June 23, 2023

A pathway for deeper US-India ties has been laid

The following article originally appeared in The Hindustan Times on June 23, 2023. 

The India-US relationship is one that continues to elicit surprise, which is itself surprising given the steady improvement for almost a quarter century under multiple leaderships in both countries. Beyond the pomp and ceremony, the outcomes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington represent cooperation across the wide breadth of the relationship, from strategic relations to economic engagement, technology cooperation to people-to-people links. The two leaders’ joint statement included some lofty language – “no corner of human enterprise is untouched by the partnership between our two great countries, which spans the seas to the stars” — but it is not all that exaggerated.

More significantly, rather than loose promises, the two countries laid out tangible cooperation in many of these areas, often involving private entities in the two nations. These include specific investments by companies in each other’s countries, the establishment of research scholarships, professorships, and funds, major deals between corporate entities, and joint initiatives involving expert government agencies within the two bureaucracies. Taken together, these agreements have the potential to embed significant cooperation between the two countries for some years.

On defence and security, the two countries have made a concerted attempt at identifying specific ways in which India can maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific. This is not altruistic on Washington’s part: The U S benefits both through commercial contracts and by having a capable balancing partner in the Indo-Pacific and in world affairs. One breakthrough involves the production and transfer of technology to India for jet engines, a valuable and lucrative business that could become an important catalyst for Indian industrial policy and the aerospace sector more broadly. After all, India is likely to be one of the fastest growing civil aviation markets over the next decade. Other defence requirements – from long-range artillery to unmanned systems – have been identified as primed for further cooperation. Furthermore, agreements and initial discussions for ship repair, liaison officers, and procurement represent steps to put defence cooperation into practice.

On trade and economic issues, the two countries are in broad agreement about the limitations of a post-Cold War trade order that inordinately benefited China and concentrated manufacturing supply chains. Barring aerospace and semiconductors, China now competes with or has overtaken the US and its allies in most manufacturing endeavours, with its dominance of electric vehicle battery supply chains being but the latest development. The coronavirus pandemic and Ukraine war have underscored the importance of diversified and resilient supply chains – particularly in critical commodities and manufactured goods. Attempts at securing major investments in both countries, linking financial entities and start-ups, and fostering business relations represent an attempt by both India and the US to strengthen resilience in the face of potential economic warfare or other disruptions. Moreover, the two sides agreed to resolve some thorny differences on trade in the multilateral sphere, which had, in the recent past, adversely coloured their relationship.

On technology, there is considerable convergence on some basic principles, despite the US and India having very different technological capabilities and needs. This is translating into cooperation on semiconductors, 5G and 6G telecommunications, space, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, high performance computing, as well as medical and atomic research. Setting standards and acquiring capabilities in these domains will have long-term consequences, given the widespread applicability of some of these critical and emerging technologies.

Additionally, a suite of clean energy technologies is also being ramped up, with particular interest in nascent green hydrogen and carbon capture as well as more established solar and wind generation and battery storage. Space cooperation is likely to see a fundamental shift with India signing the Artemis Accords, enabling not just agreement on principles, but opening up room for scientific collaboration and information-sharing as well as manned spaceflight.

Finally, a great differentiator is the people-to-people connection between India and the US. First- and second-generation Indian Americans constitute an outsized and growing proportion of US corporate board rooms, scientific laboratories, university classrooms, and government offices. Many Indian Americans have strong links to India, facilitating investment, research, and cultural links, and additional efforts are being made to increase education about India among Americans writ large through scholarships and professorships.
There are obvious challenges, including political differences and linguistic and geographical disparities, as well as bureaucratic hindrances. The opening of further consulates in both countries aims to overcome that. The US already has its third largest diplomatic footprint in India – after Mexico and China – and it is set to grow further.

