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NEW YORK: The US is adjusting itself to a multipolar world and showing imagination by actively seeking to shape the poles; convergences between India and the US “far, far outweigh” the divergences when both countries looked at who are their competitors and possible partners; and the big areas of cooperation between the two lie in technology, defence and security, and political convergence especially in the global south, external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said.
He added that perhaps for the first time for an Indian policymaker, that the US is India’s “optimal choice” as a partner.
During a conversation at the Council of Foreign Relations, former US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster asked Jaishankar what he saw as the limits of the India-US relationship — given concerns in the US about issues of religious freedom or human rights In India, uncertainty in Delhi about American reliability, the fact that India isn’t a US ally, and the divergent visions of both countries about the future of the world order.
Jaishankar responded by saying that instead of “limits”, he would speak about the “possibilities” and take a more optimistic view of how relationships work and offered an explanation of why the old mindset was shifting.
The US mindset shift
Outlining a broader shift he saw in the US, Jaishankar said, “My sense is that actually today the US is also fundamentally readjusting to the world. Part of it is the long-term consequences of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that’s one part of it.”
The other part, he said, was that US dominance and relative power vis a vis others had changed in the last decade and that was logical with the world becoming more democratic, opportunities becoming more available universally, other centres of production and consumption emerging, and a “redistribution of power” which had now happened.
Jaishankar said, “The US, even if it may not use the term, is adjusting to a multipolar world. In fact, it is actively seeking to shape what would be the poles, and what would be weight of the poles, in a manner that will benefit the US and there is nothing wrong with that. We are looking at a world, we have probably entered the world where the US is no longer saying I basically work only with allies.” As an example, he offered Quad where US had partnered with India, which wasn’t a treaty ally like the other two countries in the grouping (Australia and Japan).
Jaishankar then said, “You should credit US policymakers with that imagination and with that forward planning that they have already started getting into this much more fluid, dispersed centres of power. Very often, much more regional, with sometimes different issues and different theatres producing their different combinations. It is no longer such a clean-cut black-and-white or three-axis solutions. It is far more messy in a way. It is much more anarchic in a way. And all of us are trying to adjust to that and find a way of working with each other.”
The India-US dynamic: Key priorities
Jaishankar said that if one looks at the role that both countries can play in enhancing each other’s interests, there is recognition that there was an enormous possibility.
“If the US looks at the world and says what is the competition and where are the partners, real and potential, and we do the same, you will find that convergences today far, far outweighs the divergences. And so for me, I am no longer prepared to think of it as where are the limits. Where all are opportunities, how much can we step on the gas, how much can we take it forward.” As evidence, he pointed to the changes in just the last five years across security, political, technological, and human linkages domains. “We have a lot going for us.”
Asked later what constitutes the three top priorities for the bilateral relationship, Jaishankar said, “The India-US relationship has to focus strongly on technology. In many ways, the balance of power in the world has always been a function of the balance of tech. But it is even more intense today. The impact of tech on everyday lives is very sweeping.”
Explaining why this became a bilateral issue, Jaishankar said when India and the US looked out and examined tech partners and who could add mutual value, India and the US gravitated towards each other. “Let me give you a practical example. You have the CHIPS Act and IRA. They have in a way accelerated investments in a certain set of tech domains. But if we scale this up at a global level, look for other centres of production, and where HR is there to support the expansion of business, I would suggest to you that India is a very important partner for US,” Jaishankar told the elite American foreign policy audience.
There could be other such conversations on critical minerals or maritime security
“In a way, the US today needs partners in order to secure its interests more effectively. There are a finite partners out there. Those partners, potential or actual, have to reach some kind of understanding. When we look from the Indian perspective, and you can say that there is an even more finite list of countries who can be partners, if I have to make choices, to me, US is really an optimal choice. There is today a compelling need for India and US to work together. To me, most of all, it is focused on technology,” Jaishankar said, in a fairly significant statement about both mutual priorities but Indian choices.
He added that a big part of tech was spillover into defence and security. The third would be politics in the context of the north-south divide. “Today, the global south is very distrustful of global north and developed countries. It is useful for US to have partners who think and speak well of US, often behind your back.”
India and the US have unveiled the initiative on critical and emerging technologies, which spans cooperation across defence, AI, space, quantum, semiconductor and research domains; they have also increasingly worked together on global south; and they have focused on kick-starting a new road map for defence industrial cooperation that has seen American majors agreeing to invest in defence manufacturing in India.
Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.
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