstood in the world, and particularly in the US. India, perhaps justifiably, never fully explained its position, leading many in the west to ask, ‘non-aligned against what; good and evil?’(R.Bahukutumbi, 1996.)

What Nehru opined was a policy that would enable India to take independent positions on international issues without being tied down by alliances and ideological constraints. The central theme was not to get drawn in to military entanglements with major powers. He also hoped this would open up the possibility for India to adopt a position of some leadership of the emerging world. Many practical difficulties emerged, which hindered the implementations of this policy over the years. Over time, other countries also decided to remain ‘non-aligned’. On global issues, non-alignment often meant aligning against the west. Overall this policy prohibited the possibility of a military relationship with any country or grouping. This policy, and differences in world view, became a major barrier to an Indo-US military relationship throughout the Cold War (Ganguly S, 1990.)

Indo-US diplomatic relations go back to the presidency of George Washington when Benjamin Joy was appointed to the position of US Consul in Calcutta, the then Indian Capital in 1792. Nothing of note happened until April 1941. When Girija Shakar Bajpai was appointed the first Agent General of India in Washington DC and Thomas Wilson shifted as US Commissioner from Calcutta to New Delhi. At that time President Roosevelt understood that a successful pursuit of the war against the Axis powers required India’s willing support and cooperation. Roosevelt’s support for Indian independence and concern about continuing British rule had left a favourable impression on Indians (Chari PR 1999.)

Churchill’s refusal to contemplate a serious change in British imperial policy compelled the Indian National Congress to launch the Quit India movement in 1942. The Congress leaders believed that only an India that was promised freedom after the war could voluntarily join the war against fascism. Instead, the British responded by locking up most senior Congress political leaders. In spite of this, India’s participation in the Second World War was remarkable by any standards. Over two and a half million soldiers, each a volunteer, fought with Allied armies in many of the major threats of the global conflict. This contribution was particularly salient in the Burma front, without which the outcome would have been considerably less certain.

In addition to the roughly half-million soldiers from India and the British Commonwealth in this theatre, the Allied forces were joined by troops representing the Nationalist Chinese, many Africans and, by the war’s end, some 250,000 US soldiers (Sigh 2005.)

This enormous US troop contribution was easily its largest military-to-military relationship in South Asia. US forces provided the bulk of logistics support, flew substantial numbers of air sorties across uncharted routes in unstable aircraft, and ensured that the Kuomintang forces remained in the war against Japan in China. In addition, there was also the enormous Brooklyn air conditioning plant near Kolkata, the largest in Asia at the time that stored and supplied food to all Allied forces in the East (Banerjee, D 2000.)

It might have been expected that this state relations would continue after Indian independence. Instead, the Cold war intervened. India was partitioned and a separate state, Pakistan came into existence in 1947. During the Cold War, the pressure of strategic imperatives often widened the disjuncture between the hope and the reality resulting in hurtful Indo-US relations. The US support to Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in the United Nations in 1948-49, and initiation of military support to Pakistan in 1954, shed a binding shadow on the relationship.

The United States wanted to join as many states as possible in its war against communism, often in a formal strategic relationship. India viewed the logic of American alliances as directly breaking its own interests. India was convinced that American military support had encouraged Pakistan to wage war against it in 1965. This happened again during Indo-Pak war in 1971, when the US gave warnings to India and sent the USS Enterprise of its 7th Fleet into the Bay of Bengal. The United States perceived India’s policy of non-alignment as self-righteous and considered its neutrality far from neutral, citing examples of its silence over the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechosloskavia in 1968 (Dasgupta 2002.)

In mid 1961 India agreed to buy the MiG-21 aircraft from the Soviet Union. This was offered on such munificent terms that neither Great Britain, nor France nor the US could come up with a comparable offer even if they wanted to match it. Thus, began a long and enduring Indo-Soviet arms relationship (Ganguly S, 1990.)

The very strong Indian reaction to the evolving Pakistan-US military alliance was perhaps not anticipated in Washington. In any case, by now India’s image in the US had plunged and New Delhi‘s concerns were not a factor in US decision making. Indo-US relations remained frozen in a sate of suspended hostility until 1962. The Chinese aggression on India in Oct-Nov 1962 led to a remarkable turn around in Indo-US relations.

The attack from Chinese side surprised and shocked the Indian leaders. A total of two Indian infantry divisions, or less than ten percent of the Indian combat force, faced a thoroughly prepared PLA. The Indian forces were totally unprepared, badly deployed, under-equipped and even without proper clothes. The defeat was total in terms of India’s political standing and its foreign policy. What is notable was the dramatic shift in Indian policy and the liberal military and political support that India received from the US and the West. None of India’s non-aligned partners provided help and few showed any sympathy.

Moscow actually temporarily halted the MiG program, siding instead with its socialist friend. In contrast, the US came through with substantial help. A considerably larger arms package of US $ 373 million was apparently worked out by November 1963 in Washington by Ambassador Chester Bowles and was to have been signed by President Kennedy on 26th of November, 1963. Kennedy said; “We should defend India, and therefore

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