Some experts say that the U.S.-India partnership has been grossly oversold, first by the George W. Bush administration and now by Obama, and that the two nations were never destined to become comfortable partners in a new world order despite their vaunted shared democratic values.
Much of the problem arguably stems from the nations’ very democratic nature, in the form of populist pressures emanating from India’s Parliament and the U.S. Congress.
“In almost every political speech, the fact that India is a democracy was celebrated, but the fact that it is a democracy also profoundly limits its economic dynamism and reform processes,” said George Perkovich at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Unrealistic expectations have led to disappointment and frustration, he said.
“It is a really important relationship, and a relationship that is maturing in a friendly way, in a positive way,” Perkovich said. “But that is happening at the natural pace of human development, not through this type of magical transformation that people projected.”
The landmark civil nuclear agreement that the two countries signed in 2008 was supposed to lead to tens of billions of dollars in business for U.S. companies that build nuclear power plants. But it has not yielded anything except a disagreement over who would be liable in the event of a nuclear accident.
The nuclear deal was seen as the cornerstone of the broader strategic partnership between the two nations. Both countries are wary of China’s growing influence, have fallen victim to Islamist extremism emanating from Pakistan and share a commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan.
But at the same time, each pursues its own independent strategic agenda. India’s unwillingness to join international sanctions against Iran — which New Delhi sees as an important oil supplier — and its reluctance to intervene in other countries’ internal affairs — in Libya and Syria, for example — are among the many wrinkles in the relationship.
India’s decision in January to buy 126 fighter jets from France’s Rafale for $11 billion instead of its American competitors was a major disappointment in Washington, though high hopes persist for business between the world’s largest weapons buyer and many of the world’s largest defense contractors, based in the United States.
Trade between the two countries is growing fast and reached $100 billion in 2011, but it is dwarfed by trade with China and remains a fraction of what most people see as its long-term potential. Indian concerns about U.S. agricultural policies that subsidize farmers and restrict imports are matched by American concerns about market access and jobs being outsourced to India.