There have been similar moments in the past. But a shared sense of global challenges, deepening people-to-people and commercial links, and the diminishing relevance of prior obstacles such as Pakistan have paved the way for more meaningful India-US relations. The fact is that the US cannot preserve its technological and economic edge without a wide-ranging partnership with India. Equally, and in a variety of ways that include but are not limited to investment, technology, security, and market access, India’s rise benefits tremendously from a constructive partnership with the US and its allies.

May 17, 2023

Indo-Pacific Summits Mark a Global Churn

The following article originally appeared in the Hindustan Times on May 17, 2023.

This month will witness several leaders’ summits that capture the changing nature of India’s international engagement in the Indo-Pacific and, by extension, the broader international order. Taken together, they represent a coalescing of certain trends that have been manifest for some time. The politics of trade and economic interdependence, China’s global role, the relative emphasis of India’s international partnerships, and the world’s major political fault lines have all undergone structural shifts. But these developments have yet to sink in with certain commentators: Indians clinging to false equivalences, Americans who regularly understate relations with New Delhi, and individuals or institutions in places such as Brussels, Singapore, and New York who seek a reversion to a bygone economic and political order.

At the G7 meeting in Hiroshima this week, the leaders of the world’s largest developed economies will gather, as they have on an annual basis since the 1970s. The G7 agenda is likely to be dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine, where the grouping has stood firmly behind Kyiv, including over sanctions on Russia. But the G7 – barring the United States (US) and Canada – are in for a period of relative economic decline. The non-US G7 members have seen their collective Gross Domestic Product drop from 52% of the G20 in 1992 to 23% today. As a collective, G7 unity matters more today, but their weight matters less.  

India will be attending the summit as a guest, as it has annually since 2019, at a time when it is deepening cooperation with all G7 members. This includes with the United States and Japan in  Quad, with the European Union through the Trade and Technology Council (TTC), and with the United Kingdom and Canada in advanced trade negotiations. Leveraging these mechanisms for accelerating India’s development and economic security objectives – at a critical demographic and macroeconomic juncture for India – remains paramount.

Simultaneously, the G7 summit presents an opportunity for India to raise issues of national and international concern that might otherwise receive short shrift from the developed world, including in the context of the Ukraine war and India’s G20 presidency. These issues encompass energy and food security, supply chains resilience, climate finance and sustainable development, international institutional reform, and debt sustainability. Such concerns are especially important given that higher US interest rates, innovations in digital currencies and payments, unsustainable trade imbalances, and international sanctions are likely to roil the global economy over the coming few years.

Beyond Hiroshima, both Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden are expected to visit Papua New Guinea for meetings with the leaders of South Pacific countries. The South Pacific is often overlooked due to the small size and populations of its constituent islands, but the region constitutes one sixth of the world’s surface. It has also become a geopolitical hotspot, as a focus of China’s competition for influence with Taiwan, the US, France, Australia, and Japan. The region is also a focal point for the climate crisis, sustainable lending practices, and fishing and mineral resources.

For India, a summit in Port Moresby would be a natural continuation – after a pandemic-related hiatus – of the outreach that began in 2014-2017 through the Forum on India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC). In those years, the Indian PM met with 14 leaders in Fiji and hosted them all in Jaipur. It will be an opportunity to showcase India’s development and assistance programmes, as have been evident in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and present Indian proposals for solutions to certain common challenges afflicting the Global South. Meanwhile, Biden’s visit will surprisingly be the first ever by a sitting US president to a South Pacific country that is not a US territory, and marks a long overdue focus by Washington on an important region.

Finally, this month will witness the Quad summit in Australia, the third in-person meeting of the group’s leaders. There are few international groupings that the US president attends on an annual basis: The G7, G20, NATO, APEC, East Asia Summit, and UN climate conferences. Quad is the newest addition to this shortlist.

