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United States and India at Strategic Crossroads in January 2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Paper No. 5861                               Dated 19-Jan-2015

United States and India are poised at strategic crossroads in January 2015 on the eve of President Obama’s unprecedented second visit to India.  India-at-large expects deliverable game-changers in the politico-strategic arena.

The US-India Strategic Partnership in the last fifteen years could not evolve into a vibrant strategic partnership as Indian denouement followed United States, despite the Strategic Partnership, showed reluctance to change its policy perceptions and formulations on Pakistan and China in relation to South Asian politico-strategic dynamics.

In January 2015 American attitudinal policy inclinations persist in this direction. And, that brings United States-India relations to strategic crossroads on the eve of President Obama’s second State visit to India, which itself is unprecedented.

President Obama’s decision, in which his personal input may be more than that of the US policy establishment, signifies that India in 2015 counts in the United States global strategic calculus and review of Asian security.

If that be so, then what is required to add to the vibrancy and glow to the US-India Strategic Partnership is visible, it becomes inevitable for course corrections in United States policies on Pakistan and China in the politico-strategic arena. Small change like renewal of ‘Framework for US-India Defence Cooperation’ for ten years or increased US FDI in India does not count much in Indian public perceptions.

United States strategic permissiveness on China’s build-up of the Pakistan nuclear weapons and missiles arsenal has resulted in Pakistan being a “rogue nuclear weapons state” akin to North Korea. Successive United States Presidents looked the other way to pre-empt China’s build-up of Pakistan’s missiles and nuclear weapons arsenal on the pretext that “actionable intelligence” was not available, which was not the case.

This has resulted in the materialisation of a “Joint Nuclear and Military Threat” to India’s security and an unsettling wider threat to Indo Pacific stability and peace.

Similarly, the United States in the 1970s to1990s unmindful of the effects on Asian security and balance-of-power relentlessly built up China’s comprehensive power capabilities so that it emerges as a proxy counterweight to the Former Soviet Union and thereby serve US strategic interests. This US policy inclination still continues in the vain hope that China could be drawn out of its strategic nexus with Russia.

On both counts of misconceived United States politico-strategic policy formulations, the United States has willy-nilly facilitated the emergence of “Strategic and military monsters” threatening Indian security, Indo Pacific security and even United States security.

In January 2015, the picture is that the United States has major strategic concerns on Pakistan and China and desires that other Asian nations join an American-led posse’ to impose restraint on China and Pakistan ,if not outrightly contain them.

On the above count it has belatedly dawned on the United States that India would count heavily in any such politico-strategic endeavour. But then the crucial question that arises is as to what politico-strategic gains accrue to be prompted towards this end?

For such a development to materialise, the United States has to inject a number of significant game-changers in the US-India strategic equations to convince India that United States is willing to cut across the rhetoric of democracies, human rights and US and India being “natural allies”  which now sound pedestrian and hackneyed. EX MALABAR naval exercises or India acquiring military aircraft from USA do not add up to a Strategic Partnership

Even the US carrots of increased US FDI in India, greater defence cooperation, transfer of defence technology and joining India in PM Modi’s ‘Make in India” campaign are not adequate and amount to ‘small change’.

India’s expectations from the United States are much higher and lie in the politico-strategic domain which would call for the United States to be respectful and honour India’s strategic concerns on China and Pakistan. It is there that the future course and possible success of the presently so-called US-India Strategic Partnership lies. It is there that US-India “Strategic Trust” can be built up as bedrock of a substantial Strategic Partnership.

On China, the United States needs to endow ‘strategic equivalence’ on India in terms of Indo Pacific security and if in US policy perceptions it appears that India has differentials to qualify for the same, the United States must embark on a fast-track trajectory to assist the build-up India’s comprehensive power. The United States should also disabuse from its mind the concept of a G-2 condominium of United States and China managing Asian security.

On Pakistan, the United States has a less challenging task as India requires no material assistance from the United States to tackle Pakistan’ ‘strategic delinquencies’. All that India expects is a change of United States strategic priorities in South Asia and United States withdrawing its protective umbrella over Pakistan.

The United States policy establishment needs to dispense with its outdated formulations of maintaining the balance-of-power in South Asia by artificially building up Pakistan as a ‘strategic equivalent ‘of India. United States must immediately and definitely stop all military aid to Pakistan Army which facilitated the 9/11 attacks in New York and double-timed the US in Afghanistan all along.

The United States in consultation with the international community should consider options to “de-fang Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal”

By doing so, Pakistan is neutralised of its strategic waywardness and robs China of a military proxy in South Asia and an instrument to destabilise US strategic interests in Greater South West Asia.

It beats Asian thinking as to what strategic ends does China serve in the cause of Asian security? Similarly, it beats Indian thinking as to what the United States can strategically gain in South West Asia by bolstering-up a ‘nuclear rogue state’ and a ‘terrorist state’ like Pakistan?

Only by endeavours outlined above can substantial strategic convergences germinate in United States-India relations paving the way for a vibrant and meaningful strategic Partnership.

 United States policy establishment’s differing perceptions with India on China and Pakistan and its consequent effects on Asian security has led United States and India to stand at strategic crossroads in January 2015.

India expects that President Obama during his second visit to India next week would be able to announce visionary major policy course corrections outlined above so that US-India relations could thereafter lead to a substantial and vibrant US-India Strategic Partnership. The United States must recognise that in the overall context of Asian security, the United States needs India as a Strategic Partner; China as a ‘revisionist state’ challenging US predominance in East Asia does not foot the bill and US priorities on China are patently misconceived.

 

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