sangrami lehar

India is marginal to US strategy

  • 09/01/2018
  • 10:34 AM

Bhartendu Kumar Singh

The recently published US National Security Strategy (NSS) has made a single-line statement on India's emergence as a leading global power. And yet, the editorials and write-ups in media seem to accord great significance to the statement. The truth is that the NSS reflects the Cold War mindset of the White House, with China as the emerging arch rival. India has only a contextual 'facilitating' role in the US grand strategy and the NSS proposes complicated strategic choices for India.
The NSS makes it clear that the US has been and would be aligned with its declared allies in setting the international agenda. This is alluded by the fact that the allied powers have grabbed more space in the NSS narration than India that is described in a passing manner. Even at the regional level, countries like Japan and South Korea occupy a pivotal place along with Taiwan in the US considerations. Australia, the Philippines and Thailand remain important (and, perhaps, willing) partners, though they often predicate their own trajectory independent of US policy.
India figures marginally and is primarily seen as handy for forging defence partnerships in the region, like the recent quadrilateral meet. Recent developments, however, bring home one reality bite: defence partnerships with the US also mean billions and billions dollars of arms supply orders to US companies, with little reciprocity in return, such as lobbying and support for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The hollowness of US recognition is also exposed by the fact that H1B visas to Indians have reached an all-time low.
It, therefore, emerges that the US’ description of India as a leading global power is contextual. The NSS defines China along with Russia as revisionists in international relations, challenging Washington's leadership across the spectrum; the American championship of liberal democratic ideas are being positioned with political meritocracy based on authoritarianism; Bretton Woods institutions are being challenged through parallels like the Asian Infrastructure Bank and America's geopolitical outreach is being matched brick by brick. The one-time hegemon is less powerful to impose its print version of hegemonist stability theory. The decline in its political, economic and military power forces the US to hunt for new allies. India, with its democratic polity and rising economic-military profile suits the American profiling of new allies. India is bang there: in Indo-Pacific — the centrepiece of Sino-American contest for global supremacy.
While the US-led world order is in crisis, China's march towards superpower status emboldens it to carve out an independent geopolitical space and push its own agenda in international relations. Recent policy statements from President Xi Jinping indicate that China has a 'dream' spanning beyond Asia. Already, China is building its first overseas military base in Africa (Djibouti). Its economic penetration is ubiquitous in Africa and it is reaching out effectively to Latin America. The hypothetical Chinese world order may actually turn out to be real in the next few decades. We would have, thus, two warring factions competing for domination in international relations akin to the Cold War days. The American NSS forecasts this probability and attempts for retaining an American edge.
Two competing world orders having mutual disregard could turn out to be disastrous and diminish the prospects for a pacifist international relations. A probable Sino-American war is a popular research topic in the West, already churning out basketfuls of 'coming war' theories. While China's foreign policy has been quite offensive, piggy-banking on its new military confidence, the US foreign policy is re-investing in Asia, complicating major conflict scenarios. At risk would be Asia, torn by pulls and pressures of competing military alliances and build-up, jeopardising the prospects of 'an Asian century'. This would affect India and could derail its focus on economic empowerment.
The strategic scenarios for India, therefore, are quite complicated:
First, the American strategy of containing China through coalition-building exercises, quite visible in the US NSS, is a risky proposition. India does not benefit from aligning with competing worldviews. Therefore, an open partnership with the US could aggravate balancing of ties with China, our proximate neighbour. This could propel China to intensively militarise the periphery around India.
Second, it could also be a drag on India's resources. The Trump administration has been scouting for resource-sharing for its military designs and missions. This was evident when the US desired India to play a larger role in Afghanistan, perhaps hinting at men and material contribution. In a futuristic sense, this could mean sharing of Indian port and logistics facilities for American strategic ends in the Indo-Pacific.
Third, the presumed partnership with the US would also complicate India's positioning on many international issues where it differs with Washington. Witness for example, the BRICS group, where India forged a partnership with member countries on many issues that were not in sync with Washington's.
Diplomatic sweeteners in the NSS notwithstanding, India should stay clear of US grandstanding and forge partnerships with all major powers on the basis of balance of interests rather than balance of power. Probably, there lies the optimisation of international relations to facilitate India's transition to a great power status.
Courtery The Tribune dated December 27, 2017

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