India- U.S.A. relations- Recent developments

India-US relations have become increasingly multi-faceted, covering cooperation in areas such as trade, defence and security, education, science and technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, environment and health.

Grassroot level interactions between the people of the two nations provide further vitality and strength to this bilateral relationship. There have been regular contacts at political and official levels with a wide-ranging dialogue on bilateral, regional and global issues have taken place.

Latest Developments in India-US Relations

  • On October 27th 2020, India and the United States signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement – BECA. It was signed during the third round of 2+2 dialogue.
  • In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump on April 7th, 2020, spoke of “retaliation” if India turned down his request to lift the hold on US orders of an antimalarial drug,  hydroxychloroquine which he has touted as a “game-changer” in the fight against the coronavirus despite its untested efficacy.
  • In February 2020, US President Donald Trump visited India. In his maiden visit to India, both nations significantly ramp up bilateral relations mainly in strategic ties and defence.
  • In September 2019, Modi visited Houston and he addressed a large Indian American contingent in the Houston NRG stadium. Along with President Trump, he reaffirmed Indian American ties, with an emphasis on increased military cooperation with the initiation of the Tiger Triumph exercises.
  • On 8 November 2017, the US announced a grant of nearly US$500,000 for organisations which can come up with ideas and projects to promote religious freedom in India and Sri Lanka.
  • On 3 August 2018, India became the third Asian nation to be granted Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status by the United States. STA-1 enables the export of high-technology products in civil space and defence from the US to India.

What is BECA?

BECA stands for Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement. It is a pact or communication agreement proposed for geo-spatial cooperation between the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence. It will enable the two countries to share military information and strengthen their defence partnership.

Way forward with BECA Agreement –

  • The pact will allow the armed force of the US to provide advanced navigational assistance and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India.
  • India will get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and armed drones.
  • India gets access to topographical and aeronautical data through the sharing of information on maps and satellite images, this will be helpful in navigation and targeting.
  • BECA will provide Indian military systems with a high-quality GPS to navigate missiles with real-time intelligence to precisely target the adversary.
  • BECA is to help India and the US counter growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

BECA completes the “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation between the two countries. India and the US have already signed three key foundational agreements –

  1. General Security of Military Information Agreement – GSOMIA in 2002, that covered the area of areas of security and military information
  2. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement – LEMOA in 2016 covering logistics exchange and communications
  3. Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement – COMCASA in 2018 which was for compatibility and security

India- U.S.A relations with Joe Biden as a President

India-US relations are one of the rare policy areas on which there is a bipartisan policy consensus, particularly in the case of defence cooperation. We must remind ourselves that the US took the significant step of designating India as a “major defence partner” way back in December 2016. At that time, Biden was the Vice-President in the Obama administration with considerable sway in foreign policymaking. This designation has allowed India to receive license-free access to dual-use American technologies ever since. Biden will build on the number of arms sales and defence agreements that were formalized under the Trump administration.

On trade policy, we should expect some shift with the incoming Biden administration. The Trump administration’s worldview was one of “America First economic nationalism” that routinely undermined international institutions. In contrast, the shared perspective of the incoming policymakers under Biden can best be summed up as “neoliberal globalism”. This will mean a greater commitment to multilateral trade as a pathway to US prosperity. Unlike the wholesale rejection of the World Trade Organization (WTO) under Trump, Biden’s foreign policy team will actively try to make the WTO function. The Biden administration considers the enforcement of global trading rules as a legitimate part of global governance. Hence, India may feel greater pressure to abide by these rules than was the case under Trump.

According to a new issue paper from the US-based Asia Society Policy Institute titled “Nature and Nurture: How the Biden Administration Can Advance Ties with India,” Biden, who deemed India a “natural partner” while campaigning will have the task of upgrading a mature relationship at a time of new global dynamics and challenges

It provides a blueprint for how the incoming US administration can advance bilateral ties to the next level, nurturing Biden’s idea of a “natural” relationship.

The report has outlined 10 recommendations to strengthen the US-India partnership which states that there should be the scope of the relationship be expanded to elevate health, digital, and climate cooperation. Also, to renew the US leadership and regional consultation in the face of China’s rise and to turn the page to a positive commercial agenda that focuses on reform and openness

 H-1B Visa

Given the high number of skilled Indian immigrants in the US, the H1-B policy of the incoming administration is of huge interest. This is particularly the case after the harsh orientation of the Trump administration that created suffering and dislocation across the board for all categories of immigrants. Based on public statements by the Biden administration and the heavy support of the Indian-American community to the Democratic Party ticket, it can be surmised that there will be a reversal of the Trump-era policies. How far Biden will go in increasing the H1-B quota for Indian-origin immigrants is anyone’s guess. However, the Biden administration will definitely try to portray itself as more compassionate and cosmopolitan than that of Trump.

What about China?

Biden is a moderate legislator with four decades of governmental experience. Although he shares many of the concerns regarding China that drove Trump’s policies, he is also likely to be far more pragmatic in opening alternate channels of communication. Biden is aware that a US-China deal is essential for any meaningful progress on global governance to combat climate change. Biden differs from Trump in treating climate change as an existential crisis. This is why such a high profile figure like former Secretary of State, John Kerry has been put in charge of this issue area.