The significance of PM Modi’s visit to the US
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, and his first in-person meeting with United States (US) President Joe Biden, marks a historic milestone. His seven-year mission to construct a mutually reinforcing strategic partnership between India — the world’s largest democracy, the “mother of all democracies” and an emerging power — and the US — the world’s oldest democracy, and reigning economic and military superpower — has been successful. The PM has demonstrated his flair for winning the confidence of successive US presidents, from Barack Obama and Donald Trump to Biden now , on a bipartisan basis.
PM Modi’s extraordinarily warm meeting with Biden — including a “Mo-Jo” hug — evoked affinity. It was preceded by a remarkable “connect” and meeting with vice-president Kamala Harris, in which PM Modi described the US and India as “natural partners”. Harris, suo moto, expressed concern about Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups on its soil, and asked Islamabad to take action against these groups so that they don’t threaten the security of India and the US , thus making common cause.
Both sides have described the outcomes as a “landmark”, “opening a new chapter”, “outstanding”, and “the demonstration of political will and intent” at all levels — bilateral, regional, and global. They set an upward trajectory for a future-oriented and transformative Indo-US strategic partnership.
As the joint statement proclaims, this partnership is to be a force for global good — of sustainable development, peace, security, and democracy. The outcomes encompass a strong mix of vision and practical action, covering areas critical to realising India’s destiny of becoming a developed, great power by 2030.
Significantly, India and the US celebrated their special bond positing themselves as role models, and encouraged other countries to embrace their shared values of democracy, universal human rights, tolerance, and pluralism. By extension, Quad became a “cordon sanitaire” of democracies, implicitly confronting the forces of terrorism, the climate crisis, cyberattacks, violations of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and international law.
Five drivers of the Indo-US strategic partnership — tradition, technology, trade, trusteeship, and talent — with the Indian-American community as an umbilical cord, were identified. The visit was as important in recouping ground as in making significant gains. Earlier Trump-Modi bonhomie, along with the Biden-Harris campaign pronouncements on Kashmir and Article 370, false human rights narratives by the Left-liberal and pro-Pakistan elements in both countries had caused concern.
The visit also came on the heels of great peril for India, as it waged a war against the Covid-19 pandemic, and fended off Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks in Kashmir, and Chinese aggression in Ladakh. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan preceded the visit, posing new threats to India’s security, and raising questions about the US’s commitment to the region, to counterterrorism, and to democracy.
PM Modi’s visit, therefore, has special salience in putting Indo-US relations on a sound new footing. It is now better equipped to respond to fast developing security threats, along with paving the way for a post-Covid-19 recovery in its efforts to build a $5-trillion economy.
The joint statement signalled an enduring Indo-US symbiosis to government, academia, the corporate world, and the people of both countries, as well as to neighbours and the larger international community.
The US reaffirmed the “strength of US-India defence relationship”, its “unwavering commitment to India as a major defence partner”, its military and technological cooperation , co-production and co-development.
On counterterrorism, ticking all the boxes, the US committed “to standing together with India in a shared fight against global and cross-border terrorism” to “concerted action against all terrorist groups”, including the Mumbai terrorist attackers and states abetting terrorism. Intelligence-sharing, law enforcement, and cybersecurity cooperation were also pledged.
On Afghanistan, both countries demanded that the region should never be used to threaten or attack any country again, shelter and train terrorists, and plan or finance terrorist attacks. The Taliban was asked to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC)’s 2593 injunctions.
Biden lauded India’s strong leadership during the UNSC presidency and reiterated its support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC, and its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Modi and Biden pledged the development of an “ambitious shared vision for the future of the trade relationship”, renewed negotiations on the Investment Agreement along with building resilient and secure Indo-US supply chains.
The India-US High Technology Cooperation Group was revived to work on “new domains of critical and emerging technologies — space, cyber, health security, semiconductors AI [Artificial Intelligence], 5G, 6G and future generations of telecom tech and Blockchain defining innovation, economic and security landscape of the next century”. The Space -related agreement is to be finalised.
There was reciprocal support for Biden’s leadership on climate action and PM Modi’s renewable energy goal-setting. Mobilising finance for universal energy access in India and deploying critical technologies under the “India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership” were highlighted.
PM Modi’s participation in the second Quad summit also built convergences with Japan and Australia. Belying concerns about the AUKUS security alliance overshadowing it, Quad advanced India’s vital interests in a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and rule-based order, in its becoming a production and export base for one billion Covid-19 vaccines and on leveraging complementarities to enhance supply chain resilience eg in semiconductors.
Despite Biden’s disavowal of the US seeking a “new Cold War, or a world divided into rigid blocs”the evolving US-China binary is changing the game for emerging powers such as India in a volatile neighbourhood. Amid these geopolitical shifts , India’s mission is to seek strategic convergence with like-minded partners and “multipolarity” within the bipolarity.
India’s strategic convergence and security partnership with the US and Quad provides an essential strategic space for India. India will no doubt demonstrate that it has also retained the strategic autonomy to calibrate its other important partnerships — with Russia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Association of South East Asian Nations, Central and West Asia, among others — and manage perceptions accordingly.
Lakshmi Puri is former ambassador of India, former assistant secretary-general, United Nations, deputy executive director, UN WOMEN, and distinguished fellow, Indian Association of International Studies. She is also a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human RightsThe views expressed are personal