India’s security relationship with the United States has traditionally attracted attention in the broader context of India’s foreign affairs.
Since the turn of this century, New Delhi has positioned itself as a major power, first responder and security actor in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). At the same time, Washington wants to nurture India as a counterweight to China’s influence in the region, opening the door for more convergence of interests.
India’s security potential in the IOR aligns well with the United States’ search for like-minded partners who can share security responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific region.
One of the turning points was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It led to special cooperation between the United States, India, Japan and Australia to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. The successful cooperation of resources and efforts between countries has seeded the Quad. But reluctance is evident in New Delhi and Canberra because of fears that such a partnership would provoke Beijing and exacerbate lurking bilateral tensions.
New Delhi’s reluctance to a Quad-style deal eased after the Doklam 2017 standoff between India and China. The bloody border clashes of 2020 have proven to be an inflection point and India’s position towards China is getting tougher. Not only has India accepted Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercise (which previously included the US, Japan and India) by the end of 2020, but also raised the Quad’s engagement to the relevant summit level. to top leadership.
For the first time, the 2021 Quad meeting produced a joint statement, and its scope expanded to include more ambitious plans, including vaccine diplomacy, infrastructure development, maritime security and critical technologies. In another first, the Joint Statement of the Quartet of 2023 addressed the Russia-Ukraine war and prevented “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons”.
New Delhi’s silence on Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine is expected to lead to some frustration in the West, raising questions about India’s credibility as a security partner. . These areas of difference in the broader equation of role compatibility represent real-world complexity in bilateral and minor-party partnerships.
Even as Indo-US strategic interests converge in the Indo-Pacific, differences persist between Washington and New Delhi.
First, the United States views the Indo-Pacific as an area where a liberal rules-based international order needs to be preserved in the face of China’s assertive rise and even the threat of Russia. In contrast, India does not view the Indo-Pacific as an exclusive group in one region against any country (i.e. China). New Delhi considers it an “inclusive” area and even at one point signaled the inclusion of China and Russia in its definition of the Indo-Pacific.
Second, the United States is open about the threat China poses to its interests and is ready to deter and even fight if required. On the other hand, India is wary of direct balancing with China and wants to maintain a model of competitive cooperation in its relations with China. New Delhi’s choice to increase or decrease engagement with the Quad is related to how India wants to deal with China at a given time, which can range from finding a stability equation to pressuring China. force the country to act in a particular way.
Third, although New Delhi has tilted towards the West over the past two decades, it continues to balance many partnerships, sometimes with countries at odds with each other. This is evident in India’s decision to work with the US and its allies in the Quad and other arrangements while maintaining relations with China and Russia (hence explaining India’s silence). Degree before Russia’s actions in Ukraine).
The multi-aligned posture concerns India’s obsession with “strategic autonomy” and its legacy of being independent of any competing nation. So far, India has effectively managed to balance its relationships with quirky bed mates, but the sustainability and success of this approach, in the long run, still matters. controversial, especially if China poses a more pressing threat.
Fourth, India’s traditional areas of interest lie in the Indian Ocean, while the US focus remains on the Pacific region. Regardless of the increased overlap between their regions and the issues of more recent concern, New Delhi is likely to be less involved or more enthusiastic in openly addressing China’s actions in those areas. regions that do not directly affect their security interests (e.g. Taiwan or even Ukraine as can be seen in the current context).
Differences that exist in a partnership are not unusual and do not always signify a sharp conflict between the parties involved. Instead, if role compatibility is to be maintained over the long term, policymakers/diplomats will develop mechanisms to function effectively despite problems and/or even interactions. save together on a particular issue from time to time. To illustrate, India and the US have opposing views on “maritime order” and “freedom of navigation”.
India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while the US has not and both have different interpretations of the law (India’s interpretation is close to China’s interpretation of the law). than). While Indian law opposes freedom of navigation operations in the country’s exclusive economic zone, these differences have been well managed at the diplomatic level.
Overall, the India-US strategic and security relationship is far from perfect and is unlikely to be so in the foreseeable future. The specter of difference will continue to exist in the role compatibility that both enjoy. This can also affect the direction of the Quad from a security perspective.
However, their differences are unlikely to hinder progress in their bilateral relationship or their commitment to a Quad deal, especially if China remains the glue holding them closer. In short, Indo-American relations and their engagement are not black and white but grayscales.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Military Review and a member of the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs. Views are personal. This paper was produced under a special agreement with the Center for Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania.