Unraveling ‘American Exception-ism for India’: Exploring Key Moments and Exceptions

American ‘exception-ism’ for India upsc

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The relationship between India and the United States has evolved significantly over the past two decades. What was once a strained relationship, marked by nuclear sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 1998, has transformed into a defining partnership in the 21st century. This article aims to trace the trajectory of this relationship, highlighting the key moments and exceptions that have shaped it. It will explore the concept of “American exception-ism for India,” wherein the U.S. has made a series of exceptions specifically for India, setting it apart from other countries. This shift in the U.S.’s approach has been instrumental in fostering a strong bond between the two nations.

The Civil Nuclear Deal

One of the pivotal moments in the India-U.S. relationship was the signing of the civil nuclear deal in 2005. This deal provided waivers and exemptions for India despite its status as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. These India-specific waivers were not extended to other non-NPT countries like Pakistan, signaling a significant alignment shift in U.S. policy towards South Asia. The exemptions granted by the U.S. in the civil nuclear domain laid the foundation for closer ties between the two nations.

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The Russian Angle

In recent years, the U.S. has granted waivers to India regarding regulations related to Russia. For instance, when the Trump administration implemented the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in 2017, India was spared from sanctions despite its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system. In contrast, Turkey and China faced sanctions for similar acquisitions. Additionally, in 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Khanna amendment,” which sought to exempt India entirely from CAATSA sanctions. Furthermore, even in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, the U.S. refrained from imposing secondary sanctions on India for its oil imports or defense engagement with Russia. These exceptions granted to India demonstrate the unique position it holds in the eyes of the U.S.

International Religious Freedom Act Exemptions

Another notable exception made by the U.S. pertains to the International Religious Freedom Act. Despite recommendations from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to include India on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” the U.S. Department of State has refrained from doing so. This exemption has been in place for the past four years, highlighting the U.S.’s willingness to make exceptions for India, even in the face of concerns regarding religious freedom.

Reasons for American Exception-ism for India

The U.S. has institutionalized a broad-based waiver policy for India over the past two and a half decades due to various reasons:

  1. Promise of ties: India, as the world’s most populous inclusive and pluralistic democracy, holds significant promise for the U.S. The U.S. recognizes India’s non-proliferation record and the unproductive nature of expressing concerns on certain issues. This understanding has allowed the U.S. to engage with India on various fronts, such as the Paris climate accord, despite concerns about authoritarianism.
  2. Economic and military opportunities: India’s status as an attractive economic market and a major buyer of military equipment further strengthens its appeal to the U.S. The potential for economic cooperation and defense collaboration has been a driving force behind the exceptional treatment accorded to India.
  3. Strategic geography: India’s geographical location in Asia, coupled with its border disputes with China, positions it as a potentially reliable partner for the U.S. in countering Chinese influence. The U.S. sees India as a valuable ally in maintaining stability in the region and balancing against China’s growing influence.
  1. Indian-American diaspora: The Indian-American diaspora has played a significant role in fostering closer ties between the two nations. This community, known for its professionalism, law-abiding nature, and prosperity, has advocated for stronger India-U.S. relations. Acknowledging the diaspora’s contribution, both President Biden and Prime Minister Modi have recognized the importance of nurturing this bond.

Challenges and Future Outlook

Despite the progress made in the India-U.S. relationship, there are challenges that need to be addressed:

  1. Reversibility of exceptions: The exceptional treatment accorded to India could be reversed at any time. Other countries that were once close partners of the U.S., such as Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even China, have experienced the fickleness of American foreign policy. The reliance on exceptions as the foundation of the relationship poses a potential risk to its stability.
  2. One-directional nature of the relationship: The current dynamics of the relationship highlight a largely one-directional flow, with the U.S. often providing concessions and India being the recipient. This asymmetry is evident in areas such as investment, technology transfer, and defense collaboration. To foster a truly balanced partnership, there needs to be a greater emphasis on mutual give-and-take.
  3. Geopolitical context: The India-U.S. relationship has been influenced by a desire to counter China and manage Russia. However, these geopolitical considerations are primarily driven by the U.S. and may not align entirely with India’s strategic interests. To strengthen the relationship further, it is crucial to prioritize India’s own strategic autonomy and ensure that the partnership is based on mutual respect and understanding.

In conclusion, the growth of the India-U.S. relationship has been shaped by a series of exceptions made by the U.S. for India. These exceptions, ranging from the civil nuclear deal to exemptions from sanctions and international religious freedom assessments, highlight the special status that India holds in the eyes of the U.S. While this exceptional treatment has propelled the relationship forward, there are challenges that need to be addressed to ensure its long-term stability and mutual benefit. A true transformation of the relationship will require a shift from exceptions to a recalibration of the rules, establishing a partnership that respects and upholds the strategic autonomy of both nations.

Source: TH

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