When it was first elevated to a presidential level meeting in 2021, Quad set up three working groups, but its activities have now proliferated to over 25 initiatives. Some have already demonstrated outcomes, such as the Quad fellowships, while others represent close cooperation, as on maritime issues, cybersecurity, and international lending and certain working groups are still very tentative. On other issues, such as supply chains and critical technologies, Quad is proving a mechanism to advance bilateral efforts between members (such as the national security advisor-led technology dialogue, iCET, involving the US and India) or bring in a larger set of countries, as on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and on maritime domain awareness (IP-MDA). These and other efforts will see some progress in time for the summit in Sydney.

Taken together, this month’s summitry in the Indo-Pacific highlights some major stirrings to the international order. Many established international commentators might struggle to appreciate these trends. But new kinds of economic relationships, new theatres and forms of geopolitical competition, and new mechanisms for addressing these challenges are taking shape in plain sight. 

April 5, 2023

A Common Agenda for the Global South

This article originally appeared in the Hindustan Times on April 5, 2023 under the title 'A Common Agenda for the Global South.’

There is a great deal of curiosity and some scepticism in international capitals about India’s newfound embrace of the Global South. The term, initially a more palatable way of describing the so-called Third World during the Cold War, is used regularly by historians and development professionals, but did not take hold in the world of international relations, until recently. It encompasses regions and countries boasting considerable diversity in terms of language, religion, culture, political systems, and even levels of economic development. But they share experiences as post-colonial States that developed belatedly, resulting in their political marginalisation on the international stage.

In January, India convened a Voice of the Global South virtual conference, where leaders and ministers from 120 countries discussed a variety of issues, from health and agriculture to trade and energy. Issues of relevance to the Global South were also given prominence in the G20 agenda.

Four recent trends have reinforced the need for a common agenda for the Global South. The first is a combination of insufficient representation at international institutions coupled with questions about the availability and sustainability of international lending and debt financing. The Global South’s limited representation in international institutions meant that many developing economies have long felt vulnerable to established lenders from the developed world. Yet, in seeking an alternative in China, they often found hidden strings, longer-term burdens, and refinancing terms that were far from accommodating. With a global pandemic, geopolitical shocks, and rising interest rates, the issue of sustainable debt has become even more pronounced. The distress experienced recently by Sri Lanka is indicative of a more widespread problem.

Second, there is the issue of climate justice. The climate crisis is an existential problem for some small island States, such as in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean. Many other countries in the Global South are particularly susceptible to droughts, floods, heatwaves, and tropical storms. While the developed world has been liberal in making vague commitments to emissions targets and passing judgments on others, it has often been miserly about sharing technology and ensuring adequate financing that could assist the developing world in making difficult energy transitions. The lack of action after every Conference of the Parties of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change is telling.

Third, the Covid-19 pandemic widened the sense of global inequality. A few countries monopolised critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, medical devices, oxygen concentrators, and active pharmaceutical ingredients. When vaccines were developed, richer developed countries received priority. The multilateral Covax facility was, given the scale of the challenge, relatively meagre, certainly at the outset.

The fourth and final inflection point was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A major consequence was the impediment to grain and fertiliser exports from Ukraine and Russia, and sharp increases in global energy prices as Russian oil and gas was spurned by Europe. The Global South felt the sharpest pinch, given their vulnerability to fluctuating prices and low fiscal and consumer spending margins. But there was a pervasive sense that the strategic priorities of Russia, Europe, and the United States (US) overrode global concerns over food and energy security.

In each case, there is widespread frustration in the Global South with the developed West: The US, Canada, Europe, and in some cases, Japan. But equally, there are frustrations that Russia (on Ukraine and the climate crisis) and China (on debt sustainability and coronavirus) have exacerbated these problems, driven often by narrow self-interest. In fact, as both Russia and China are already embedded in international institutions, such as the UN Security Council, they are often just as intransigent about reforming those institutions. The Global South finds itself with few champions or platforms to air these collective frustrations.

