Two Plus Two Equals Two

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After scheduling difficulties, the 2+2 meeting between the foreign and defence ministers of the US and India is finally set for September 6 in New Delhi. Government officials are hard at work to make this meeting a success and to reinvigorate bilateral ties that have been a bit in the doldrums.

Policy areas of divergence compete with those of convergence. New Delhi is poised to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia that could trigger sanctions unless the Trump administration waives penalties. Sanctions could also be imposed due to Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by his predecessor and by Europe, Russia and China.

In the last quarter before doing so, India upped its oil imports from Iran by 45%. A sanctions-oriented US approach to issues where New Delhi and Washington differ is bound to be a lingering bone of contention. Another area of policy difference relates to Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians. There are more: As my colleague, Hamza Shad, has documented.

“Of the nearly 1000 resolutions that were passed between 2005 and 2017, the two countries concurred on 13 percent of resolutions (as measured by them voting the same way, or both being absent from the vote). Looking further back, Indo-U.S. voting alignment increased only slightly from 13 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2017. The extent of India’s alignment with the United States is below that of Russia, and around the same as that of China.”

These findings fall significantly short of the vision of a US-India strategic partnership advanced by geo-strategists in the George W. Bush administration who promoted a civil nuclear deal with India as a lever to open a new era of bilateral relations, one that could advance Indian capabilities and US interests to serve as a counterweight to China’s rise. Instead, New Delhi’s sense of the world – at least as measured through the filtered prism of UNGA votes – doesn’t vary all that much from Beijing’s, and hasn’t shifted appreciably since the civil nuclear deal with Washington was struck.

To realists, this shouldn’t come as a great surprise. New Delhi prizes its strategic autonomy and change comes slowly to a great patchwork democratic nation that risks cohesion when it diverts from consensualism. India remains a member in good standing of the Group of 77 developing nations at the UN, and it tries to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its fellow BRICS members – Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – at their annual summits. Ties with the US matter greatly to New Delhi, but have not altered India’s foreign and regional policies…

This article originally appeared in The Wire on September 4th, 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. 

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