Stimson in the News

The Elephant in the Room: Auditing the Past and Future of the U.S.-India Partnership by Sameer Lalwani and Heather Byrne

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Optimism has steadied U.S.-India relations for more than a decade. Recently, security scholars and regional analysts have lauded India as “the Trump Administration’s foreign policy bright spot” and “a central partner in U.S. efforts to balance rising Chinese power.” Just last week, Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver highlighted “a lot of convergence on the strategic landscape” between the U.S. and India. U.S.-India relations have been a bipartisan success, deemed “one of Mr. Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements” and “one of the few success stories of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy.”

Yet, for such a resounding success, it is curious that the relationship repeatedly faces “India fatigue,” which seems to bubble to the surface every two years in U.S. defense policy discussions, including this year. This week, on the eve of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to India, veteran watchers of the relationship warn that it is not in a crisis yet, but could be soon. Mounting frustrations have led to calls for a “life jacket” to weather these downturns. Publicly, U.S. leaders have raised “serious concerns” and expressed disappointment with several of India’s defense decisions, including arms procurements from Russia, and there have been several warnings that India’s dismissal of U.S. concerns could “jeopardize U.S.-India relations.” Given India’s lackadaisical approach to defense, even leading proponents of the relationship have wondered aloud whether the U.S. wager on India might become a “failed bet.” Our private conversations with U.S. government officials and policy experts reveal frustration and concern over the supposed pattern of U.S. concessions and Indian shortcomings — criticized as “all talk and no show.” For their part, Indian observers and analysts have expressed equal frustration with the United States.

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