It is against this backdrop that India has embraced the terminology and some of the common objectives of the Global South. Strategic decisions often involve difficult trade-offs between short-term interests and longer-term values. In the case of the Global South, India’s interests and values align rather seamlessly. India taking a role in amplifying the voices of the Global South is not just about lofty rhetoric, but because those same objectives — food and energy sustainability, sustainable debt, multilateral representation, equitable public health, and just climate transitions — are goals that serve Indian interests.

The Global South thus represents a strategic opening for India, both to advance its own development objectives and the cause of multilateral institutional reform. But it should not be conflated with a new non-aligned movement. As some Indian commentators have noted, while the Global South is an explicitly non-western construct, it is not an anti-western construct. The purpose is to work with, and be a bridge to, the developed world. It also does not mean that the Global South will operate unanimously, as recent voting at the United Nations indicates. While some shared concerns need to be voiced, the Global South is too diverse to be driven by singular political, economic, and security imperatives.

February 21, 2023

For US in Ukraine, an Opportunity Fraught with Risk

This article originally appeared in the Hindustan Times on February 22, 2023 under the title 'US Has Bolstered Its Position in the World.'

The war in Ukraine may have officially begun in February 2022, but its antecedents were laid the preceding year. In March and April 2021, Russia embarked upon a major military build-up east of Ukraine and in Crimea. This triggered a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States (US) President Joe Biden in Geneva, ahead of which Biden waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Later that year, rising oil prices bolstered Russian reserves and legislative elections in September 2021 favoured Putin. Meanwhile, relations between Moscow and Beijing strengthened, the US was seen as hopelessly divided, and Europe gave signals of continuing economic and energy engagement with Moscow.

These circumstances persuaded Putin to order an even larger Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and in Belarus in late 2021 and early 2022. The US intelligence community informed American leaders, those of other countries, and the media, of imminent Russian war plans. Various third parties, led by France, engaged in frantic last minute diplomacy to avert conflict. After a publicly televised national security meeting, Putin announced a special military operation — a massive, multi-pronged military intervention intended to seize Kyiv, topple Volodymyr Zelensky, and incorporate Ukraine squarely within Russia’s realm of influence.

For Putin and Russia, subsequent developments did not go according to plan. The assault on Hostomel airport was repulsed and the Russian column to Kyiv got bogged down. Russia was more successful in the south, and later in the east in Luhansk. Ukrainian counters around Kherson and Kharkiv regained ground in late 2022 before Putin announced the annexation of four administrative districts in southeastern Ukraine. Throughout, the US led its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) allies in providing Ukraine with detailed intelligence, considerable military equipment, and financial and technical assistance, while levying large-scale sanctions against Russia.

From the point of view of US national security planners, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been an opportunity, although one fraught with considerable risk. Whatever the outcome, Russia will have expended considerable material, human and diplomatic resources in a costly and inefficient manner. The US might be providing Ukraine with significant military and financial aid, but feels it can permanently degrade Russian capabilities with no loss to American lives, and military outlays approximating 5-6% of the defence budget. Meanwhile, the US intelligence community, which has struggled for resources and expertise after the Cold War, appears to have somewhat burnished its reputation.

There is no question that the US is now indispensable to Europe’s security. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said so explicitly, “Europe isn’t strong enough right now. We would be in trouble without the United States.” It is no coincidence that Zelensky’s first visit abroad since the outbreak of war was to Washington, and not Berlin, Paris, or Brussels. US military influence, which had earlier been confined to the borders of Nato members, has now effectively extended to Ukraine’s frontlines with Russia.

But US involvement has created other headaches for Washington. Although American public opinion is still largely in support of aid and military support for Ukraine, there are early signs of conflict fatigue. Anti-war sentiments animate the Left wing of the Democratic Party, while some on the political Right are adamantly opposed to open-ended US military commitments. The country’s ability to influence global opinion has also proved limited. Outside committed allies, few countries – especially in the Global South – have wholeheartedly supported the US-led sanctions.

