Where is the U.S.-India relationship headed?
That was the subject of conversation on Friday at The Nixon Center, where Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia James Clad discussed the past, present and probable future of Washington-Delhi security ties in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Geoffrey Kemp, Director of Regional Strategic Programs at The Nixon Center, moderated the event.
Kemp opened the discussion by pointing out "Asia's growing footprint" in the Middle East and the Gulf region, a role that encompasses links in investment, expatriate workers, education and consumer goods-not just interest in oil reserves. He then posed a "fundamental" question about U.S. policy in the region: "Are we to be the perpetual policeman of the region," or is a more "cooperative" or even "confrontational" role vis-à-vis other powers-like India and China-in the cards?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Clad then took the microphone, beginning by underscoring the steadily increasing importance of America-India ties. He went so far as to estimate that they now occupy 45 to 50 percent of his time, noting that much of this is spent in substantive meetings with Indian counterparts.
Clad called the myriad predictions of future Asian strength, so often heard in the media, often "hyperventilated" compared to the realities on the ground. But he did spend a fair amount of time discussing the blossoming friendship between Delhi and Washington, and its indispensability to both sides. Clad argued that the relationship has stayed on a roughly positive "trend line" since bilateral relations began warming under Ronald Reagan and former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, avoiding dramatic ups and downs.
Of course, there are still notable points of friction-the U.S. alliance with Pakistan chief among them. Clad admitted that Washington is often "hobbled by what we can't say" in security discussions with Delhi because of its ties with Islamabad. Still, he stressed that a "deeper, less hesitant relationship" with India continues to develop. Clad cited two examples of this: the "uptick" in military to military ties and joint exercises during the Bush administration and the recently announced sale of six C-130 transport aircraft to the Indian military.
Clad closed his remarks by looking at the big picture. He said that ties with the United States have wide "bedrock support" among all important sectors of the Indian political establishment. In the past, a "tiff" between the United States and India would virtually shut down all cooperation. But, according to Clad, the possibility of isolated rows disrupting broader U.S.-India cooperation is becoming more unlikely.
Andrew E. Title is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.