Returning to the Land or Turning Toward the Sea? India’s Role in America’s Pivot

China is pushing the U.S. and India closer. Are they focusing on the wrong set of challenges?

Few diplomatic overtures have generated loftier expectations in recent years than Washington’s rapprochement with New Delhi. Frequently at loggerheads during the Cold War, then kept apart by the U.S. commitment to counter-proliferation and India’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrent, the two sides have never had a warm relationship. That began to change during the George W. Bush administration, a transformation that was symbolized by a controversial agreement allowing the United States to sell civilian nuclear technology to India, despite its status as a nuclear-armed nation that is not recognized by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Obama administration has since picked up where its predecessor left off. The president, for example, has called India a “natural ally” of the United States, while his former secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, declared that India was “a linchpin” of America’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific.

While there were many reasons for the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy to mend fences, perhaps the most important reason was the one that few officials could point to in public: the rise of China. In modern times, tensions between New Delhi and Beijing date back to their border war in 1962. In fact, the contested boundaries between these two powers are some of the only land border disputes that China has yet to resolve. To keep up with Beijing’s growing military power, India needs to modernize its armed forces, which means moving away from its reliance on Russian hardware and looking toward Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, Washington is searching for ways to preserve its position in the Asia-Pacific as China’s strength continues to increase. Having the region’s other rising power on its side is a good place to start.

If a partnership between the United States and India makes sense on paper, so far improved relations between the two nations have hardly been game changing. There are a host of explanations why the fruits of strategic collaboration have been relatively modest, from bureaucracies on both sides that have impeded potential arms sales, to broader considerations such as the fear of antagonizing China. One important factor, though, is the mismatch between what the United States wants India to do and what New Delhi is best suited to do.

Full article: Returning to the Land or Turning Toward the Sea? India’s Role in America’s Pivot (The Diplomat)

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