India: America’s Natural Ally

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

More than two years ago when I (correctly) outlined the Taliban strategy for attacking lines of logistics, Steve Schippert and I were discussing (via e-mail) one potential alternative to my recommended logistical line through the Caucasus, namely India, from port (there are several capable of handling the flow of supplies) to Kabul, admittedly across terrain that is both Pakistani and Pakistani-claimed portions of Kashmir.  Nonetheless, if we were serious about the campaign in Afghanistan, it was an option if combined with strong political and military pressure on Pakistan to accept such an arrangement.  Furthermore, it would have been more conducive to security than the existing lines through Torkham and Chaman have been.

But partnership with India would serve many more useful purposes than mere logistics.  Austin Bay weighs in.

President Barack Obama’s looming post-election state visit to India is another indication of evolution and maturation — the incremental but genuine change measured in decades that marks the coalescing of U.S. and Indian global interests.

Media coverage has thus far portrayed the trip as either a presidential escape from an anticipated midterm electoral defeat or a multibillion dollar weapons-peddling expedition with the president as salesman in chief.

These near-term interpretations both contain a grain of truth, but they shouldn’t obscure the truly compelling story: the great U.S.-India rapprochement is one of the early 21st century’s major historic events. To illustrate, let’s go to the 21st century map of India, and view it and President Obama’s visit from the perspective of a Chinese admiral sitting in Beijing.

The Indian subcontinent physically dominates the Indian Ocean. China, seeking to assure a steady supply of raw materials and energy for its expanding economy, has invested a lot of time and money in Africa and the Middle East. Tankers carry oil from Sudan and merchant vessels cobalt from the Congo to Chinese ports. These ships pass through waters patrolled by the Indian Navy, which is a rather formidable and increasingly modern force.

Our Chinese admiral knows his history. China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet riled India. China’s military support of Pakistan and its clandestine encouragement of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program also irritate New Delhi. In 1962, India and China fought the Sino-Indian War along their Himalayan frontier. That war remains something of a “frozen” conflict politically, and given the altitude, literally. Despite negotiations, the border dispute is not quite resolved.

Should another conflict erupt, the Indian Navy is positioned to damage if not strangle China’s economy. Moreover, India just might have America on its side. For over two decades, American strategists have touted the logic of an Indo-American alliance based on linguistic and cultural connections, accelerating economic cooperation and — well, here’s the gist of it — an increasing interest in curbing Chinese hegemony in Asia.

Sept. 11 and Islamist terrorist attacks in India forge another common cause. As for mutual economic interests, an Indian technician fixing an American computer from a call center in Bangalore is a telling indicator. The Indian government, unlike China’s, does not fear global connectivity.

Chinese admirals aren’t the only ones who see the implications of this strategic merger. Diplomats in New Delhi and Washington are quite aware of it.

Mention “alliance” and the U.S. in the same sentence, however, and India’s left-wing parties go berserk. Indian ultra-nationalists who still rail about British colonialism remain deeply suspicious of political entanglements with the U.S. — though there seems to be little objection to cooperating with other former British colonies like Australia and Singapore.

So “alliance” is a word Indian and American diplomats intentionally avoid. Three years ago, I interviewed James Clad — at the time the Department of Defense’s deputy assistant secretary for South and Southeast Asia — about the prospects for a formal U.S.-India defense alliance. Clad demurred. “We’re not looking for an alliance with anyone. … It (the word “alliance”) sends a wrong signal,” for alliances “figure a real or potential opponent.” It was a deft answer. Why provoke the Chinese admiral?

Clad now teaches at the National Defense University. This past week, he told a Reuters reporter, “The maturation of U.S.-India defense ties is steady … .” That was another deft answer, and accurate.

The relationship between India, the developing giant, and the U.S., the developed giant, is maturing — and Obama’s presidential visit is part of this long, involved and delicate diplomatic process that began developing as the Cold War ended. It is in both India’s and America’s long-term interest that this process continue.

Mr. Bay has it right concerning the natural ally that India makes, but he is wrong about Mr. Obama’s visit to India.  This visit is entirely in response to the poor mid-administration elections, and if the elections had gone differently he would have been stateside preening and pushing his agenda forward.  Don’t doubt it for a second.  Truth be told, India should be rather offended that this is Mr. Obama’s rebound choice rather than being an initial focus when he took office.

Michael Yon is wiser, more measured and less fawning:

After much travels through India, I believe we are natural allies. We have much to learn and gain from each other. India and the United States should do what is natural. We should deepen our ties. Our relationship must be sincere and bonded.

And again:

Why should we want an even playing field between India and Pakistan? Pakistan exports terrorism. India does not. Pakistan is sliding backward. India is moving forward. India is a natural partner with the United States. Pakistan will stab us in the back.

Well, and indeed has stabbed us in the back many times.  Pakistan is an unnatural ally.  More to the point, Pakistan is no ally at all, and the tenuous relationship is founded upon largesse.  A relationship with India would be natural.  In fact, a reciprocal defense relationship (i.e., U.S. comes to the aid of India, India does the same for the U.S., weapons and intelligence is shared, etc.), is the only solution to Chinese regional hegemony.  A security agreement with India would be in my estimation far more valuable than even the relationship we currently have with NATO.

