Seven Myths are Keeping India and the United States from Pursuing Closer Ties

Seven Myths are Keeping India and the United States from Pursuing Closer Ties

The ghosts of nonalignment still stalk the halls of South Block, erecting bureaucratic roadblocks and conjuring contentious debate over every self-interested shift in America’s direction.

Some in Beijing are indeed unsettled by India’s growing partnership with the United States. Yet rarely has China sought to impose direct costs on India in response, likely fearful such a move would backfire and provide additional ammunition to Chinese critics and U.S. advocates in Delhi. In that sense, Beijing is stuck in a Catch-22.

Myth Number Six: America Takes Everything and Gives Nothing

The nonalignment crowd insists that an imperious United States extracts concession after concession from India, offering Delhi little to show in return. Is that true? Has America not carved out more country-specific exemptions for India across more levels of government and separate issue sets than it has for any country in recent history?

The United States has granted India unique status as a “Major Defense Partner” and delivered advanced military platforms to Delhi before other treaty allies. It has supported a role for India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and undertook the daunting task of re-wiring a decades-old international nuclear order to make India an accepted member of the club—the only non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ever make the leap. What great bounty did Washington extract for this Herculean task? From a transactional perspective, nothing. And that’s okay.

With India, America is doing something well that it has traditionally done very poorly: playing the long game. The U.S. government genuinely believes India’s rise is an inherently positive development: a good thing for regional security and stability; a good thing for democratic governance; a good thing for U.S. interests in the region; and a good thing for the regional balance of power. The recognition of these long-term, sometimes indirect and intangible benefits frees Washington from the need to extract transactional benefits from every interaction with Delhi.

Myth Number Seven: An Alliance Would Benefit the United States More Than India

This article is an attempt to clear some of the fog that’s polluted the debate for too long; not a grand pitch for an India–U.S. alliance. That isn’t coming. It isn’t needed. Most of the benefits that traditionally accrue from an alliance are already being tapped by the United States and India: the intelligence cooperation, the military sales and interoperability, the shared threat assessments, the strategic dialogues and joint vision statements.

The great irony is that the one key component of an alliance that’s missing—the one the nonalignment crowd resists so fiercely—is arguably the one that would prove most valuable to India: a mutual security guarantee.

Do the math. Whereas thousands of miles of ocean, a network of U.S. bases and treaty allies, and the most formidable military on earth stand between China and the United States, India is intimately bound to China by an over 2,000-mile-long disputed border. Not only has a Chinese invasion force crossed that border before, Beijing still claims as much as 90,000 square kilometers in India’s northeast. America isn’t just far more powerful, it’s in a far less vulnerable geographic and geopolitical position.

Put another way, while Indian aid to America in a U.S.–China conflict would likely be welcomed, there are few practical scenarios where it would prove decisive. By contrast, there are an abundance of conflict scenarios where American support could materially change the course of another Sino-Indian war. The nonalignment crowd has done a masterful job warping this reality and obscuring the meaning of an alliance: a pact between two countries to protect one another in times of need. In such a compact, it is generally the junior partner with the most to gain.

If India is content being the only member of the “Quad”—the grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States—without security guarantees from the others, America has little to gain from pressing the issue. To its credit, Washington recognized this long ago, and has refrained from invoking the A-word for the better part of a decade. As the nonalignment crowd shadow boxes with this phantom menace, our task is to look past the alliance models of the Cold War and continue constructing a flexible new strategic partnership framework tailored to fit contemporary geopolitical realities.

 

Jeff M. Smith is a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Image: Reuters