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Monthly Archives: October 2021

Meeting India’s COVID Challenge: An Opportunity to Further Strengthen U.S.-India Relations

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The intelligence community warns the coronavirus pandemic damages the world in political, economic, and health aspects. Instability is worsening, and world powers seek advantage from the pandemic instead of cooperation. After assuming a premature victory over the coronavirus and lifting restrictions earlier this year, India experienced a deadly second wave of the virus starting in mid-March. As of September 24th, India has had over 33,500,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with nearly 450,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Although India has now overcome this second wave thanks to the greater availability of vaccines and aid, only 16% of the Indian population is fully vaccinated as of September 23rd. In addition, the coronavirus has exacerbated pre-existing economic and political issues that could pose a graver threat to the Indian economy and democratic stability than the pandemic itself if the state cannot recover soon.

India enjoyed a record boost in its economic growth during the April-to-June quarter this year after a dramatic downturn during that same time last year. That downturn was a scare not only for India but also for the international community. India is the third-largest economy in Asia. However, though it seems India has lifted itself out of that crisis, the Indian economy has consistently declined since 2016, well before the pandemic. The drop in consumer spending during lockdowns exacerbated this decline. The record growth in recent weeks is a good sign. However, the Indian economy has not fully recovered, with consumer spending still well under its pre-pandemic levels and the population suffering from increasing unemployment due to a consistently high birth rate and the expected pandemic stressors. Another important factor that threatens to circumvent overall recovery in India from the pandemic is the possibility of a Nipah virus outbreak. The virus killed a young boy in the Indian state of Kerala on September 5th, at which point health officials reacted quickly to reduce the possibility of spreading. Although the situation appears to be under control, Indian medical officials are wary; the Nipah virus has no vaccine. An outbreak could easily prove disastrous to the already wounded country. Let it be known, India is staying on its toes.

The United States can continue playing a role in the Indian recovery. American concern toward India earlier this year involved supplying medical assistance and avoiding the spread of variants to American citizens. Now, the American concerns as cases recede in India could be the impact of India’s decline on the global economy. In addition, the disputes between India and its neighbors—China and Pakistan, who have become strategic allies to one another—have culminated in heightened aggression within the past two years. If India does not recuperate quickly, grievances and protests among the population could expand from mere dissatisfaction with the government to more aggressive anti-government protests, possibly leaving India even more vulnerable to geopolitical or territorial losses at the hands of its neighbors. The US support and military partnership that India has seen in recent years regarding these disputes are essential to keep China at bay.

Another factor that suggests India’s importance to US interests is India’s essential role in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“the Quad”), which consists of India, the United States, Australia, and Japan. Though the Quad is not a formal alliance, these countries share values and interests. This year, they have come together to discuss ways of not only countering the coronavirus but also ways of countering China’s attempts to assert itself as the dominant power of the Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, the US provides aid to India for relief from the coronavirus via the Quad Vaccine Partnership, which essentially promises cooperation between the four countries in manufacturing and distributing safe and effective vaccines in the Asia-Pacific area. The US has also provided monetary aid to India, totaling over $200 million since the pandemic began. If the US prematurely stops combatting the pandemic in India or neglects the security concerns of the region, then it provides China with an opportunity to assert dominance and place pressure on a crippled India. At the very least, the US-India relationship could be compromised or weakened by a cessation of aid, as could the Quad alliance and the hope of strengthening democracy in Asia overall. India is a strong democratic ally in the region and boasts the second-largest standing army in the world behind China. Although disjointed at times and not completely modernized, India’s military has the potential to be a formidable force for democracy in the region if push comes to shove. This process is made all the easier with US assistance: the US could provide the support and training necessary to get India back onto its feet, if only for the sake of combatting China’s quest for dominance. It is also important to note that a third wave of the virus is still a risk in India and could upset some of India’s progress despite the gradually increasing number of vaccinated individuals in the country. Thus, US aid during this time is necessary.