NEW DELHI–Wags once quipped that Brazil was the country of the future, and always would be. The same can be said for the Indo-U.S. relationship, which has tantalized strategists and geopolitical thinkers in recent years. Given the difficulties and limitations with our aging, half-century alliances and responding to the new realism setting into the Sino-U.S. relationship, India has emerged as the great hope for many. Seeing its torrid economic growth continue, realizing it will soon surpass China in population, and instinctively responding to its liberal democratic society, American observers have seen it as a natural partner for Washington and a future global leader.
After nearly three weeks in India, I came away with a clear sense that our wilder hopes for an Indo-U.S. partnership are highly premature. In the Wall Street Journal, I discuss why we should temper our expectations, but also try to figure out ways to slowly get India more engaged in the productive part of the Indo-Pacific to its east. If we focus solely on Pakistan, then we’ll likely never get a deeper relationship with New Delhi, since Washington’s fear of Islamabad’s collapse means we routinely ignore Indian concerns about the Pakistan threat. Beyond that, however, Indian policy makers and thinkers remain firmly fixed on domestic issues: developing their economy, reducing the grinding poverty that permeates the country, and keeping order in a freewheeling democratic political system. For the partnership to become real, Washington will have to focus on things that India is concerned about, and slowly work to build up trust. The pull of Nehru’s non-aligned thinking is still powerful, even if it is couched in different terms, and to expect a sudden break from the past 60 years simply because we and the Indians recognize growing challenges with China (for example) will lead to great disappointment on the U.S. side.