The Changing Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership

The Research Unit on Political Economy (Mumbai) looks at “India’s Place in the U.S. Strategic Order” and related issues. (Hat tip: Richard Rubin.)

While the US government is always interested in securing large contracts for American arms manufacturers, that does not explain its decision, as Condoleezza Rice put it, to “make India a global power”. That decision is dictated by broader strategic considerations.

First, the US is not worried by India’s ambitions: it knows that India is unable to project power across Asia independently. For example, India’s plans for a rapid-reaction force which could be deployed immediately in countries along the rim of the Indian Ocean cannot be pursued without fast long-range aircraft with aerial refueling capabilities, Airborne Early Warning and Command aircraft, attack helicopters, and a carrier in addition to the INS Virat. A significant share of this would have to be imported from the US. Any drawn-out intervention abroad would require even greater infrastructure, which India lacks. (In fact, even the European Union countries are not equipped with the infrastructure for sustained projection of military force independent of the US. This was demonstrated during the Balkans crisis, when they were forced at last to turn to the US to intervene.)

Moreover, given the balance of military strength, India’s attempts to project power cannot be sustained in the face of US opposition. Indeed, Vajpayee reportedly confessed that strategic partnership with the US was essential to his 20-year programme to attain great-power status; “otherwise India’s ability to project power and influence abroad anywhere would be greatly compromised.”

The second reason for the US to promote Indian ambitions is that it suits US interests to do so. This is spelled out with brutal candour in at least three important US sources.