Mr. Obama’s trip to India, which stupidly and arrogantly  involves a platoon of Marines in the Taj Mahal, is only significant in its usurpation of India for a “feel good” drug after a poor election cycle.  India deserves more respect than that, and the U.S. deserves a President that will understand allies and enemies for who they are.



  • jules

    They’re not in the Taj Mahal, they’re in the Taj hotel in Mumbai which is a waterfront location that was attacked on 26/11.

    The trip is a definitely a change from Hillary’s first overseas visit as SecState, her all important “asia” tour which totally avoided india but included pakistan and china. Still, not holding my breath that the democrats will ever see India in a positive light.

    You want to talk about multiculturalism, it was Bush who introduced a diwali celebration in the white house.

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  • http://bit.ly/FirstContact3 Warbucks

    How do we translate our natural affinities of which there are many, shared with India into a supply-line route that is any more secure than we now have through Pakistan? Will India provide air-cover for military and/or NGO ground transports through Pakistan? Or, was this not the intended point of your discussion?

    I don’t see any practical alternative to supply lines. Maybe I’m missing your point.

  • HARIHARA RAMACHANDRAN

    A GOOD ANALYSIS BUT SLIGHTLY UTOPIAN. AMERICA IS STILL WARY ABOUT INDIA AND ITS ONE TIME PROXIMITY TO U.S.S.R. NO DOUBT THINGS HAVE CHANGED, IN THAT U.S.S.R. IS NO LONGER EXISTING, BUT ONLY RUSSIA. INDIA IS STILL CLOSER TO RUSSIA THAN TO U.S.A.

    INDIA DOES NOT DENOUNCE IRAN, IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN, FORCEFULLY ENOUGH TO PLEASE THE AMERICANS. INDIA HAS FRIENDLY RELATIONS WITH MYANMAR AND DOES NOT SUPPORT MS. AUNGSANG OPENLY. INDIA IS VERY SUSPICIOUS OF CHINA AND ITS LAND GRABBING OBJECTIVE. INDIA KNOWS THAT PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME IS MAINLY THAT WHICH WAS CLANDESTINELY OBTAINED FROM CHINA.

    WITH THE ABOVE BACKGROUND HOW CAN U.S.A. AND INDIA HAVE A CLOSE PARTNERSHIP? WILL AMERICA COME TO INDIA’S RESCUE IN CASE THERE IS A CONFLICT WITH CHINA, SIMILAR TO THE ONE THAT HAPPENED IN 1962? INDIA CANNOT DEPEND UPON RUSSIA IN SUCH AN EVENT, AS RUSSIA WILL NOT WANT TO ANTAGONIZE CHINA.

    ABOUT PAKISTAN, AMERICA’S INTEREST IS A CONTINUATION OF A LONG STANDING RELATIONSHIP WHICH STARTED EVEN PRIOR TO JOHN FOSTER DULLES DAYS. THEY WILL NOT GIVE UP PAKISTAN

  • TS Alfabet

    Closer ties to India should be one of those foreign policy slam dunks. I have yet to hear of a down-side.

    India-U.S. (together with our close ties with the ASEAN alliance) form a perfect counterweight to China and Russia. While it is wise to avoid explicit announcements, the truth is that China needs to be contained, particularly in the next 20 years as their demographic catastrophe unfolds.

    As for Pakistan, the U.S. should have been playing the India card since it became clear in 2002 that the ISI was playing a double-game with Al Qaeda/Taliban in the FATA. Pakistan must understand that they need to jump on board the train to Modernity; that train is quickly leaving the station as India and the U.S. forge ever-closer ties that will increasingly exclude, sideline and weaken Pakistan. Pakistan is edging closer to failed-state status, so the U.S. must be prepared to work with India to secure the nukes in the event of a full Pakistani collapse.

  • http://bit.ly/FirstContact3 Warbucks

    Climbing on board the train to Modernity may take a while for Pakistan, as with many Islamic dominated countries. The underlying energies that needs to be re-circuited from negative to positive require a new mother-board of religious cooperation-tolerance with the western world. In Pasadena, California, home of surprising diversity of attitudes for its otherwise international reputation of arch conservatism, the Claremont School of Theology is introducing a new curriculum of students of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam studying together to learn how to interface among cultures and their religions and bridge differences, some real, some perceived. http://presidents-pen.blogspot.com/

    I do not expect to see Pakistan progress in their many internal cultural elements of support to what most of us would call “American Exceptionalism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism ) at a rate faster than the progress enjoyed, if any, by the Claremont School of Theology in their new multi-religious school of study.

    Claremont School of Theology will likely serve as a canary in the mine on how toxic such progress becomes. One might reasonably predict that if progress requires the loss of American Exceptionalism, we will remain in a state of conflict for eons to come.


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This article is filed under the category(s) India and was published November 8th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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