The post–World War II era marked the beginning of a new world order: Pax Americana. Since then, the United States has played a central role in global affairs by shaping the institutions and norms that regulate the international community. Human rights, democracy and free-market economics have been the core American values promoted. The United States and its allies faced a single, conventional enemy during the Cold War. After which, the United States intended to globalize that international order by integrating detractors, such as Russia and China, so they would not disrupt the system. The attacks of September 11, 2001, marked a dramatic shift from the 1990s global security for the international community, global governance, and global markets to the post–9/11 world in which non-state actors and nefarious state actors could leverage asymmetric warfare to cause global political and economic insecurity.
The 1990s push for interconnected global markets was dealt a blow in 2007. The global economic crisis infected the entire global system that year, resulting in record-breaking international and domestic financial problems. Since then, the prospect of bringing other major powers, such as Russia and China, into a U.S.-dominated international system has diminished. This dilemma may force the United States to make difficult decisions, especially with respect to China’s coercion, which is undermining U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific. This essay addresses India’s geostrategic significance to U.S. interests, the role it may play in the Indo-Pacific region, and it provides recommendations for U.S. policymakers.
Indo-Pacific Geostrategic Relevance
The United States has adopted the “Indo-Pacific” term to reflect to a new Indo-Asia landscape, which is bound strategically by India in the west, the United States in the east, Japan in the north, and Australia in the south. For India, the Indo-Pacific construct validates its self-image as a great power that deserves requisite respect. For the United States, the Indo-Pacific construct reflects the U.S. Pacific Command’s vast area of responsibility and the maritime basis of U.S. power. For Japan, it hedges against China becoming the dominant power in East Asia. On Australia’s part, it manifests the country’s two-ocean nature and strengthens Western Australia’s position within the federation. For all three countries, the Indo-Pacific construct confirms their individual efforts to increase relations with a rising India.
The Indo-Pacific region encompasses over 51 percent of the earth’s surface and includes approximately half the world’s population. More people live in the Indo-Pacific region than anywhere else on the planet. The United Nations has predicted that by seven out of ten people will live in the Indo-Pacific region by 2050. This explains why the majority of the thirty-eight megacities (those with populations of over ten million people) are located there. Further, seven of the fastest-growing markets are in this region. Each year, one hundred thousand commercial ships pass between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Malacca—this comprises approximately 25 percent of the world trade. Thriving economies develop defense industries and militaries.
Seven of the ten largest armies in the world are located in the Indo-Pacific region, and twenty-six of the thirty-six nations in the region have militaries. Most of these have armies primarily but also are increasing their naval capabilities. In particular, India’s military modernization is designed to expand both its land and maritime forces as a way to emerge as a great power.
India as a Great Power
In August 2017, India was ranked among the top four militaries of the world. India has the world’s second largest active-duty military with approximately 1.4 million personnel. The nation has almost twice as many reservists, nearly 2.8 million reservists, than active-duty personnel. In 2016, India had the fifth-largest defense budget only behind that of the U.S., China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Over the past five years, India has been the world’s largest arms importer. After Russia, the United States is the second-largest supplier of defense equipment to India. Over the past decade, India has increased procurement from U.S. technology and defense companies—from virtually zero to over $14 billion in major systems. India’s economic growth and military modernization depend on a wide range of space, dual use and nuclear, maritime, and defense aviation technologies.
Under the principles of the “Make in India Campaign,” India is balancing these procurements with domestic defense production for internal consumption and foreign military sales. In addition, India has engaged in joint exercises and training with Japan and the United States, and, as members of the quadrilateral security dialogue, all three are again exercising combined with Australia.
With its sights set on supremacy in the Indian Ocean, India’s willingness to use forces beyond its borders has become critical in defending its national interests and preserving the existing order in the region. To support this objective, India wants to increase its yearly arms sales from $150 million to $3 billion a decade. India will need to drastically expand its offerings and number of shoppers in the region.