Secondly, an alliance with the United States would make it far easier to transfer weapons technologies to India. The current Indian government has been pressing for a “Make in India” policy, especially for modern weapons systems. The problem with implementing this objective has been two-fold. As seen in the case of the recent Rafale purchase, where India wanted to build the plane at home, the country lacked the trained scientific personnel, infrastructure, and machine tools to do the job so the cost of the project ballooned. The bigger problem, however, which led to a choice of a French airplane over an American one, was that there were questions about India safeguarding American supplied technology. A formal alliance would go a long way to removing such concerns in Washington.
Indian politicians, diplomats, and academics will typically reject the idea of an alliance because in their eyes this would reduce or remove India’s ability to act with freedom on the international stage. This is a tired argument that comes from the time, in the 1950s and 1960s, when India was a poor nation that would have been constrained by an alliance with a superpower. Today, India is too big to be asked to be an obedient supplicant. Further, and Indian officials have trouble answering this question, have American allies lost their foreign policy autonomy through their alliances with Washington? One cannot make the argument that Japan, Germany, and Britain have lost their autonomy and Turkey has been able to chart an independent foreign policy that made Ankara decide to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system even though it was seen as threatening the technological safeguards Turkey had put in place to buy the American F-35 Lightning fighter jet.
A more formal alliance would help alleviate the Indian security dilemma but can the overcautious, incrementalist, and unimaginative Indian foreign policy bureaucracy move in this direction? Not doing so may be a long-term threat to India’s security that will be costly to overcome.
Amit Gupta is an Associate Professor at the USAF Air War College. The views in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the USAF or the US Department of Defense.