America Botched Its Potential Alliance with India

F-21 By Lockheed Martin for India
March 28, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IndiaJoe BidenMilitaryDefenseRussiaUkraineWar In Ukraine

America Botched Its Potential Alliance with India

Mistakes over the last four years have alienated India and slowed the coalescence of the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Today, India has taken its own distancing measures from the United States in response to some of the Biden administration’s missteps. 

The United States faces an existential crisis in the form of China’s rise. To counteract the challenge from Beijing, Washington needs to find willing partners in the Indo-Pacific. One such country is India. The world’s largest democracy and possessing a robust demographic profile (unlike China with its aging population), India is the world’s fifth-largest economy in GDP terms. 

India shares a land border with China, and the two powers have not had a positive relationship since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. 

Most recently, conflict between the two sides erupted over control of India’s Ladakh Province, which is very near Chinese-held Tibet. The Chinese appear to have gotten the better of this exchange, and Beijing has since increased its sway over the mountainous region, expanding its military presence there. In turn, India has turned to the United States for military assistance and has received it. 

One would assume, therefore, that India was an integral ally in America’s wider network of alliances. Indeed, during the Trump administration, great emphasis was placed on the United States working more closely with India. 

America Needlessly Complicated Its Relationship with India for Ukraine

Sadly, however, the Biden administration has been far more circumspect in its dealings with India. 

Mistakes over the last four years have alienated India and slowed the coalescence of the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Today, India has taken its own distancing measures from the United States in response to some of the Biden administration’s missteps. 

The break with India was primarily over its refusal to abandon a longstanding partnership with Russia. 

Since the early Cold War, India’s government has maintained close connections with Russia as part of New Delhi’s triangulation strategy. Immediately after the British Empire left India and recognized its independence, India’s elite concluded that as a middle power, India must balance the big powers against each other. 

India would never allow itself to become totally reliant upon or allied with any country – especially one from the West, which had colonized and ruled India for so long.

Understanding the Russia-India Connection

The old Soviet Union was a natural counterweight to the West. Moscow, for its part, had coveted access to India since the days of the tsars. 

In the post-Soviet era, a humbled Moscow adhered to a balancing strategy of its own – what Yevgeny Primakov called “strategic triangles.”

Russia’s grand strategy involved balancing potential rival nations off each other while preventing the creation of powerful blocs in strategically vital regions such as Central Asia and Southern Asia. India was an essential element to this vision.

The notion that India would simply break away from Russia after decades of this dance is absurd. The Biden administration’s expectation that India would abandon its independence by breaking away from Russia over an issue, like Ukraine, that is of no importance to New Delhi was obscene. Partners don’t throw away their national interests just because a larger power tells them to. Vassals do that. 

After centuries of being a colony of the old British Empire, the Indian government will never allow itself to be viewed as a vassal for any foreign power.

India has helped Russia evade the otherwise onerous sanctions that the U.S. and other Western states imposed on Russia as soon as their armies invaded Ukraine in February 2022. India does not care about Europe’s problems. Why would they? And given India’s far greater importance as a potential and willing partner in containing China’s rise, why would Washington care whether India turned on Russia or not?

India Matters for Containing China, Not Russia

Had the West not had a religious fixation on Ukraine’s survival, the United States and India would have continued on the positive trajectory they had been on before 2022. Alas, that was not to be. With India pulling back from its closeness with the U.S., no grand anti-China alliance can be forged.

India’s role as the most powerful actor in the Indian Ocean makes it key to checking China’s long march through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean. Beijing seeks to link its holdings in the South China Sea with its growing interests in Eastern Africa via the Indian Ocean. India is the one nation that can stymie China’s strategy. But they likely cannot do it on their own. America must backstop India here. Thus far, though, America has been reluctant to foster greater ties with India because of the Russia angle.

The Indo-U.S. relationship should be as strong and valued as U.S. partnerships with Japan, Israel, and the United Kingdom. Without India, no real containment of China can take place. Let’s all stay focused on the existential threat posed by China and forget about the aging Russian bear’s last roar in Ukraine

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.