A further challenge for Washington involves the allocation of scarce military resources. It is true that the Ukraine War has depleted stocks that might be used in other contingencies, notably those involving China. But apart from fungible budgetary resources, the military requirements needed in Europe and the Indo-Pacific are different. US leaders and strategic documents have repeatedly stressed that the Indo-Pacific represents the primary strategic priority. Despite a near-term focus on Ukraine, the US strategic shift to compete with China is well underway.

Finally, like in any conflict, especially with a military potent power such as Russia, there are fears of escalation and accidents. Late last year, US leaders became fearful of the imminent use of nuclear weapons by Russia. This resulted in frantic diplomacy before the situation was defused. As Russia readies for further campaigns this year, and Ukraine prepares to counter, the prospect of dangerous military escalation that might potentially involve the US and Nato directly cannot be ruled out.

Some observers, including a section in India, believe that the US policy in Ukraine has boomeranged, contributing to energy shortages, inflation, and diversification away from the dollar. Some consequences were indeed initially severe, but higher US energy output and a relatively mild winter in Europe have mitigated some of the worst effects. Inflationary pressures eased with higher interest rates and the removal of some supply chain bottlenecks. A better than expected showing for the Democrats in November’s midterm elections has further strengthened Biden’s hand. As underlined by his surprise visit to Kyiv this week, American efforts in Ukraine represent a good return on investment from the point of view of US national security planners. Nevertheless, over the next year, risks abound.

February 17, 2023

Precision Targets: Accelerating the U.S.-India Defense Industrial Partnership


The following report, co-authored with Gopal Nadadur, was published by ORF America in February 2023.


The inauguration of the U.S.-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) in early 2023 has created greater momentum for bilateral defense industrial cooperation. The India-U.S. defense partnership has progressed by leaps and bounds since the year 2000, when President Bill Clinton’s visit signaled a resumption of normal ties following India’s 1998 nuclear tests. In the years since, the two countries have expanded the range and sophistication of their military exercises, which now involves all services and several partner countries. They have concluded negotiations over enabling agreements covering logistics, secure communications, and other protocols. The two countries’ security cooperation has been given a political and bureaucratic structure, including through the 2+2 Dialogue, Defense Policy Group (DPG), and various bilateral and Quad working groups. Defense trade has also taken off, with the Indian armed services now using at least eight major U.S.-designed or -produced platforms. Yet defense coproduction and research and development (R&D) have not grown as significantly, despite some marginal successes. The Defense Trade & Technology Initiative (DTTI), despite some modest success with air-launched unmanned aerial systems, has not produced the results that were once envisioned.

But recent developments have created new openings. Many old impediments, including stifling export controls, insufficient enabling agreements, and lack of political engagement, have largely been addressed. On the Indian side, elements of an industrial policy that involve the private sector have begun to take shape, creating more attractive conditions for private investment and supply chain integration. Geopolitical factors are also more conducive, given the growth in India-U.S. coordination on the Indo-Pacific and the declining relevance of U.S.-Pakistan security cooperation. Meanwhile, wartime attrition, supply chain disruptions, and secondary sanctions will create challenges for Russia’s 1,300 defense companies – which account for 20% of the world’s weapons sales – resulting in a partial vacuum in the global arms market. Other actors are already seeking to fill some of that gap.

Taken together, these circumstances present an unprecedented opportunity for India-U.S. defense coproduction. But this will require translating the tremendous political progress at the government-to-government level into concrete outcomes at the business-to-business level. Priority areas discussed in iCET include jet engines and munition related technologies, but coproduction could extend to anti-tank and anti-air missile systems, fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms, maritime surveillance systems, drones and counter-unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS), and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facilities and services. In addition to creating a viable commercial basis for defense coproduction, the two governments could take several discrete policy steps to facilitate and accelerate such cooperation. This would include: (a) translating political agreement into outcomes such as approvals and procurement requests, (b) ensuring a greater predictability for demand on the Indian side to accelerate investment and technology transfers, and (c) on the U.S. side, improving public-private cooperation to ensure timely responses to proposals.