U.S.-India relations far stronger than ever: Tanvi Madan of Brookings Institution

Ritu Jha-

Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., was the conference opening keynote speaker at the Asia Society Naren Gupta two-year legacy program series on “Examining U.S.-India Relations” hosted by Asia Society Northern California held June 23 at History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Madan, whose work explores India’s foreign policy, spoke to indica on the sidelines of the conference about India’s relations with the United States, Russia and China, and whether India’s stand on Russia will change with respect to its Ukraine invasion.

“India has taken a clear stand against Russia’s action. It has repeatedly said that countries shouldn’t make unilateral changes to the status quo; they shouldn’t use force.”

She elaborated, “What India has not done is condemn Russia by name, and it is not going to do that because of its strategic interests. Having said, India does not support the invasion and it does maintain that Ukraine should not lose a big chunk of its territory.”

Madan pointed to the recent BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) meeting and said how India’s external affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar spoke to his Russian and China counterparts and said the ideal thing for India should be to stick with international law. “The rule of law is not to make moves against a country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. This is India saying to both Russia and China that we do not stand with you on your right to do this whenever you would like.”

To be sure, several countries have disagreed with India’s stand, even though they have said they will continue to partner India. “Countries like Australia and Japan said it is not a quid pro quo, but about principle. There is unhappiness about India not speaking out on Russia but we see increased understanding among the Biden administration.”

Madan said India is walking a tightrope trying to balance its global partnerships and its strategic alliance with Russia. She said India doesn’t expect Russian support during the India-China crisis but it also doesn’t want [Russia] to see from China’s perspective either.”

And it is not just because of Modi either. “India has a certain equation with Russia. The fact that it is dependent on military supplies, any Indian government would have taken the same stand.”

If this invasion had taken place a decade ago, perhaps the response from the U.S. would have been different and could have caused a serious downturn in bilateral relations. “Now, the two countries have realized the utility of the other side and their importance as well.”

She added, “Does it create friction in the relationship? Yes. Does it create disappointment? Absolutely, but again, they are managing this difference because they recognize the broader U.S.-India relationship.”

In her speech, Madan mentioned that two decades ago, there were U.S. sanctions on India on things like exports and technology cooperation. People forget that today, she said, thanks to developments since then. “U.S.-India relations today are closer than they’ve ever been before,” Madan said. “Think about engagement. Between 1947 and 1999 only three U.S. presidents visited India. Since 2000, every American president has visited India. There have been multiple meetings between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi and with the Quad countries (Australia, Japan and the U.S.). India signing up for the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific economic framework indicates it is not just a bilateral relationship but a regional one as well as a quadrilateral one.”

She said, “Indian has more military exercises with the U.S. than any other country. Defense trade has gone from almost nothing in the mid-2000s to nearly $25 billion today. Bilateral trade was below $20 billion; today, the U.S. is India’s largest trading partner with trade worth over $150 billion.”