China’s rise and India’s obvious partner (the U.S.)

By Lisa Curtis
March 6, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The release last week of an Indian think tank report entitled “Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the 21st Century” has prompted robust discussion about Indian foreign policy in the age of a rising China.

Indian national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon provided remarks at the report launch and apparently participated in some of the private discussions in preparation of the report.

U.S. strategic thinkers who are eager to improve ties with India will be disappointed by the report, as it provides few imperatives and recommendations for solidifying a U.S.-India strategic partnership for the 21st century. While the report acknowledges that the U.S. (and China) will be global power centers and that a robust American maritime presence in the Asia-Pacific will help delay the projection of Chinese naval power in the Indian Ocean, it also says that it would be “premature” to conclude that India would benefit from close ties with the U.S.

Demonstrating distrust toward American intentions, the authors highlight that it would be risky for India to rely too heavily on the U.S. since an Indo-U.S. strategic partnership “could become a casualty of any tactical upswing in Sino-American ties.” The report says the American alliance system is in decline and that it is uncertain “how the U.S. might actually respond if China posed a threat to India’s interests.” The report further notes that another potential downside of focusing too much attention on building ties to the U.S. is that it could “prematurely antagonize China.”

Non-Alignment 2.0 spends considerable time addressing India’s competition with China and the threats New Delhi is likely to face from Beijing in years to come. The report states that the “challenge for Indian diplomacy will be to develop a diversified network of relations with several major powers to compel China to exercise restraint in its dealings with India, while simultaneously avoiding relationships that go beyond conveying a certain threat threshold in Chinese perceptions.”

The report recommends building up India’s naval capabilities to ensure it remains dominant in the Indian Ocean region, investing in infrastructure development in the border areas, and preparing for asymmetric responses to any possible Chinese aggression regarding their border disputes.

But not all Indian strategic thinkers agree with the report’s conclusions. Former Indian national security advisor Brajesh Mishra, while commenting on the report at its launch last Tuesday, noted that a U.S.–India strategic partnership (not “alliance”) developed on equal footing would obviate the need for India to pursue “non-alignment.” Mishra raised the obvious question of whether India can, in fact, remain “non-aligned” between the U.S. and China. Mishra further pointed out that India has increasingly moved toward the U.S. over the last two decades.

China is competing with India in increasingly aggressive ways. Beijing has refused to grant visas to Indian military officers from Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, is moving forward with plans to provide Pakistan with civil nuclear technology outside the international nonproliferation framework, and is expanding its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean.

In this environment, what dividends does New Delhi receive in remaining aloof from Washington? Instead of keeping the U.S. at arms distance, with the hope of placating the Chinese, India should be drawing closer to the U.S. in ways that solidify and build trust in their own partnership and deter the Chinese from considering a more aggressive posture toward India.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

While the Obama administration’s initial policies / approach is partially responsible for this reluctance shown by India , in moving closer towards the US,one must remember that improvement in ties require sincere efforts from both the parties. One must also understand the uniqueness of India’s position on the world stage. Even though we have so much internal problems and orderlessness within our borders, India has always projected itself as a responsible, reasonable and peace loving nation, when it comes to representing itself as an independent nation on the world stage. A dedicated and intelligent mind can spot the order and progress hidden inside the chaotic patterns. The problem with US foreign policy is that it is more concerned with sustaining its role as global policeman, than finding realistic and long term solutions to the various political and economic problems faced / self-created by least developed countries. Where was the US foreign policy in Africa all these years in the so called American century ? Still there is so much Famine, Malnourishment and poverty in our so called Dark continent. With power comes Responsibility and the US should start acting around the globe with greater moral responsibility. A time to Ponder : And lastly(this belongs to a greater viewpoint which is far more outside the limits of this discussion), while the West has given the world all of these scientific inventions and material comforts that we enjoy or live(!!!) today , it has also propagated some of its insecurities and questions of meaninglessness about life itself. Thus it is India with so much of its Spiritual wealth and past that will stand as a beacon or lighthouse to lead the materialistic world from Darkness. Jai Hind.

Posted by vijay_ram | Report as abusive

Equation on US-India Strategic-partnership is simple, if and when China gets stronger economically and militarily, US needs more of India to counter the rise of china. As for border conflict, US will be happy to sell weapons to India, almost anytime. That is why US wants to shift military presence to E. Asia.

If India is ambitious, partnership for “protection” would not help the preception as THE Regional Power

Posted by Ideashare | Report as abusive

We shouldn’t be talking about Spiritual Wealth when countries are sharpening their tools and positioning themselves aggressively. India has to be self-reliant in weaponry, build infrastructure along the borders in a strategic way. Diplomacy and coercion have to go hand-in-hand to realize our objective of deterring neighbors.

US-India relationship basically depends on US-China relation.

A very disciplined approach is required by India to set the right perception for neighbors and for the world.

Jai Hind.

Posted by rajl | Report as abusive