Tracing the arc of American ‘exception-ism’ for India

Source– The post is based on the article “A lifeline for Indian science” published in the “The Hindu” on 28th June 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2- Bilateral groupings and agreements

Relevance- India and US bilateral relationship

News- The article explains the recent improvement in Indo-US relationship and exceptions made by the US for India to forge a closer partnership.

What is the trajectory of the Indo-US relationship in the recent past?

The growth of the relationship between India and the United States started 25 years ago, when the U.S. imposed sanctions against India for nuclear weapons in May 1998.

Since then, the relationship between India and America has grown year-on-year.

It was built by five American Presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden) and three Indian Prime Ministers (Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Narendra Modi) over the first two decades of the 21st century.

The Clinton-Vajpayee-era gave impetus to summit-level diplomacy in the relationship. The Manmohan-Bush and Manmohan-Obama relationship highlighted nuclear diplomacy. Modi-Obama and Modi-Trump worked on trade and military diplomacy.

During Modi’s recent state visit to Washington, the two nations forged ahead with technology diplomacy.

Which are the exceptions made by the US specifically for India in the first quarter of this century?

Civil nuclear deal– In 1998, Mr. Clinton signed a waiver to the sanctions on both India and Pakistan.

The Bush administration pushed for civil nuclear exemptions. It resulted in the India-U.S. Joint Statement in 2005, a waiver under the Non-Proliferation Act, the Henry Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement with India.

The Obama visit to Delhi in 2010 announced another set of exceptions for India on export controls and high technology trade and transfers under the U.S. Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

These exceptions were made even though India never joined the NPT Treaty regime and nor signed the CTBT. These were also “India-specific” waivers not available to other non-NPT countries such as Pakistan.

Russian angle– After CAATSA of 2017, the Trump administration avoided sanctioning India for the Russian S-400 missile system, but sanctioned Turkey and China for the same purchases.

In the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, the U.S. did not apply secondary sanctions against India for its considerable oil imports or defence engagement from Russia. This is indeed an exception.

Religious freedom– Finally, the U.S. has accorded International Religious Freedom Act exemptions to India for the past four years.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has made repeated recommendations to place India on a list of “Countries of Particular Concern”. But the State Department has not complied.

Why has the U.S. institutionalised such a broad-based waiver policy for India over two-and-a-half decades?

The first reason is the promise of ties with India. It is the world’s most populous nation, inclusive, pluralistic democracy for most of its history with a record in non-proliferation.

Second, there is India’s attractiveness as an economic market and a military buyer.

Third, is India’s boundary problems from Beijing. India can be a more dependable partner than European allies in providing a counter to China.

Fourth, is the Indian American diaspora. It has distinguished itself as a professional, prosperous and unproblematic community. It is the biggest votary of better India-U.S. ties.

What are the biggest challenges in this relationship?

The exceptions made for India can be reversed at any time. Former close partners of the U.S., such as Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia have experienced the same.

The geopolitical context of ties, driven by a desire to counter China, or rein in Russia is also an American construct. It is not followed by India.

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