Why is India America's Natural Ally?
Let me answer in this way. Imagine a matrix, with America's most important national security concerns along one side, and the world's major countries along the other. What emerges may come as a surprise to many Americans-and perhaps to plenty of national security pundits as well.
Think first of the vital national interests of the United States: prosecuting the global War on Terror and reducing the staying power and effectiveness of the jihadi killers; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including to terrorist groups; dealing with the rise of Chinese power; ensuring the reliable supply of energy from the Persian Gulf; and keeping the global economy on track.
Now consider the key countries of the world. Which share with us these vital national interests and the willingness to do something about threats to these interests-in an unambiguous way, over the long term-for their own reasons? India may lead the list.
Henry Kissinger argues that a cooperative U.S.-Indian relationship is in the cards because of "the geopolitical objectives of India, which they are pursuing in a very hard-headed way, [and] which are quite parallel to ours."
With respect to terrorism, India in the past fifteen years has lost more people to jihadi killers than any other nation in the world. Though cross-border terrorism has now receded significantly in Kashmir, India remains an abiding target for terrorists and their supporters in governments who view it as a historic oppressor of its Muslim population, particularly in Kashmir. Thus, India will not relent in its determination to do everything it can to eliminate this threat. Indeed, the Indians recognized the dangers of Islamic extremism long before the United States. As Steven Coll brilliantly documents in his book, Ghost Wars (2004), the United States in effect subcontracted its Afghan policy in the 1980s and most of the 1990s to Pakistan's intelligence service, which in turn fostered the growth of Islamic zealotry across the border in Afghanistan and with it, the rise of the Taliban. While we were looking at our shoelaces, the Indians saw the menace coming. New Delhi doggedly tried to warn us during these years that the Taliban were not exactly social reformers, but to no avail. So India will need no urging from Washington to be with the United States in word and deed to the end of the Global War on Islamic extremism. Will all of our European allies, some with large unassimilated Muslim minorities, be as steadfast over the long term? One wonders.
Weapons of mass destruction are a pressing shared danger as well. Picture the following: A group of terrorists have obtained a nuclear weapon and are debating where to detonate it. The number one target would almost certainly be in the United States. But what would be the second most likely destination? Perhaps Israel. Maybe Britain, although over time its saliency will fade as the war in Iraq winds down. But New Delhi and Mumbai, India's financial capital, will remain pre-eminent potential WMD targets for these mass murderers because of the hateful place India occupies in jihadist ideology. This too will surely put India at America's side in the period ahead. There is no continental European city that faces this same threat at anywhere near the same magnitude.
Like some in Washington, India is enormously attentive to the rise of Chinese power. Let me make clear, however, that this will not lead to joint U.S.-Indian containment of the PRC. Worrying that this could be self-fulfilling, no Indian politician of any consequence supports such a policy. But it does mean this: Behind the elevated rhetoric that emits from New Delhi regarding relations between India and China, the Indians understand better than most that Asia is being fundamentally changed by the weight of PRC economic power and diplomatic skill.
In the short term, the Indian military is not alarmed with China's military buildup because it is primarily focused on the Taiwan Strait. However, the Indians have noticed that China is also constructing airfields in Tibet, which is not especially near the Taiwan Strait. China is also assisting in the construction of a major port in Pakistan and is deeply involved in Myanmar. So India's military leadership has to be concerned about what might happen if China were to move in a hostile direction. They earnestly hope that it will not-and expect their political leaders to craft a strategy that makes any sort of confrontation unlikely. This was an important consideration for India during the successful April visit of China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, to India.
All the same, as the Indian military thinks strategically, its contingency planning concentrates on China. It is partially in this context (as well as energy security) that India plans a blue-water navy with as many as four aircraft carriers. India will also eventually have longer-range combat aircraft and is working on extending the range of its missile forces. What other U.S. ally, except Japan, thinks about China in this prudent way? On the contrary, witness the current widespread eagerness within the European Union to lift its arms embargo against China. As a Chinese general said to me a few years ago, European policy toward China can be summed up in a six-letter word: Airbus.
With respect to energy security, both the United States and India are hugely dependent on foreign sources for our energy needs. About a quarter of the crude oil imported by the United States is from the Middle East. India meanwhile imports nearly 75 percent of its crude oil, much of which also comes from that region.