Modi’s visit to the US redefines the geopolitical framework

India and the US need each other as never before

Modi’s visit to the U.S.. Pic – Getty Images 

By Anil Madan

White House Press Secretary Karinne Jean-Pierre released a statement preceding Prime Minister Modi’s much ballyhooed visit to the US:

‘President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Republic of India for an Official State Visit to the United States, which will include a state dinner, on June 22, 2023. The upcoming visit will affirm the deep and close partnership between the United States and India and the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together. The visit will strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space.’

One can hark back to the days when then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced that India would be a non-aligned nation as between the US and the Soviet Union. This, of course, did not sit well with American presidents over the years. It did not help that the US was a major supplier of arms and support to Pakistan. Nor was it a surprise that India turned to the Soviet Union and then its successor, the Russian Federation, as its principal supplier of fighter aircraft and more.

US displeasure with India’s and ergo, Pakistan’s, refusal to sign on to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, had to come to grips with the all too logical expectation that India would not let China exert a nuclear threat without India’s capability to respond. And, of course, if India were to have nuclear weapons, so would Pakistan.

US-India relations have simmered ever since. There are areas of cooperation, some of compromise, and some of conflict. But India has never fully embraced the U.S., always acting as that mythical non-aligned player. 

India’s conflicts with China have brought home the stark reality that it is constantly under threat. China’s seizure of Tibet, its encroachment into the Tibeto-Gangetic Plain, the threats to Bhutan, and border skirmishes with Indian troops, serve to underscore the stark instability that India faces to its northern border and water supply.

In the meantime, during the past decades,US support for Pakistan all but forced India to turn to the Soviet Union and its devolution to the Russian Federation for arms and fighter aircraft.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a call to take a stand against an illegal war. India chose not to condemn the invasion. This was undoubtedly a moral failure. On the other hand, it was a pragmatic decision to secure energy supplies for a nation desperately in need of them and for reduced prices. China too seemed allied with India in this respect as it also refused to condemn the invasion and signed deals to import Russian oil and gas.

One had to know that as China and Russia touted their new-found partnership and strategic alliance, alarm bells were set off in New Delhi. Could India really rely on Russia for arms and fighter aircraft? Could Russia provide support and spare parts if its supply chains were cut off by sanctions imposed by the US and EU? If China and Russia truly became partners, there would be no question that China would be the dominant force in that relationship. Under those circumstances, could India not reasonably expect that China would threaten supplies from Russia to India?

What to do? What to do? One must give credit to Prime Minister Modi. He seems to have navigated this swamp reasonably well.

There was, of course, the obligatory reservation that the US had “lingering concerns” about human rights in India. Nevertheless, President Biden and PM Modi were expected to, and did, deepen defense and technology cooperation between their countries during Modi’s official visit to the White House.

Among the expected business agreements were those in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, semiconductor chips, and investments in India by Micron Technology and other US companies.

In a somewhat subtle blow to Donald Trump’s hate-filled attitude toward immigrants, at a meeting with First Lady Jill Biden, Modi invited American students to come to India and said he was happy to meet “young and creative minds” as soon as he arrived in Washington. Modi said India was training students in AI and had started labs across the country.

During Modi’s visit, a well-telegraphed announcement confirmed that India would manufacture fighter aircraft jet engines powered by GE jet engine technology. India is on target to produce 350 fighter aircraft over the next two decades. This announcement spells an end to India’s reliance on Russia as its primary fighter aircraft supplier. And don’t underestimate India’s technical capability to produce more sophisticated versions of aircraft engines once it has been given access to the basic technology.

It is remarkable that in an age where differences and failures to agree take center stage, so much of Modi’s visit to the US was marked with statements emphasizing agreement and cooperation. One such statement by an Indian origin spokesperson in the US touted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US as one elevating the already existing bilateral ties between the two countries to greater heights. There was talk of pursuing common goalsand addressing global challenges together, as well as a recognition of a rapidly changing global economic and geopolitical framework.

Modi and Biden covered diverse areas of cooperation including bilateral trade and investments, defense cooperation, technology, semiconductor, clean energy, MSMEs, skill development, and cooperation on the Indo-Pacific.

The new relationship is described as the India-US strategic partnership.

Not lost in all of this is the emphasis on technology of the future. The Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET), which was launched in January 2023. Modi emphasized that the iCET is set to widen collaboration across sectors including defense industrial cooperation, space, quantum and Artificial Intelligence, telecom and biotech sectors and will add new dimensions to the partnership.

The US and India also attempted to resolve trade disputes bilaterally without going through the World Trade Organization’s cumbersome procedures.

Another aspect of the Modi visit was the agreement for Micron Techology to set up a semiconductor testing and packaging unit in India with an investment of almost $3 billion. The Indian government has committed to production-linked incentives of about $1.3 billion.

Not lost on Modi was the opportunity to promote India as the alternative manufactory of the world to China. He urged the CEOs of Micron Technology, Applied Materials and General Electric, to invest in India to boost semiconductor manufacturing, collaborative research and production in aviation and renewable energy. 

As an almost postlude, I should add that Modi planned to visit Egypt on his way back to India from the US. This was India’s first bilateral visit to Egypt since 1997. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi were scheduled to sign a Strategic Partnership document. Echoes of the non-aligned movement, perhaps?

All in, we must view Modi’s visit as reflecting a major change for India on the geopolitical stage. To be sure, Indian nationalists will proclaim that India acts in its self-interest and not in the interest of the US Fair enough. So does every nation act in its self-interest. But clearly, India and the US need each other as never before. India cannot count on China to back off its aggressive behaviour in the South Pacific or toward India as a nation. Russia is unlikely to be a reliable supplier of arms and aircraft as it faces severe supply chain issues and probably Chinese domination.

For the US, Pakistan is no longer a reliable “partner” if it ever was. The Middle East may be all but lost. Salvaging control of the greater Pacific area requires a reliable partner. India is a critical player in that mix along with Japan, Korea, and perhaps Vietnam.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 30 June 2023

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