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U.S. Relations With India

Author: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
May 26, 2016

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In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on May 24, 2016, Alyssa Ayres discussed areas of progress and the importance of managing expectations in U.S.-India relations. Drawing on recommendations made by the 2015 CFR Independent Task Force on U.S.-India Relations, Ayres recommended reframing the bilateral relationship as a joint venture instead of as a not-quite alliance, arguing that such a shift would allow for increased cooperation in areas of convergence without letting differences undermine progress.

 Takeaways

  • The CFR Independent Task Force found that India could grow to be another $10 trillion economy in the next twenty to thirty years if it can maintain its current growth rates, let alone attain sustained double digits. Although India must overcome its own domestic political challenges to its economic reform process, the United States can elevate its support for India’s reform agenda. The most immediate action the United States should take is to champion actively India’s candidacy for membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The United States should also take steps to enhance trade and offer technical assistance that India seeks to advance its reform goals, as recommended by the CFR Independent Task Force.
  • India and the United States have much in common as the world’s two largest democracies, but differ in their tactical approaches to advancing democracy and human rights. Opportunities for partnership in third countries in this area should focus on technical training on the mechanics of democracy, a recommendation also made by the Independent Task Force. Bilaterally, the United States can gain a more receptive hearing through private diplomacy to raise concerns about human rights in India, and pursuit of shared objectives can help broaden the bilateral rights dialogue.
  • The transformation of the U.S.-India defense and strategic relationship stands as one of the greatest changes of the past fifteen years, but there is much room to grow. In addition to expanding security cooperation in the areas of homeland security and counterterrorism—areas that the Independent Task Force identified for further emphasis—the United States should be doing more with India on civilian security in Afghanistan.
  • Prioritization of India in U.S. colleges and universities compares unfavorably with other global regions. Twice as many American students study abroad in Costa Rica than India, and enrollments in all Indian languages combined account for less than one-quarter those of Korean. The United States should review federal funding incentives to encourage study abroad in India and the study of Indian languages.

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