Foreign and Defense Policy

The Partnership of the Future

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.

3 thoughts on “The Partnership of the Future

  1. Your assessment on Indo-US relations is more or less correct.

    The thing is India cannot look at USA as a well-meaning partner, mostly because of a history of American involvement in the region which has been counter-productive to India’s security, as well as American efforts to contain India, through instruments like Nuclear Supplier’s Group.

    Even today, even after agreeing on a 123 Agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation, America spearheads a movement in NSG to constrain India from a similar treatment like the other members of NSG, by withholding ENR technologies.

    Any effort by USA to curb India’s growth potential, be it by giving Pakistan anti-Indian weaponry or by constraining India’s ENR options, enrages India no end. Let’s not forget that Pakistan was 65 years ago a part of India, so India considers Pakistan still to be part of its region of influence, which has been used by external powers like UK, USA and China to contain India. So whenever USA deals with Pakistan or Afghanistan but tells Indians to keep out, it is hardly something that would ingratiate USA with India.

    So those in India who understand the India-US dynamic, are not anti-American but still extremely angry at USA.

    Should USA someday decide that it wants to enter into a partnership with India, where USA stops following policies antithetical to Indian interests, India would be more than happy to reciprocate, but USA has not reached that decision by far. At the moment it is ‘every man for himself’, which is not partnership.

    The strategic challenges are great, it is natural for USA and India to partner, but that can happen only if USA reassesses its national interests. One national interest of USA is not to suck up to Pakistanis. Is it not?

  2. Well, we in India are not anti-American but we sure don’t trust the Americans completely. We are all too aware of how the Americans sent in the 7th fleet into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate us. However, we in India are amused at how Pakistan takes the US for a ride ALL the time. Pakistan is hunting with the hounds and running with the hares, the pakistanis know it, you know it but there is nothing in the world you do about it. Either this is gross weakess or gross stupidity, neither of which will bring you any glory. And the constant whines of how American jobs go to India. I have debunked that nonsense in my blog but dont intend to do so in this comment. Overall Indian-Americans relations are headed the same way, it can still improve if US gives up its duplicity and different yardsticks!

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