15 May 2024

The U.S.-India Relationship: Navigating Strategic Multi-Alignment

Courtney Manning


Just as strategic non-alignment defined India’s foreign policy during the Cold War, strategic multi-alignment has defined its security posture throughout the 21st century. By fostering strong and simultaneous relationships with Russia, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Iran, India’s GDP has risen over 7% annually since 1990, becoming the 5 th most powerful global economy after the U.S., China, Japan and Germany.

While the future for India looks bright, balancing the interests of its superpower partners remains a complex task. For decades, the Soviet Union supported India in its conflicts in Kashmir and with Pakistan, used its veto to kill resolutions against it in the UN Security Council, and bolstered its military capacity. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, China became India’s largest trading partner, followed closely by the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Given the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising competition between the U.S. and China, the appeal of enticing India as a valuable partner is higher than ever. Economic pragmatism has enabled India to abstain from political and security commitments, but as Russia’s global influence dwindles and tensions with China rise, greater alignment with the West appears both advantageous and inevitable.

Across the Pacific, Washington is tasked with planning for the worst-case scenario: simultaneous war fronts in the Middle East, Ukraine, and the South China Sea, which would destabilize global trade and drastically shift the global balance of power. A strong U.S.-India partnership can reduce global economic dependence on Russia and China and solidify a democratic presence in the Indo-Pacific. However, as India backslides in several democratic and human rights benchmarks, it remains unclear whether it is ready to accept the terms of such a partnership. American policymakers must incentivize India to align more closely with its Western allies without making undue concessions that undercut global human rights and democratic values

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