Pursuing strategic autonomy, India seen as a responsibility by the United States
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort during celebrations marking the country’s 75th Independence Day in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Is India an asset or a liability for the American Indo-Pacific alliance? A recent article published by The National Interest described India as a “problematic ally” of the United States because “brings a lot of baggage to the alliance in addition to its reluctance to integrate fully into the American defense systems”. The article also speculates that Indian democracy is in danger of retreating further. Such a view is not uncommon among many American elites.
The mindset of the United States towards India has always been quite complicated. The United States once had high expectations of India when it gained independence. India declared its independence through a non-violent but peaceful approach, creating a new form of national independence movement that could have the potential to be a new model for resolving violence and conflict. On the other hand, India, as a Western-style democratic country established on the foundations of British politics, was eagerly awaited by the United States as being on the path to democracy, which would be proof of this. that democracy could succeed even in backward countries and thus become beneficial to the United States in its ideological struggle with the Soviet Union.
But much to the disappointment of the United States, although India politically followed the Western model, it preferred the Soviet model of a planned economy and adopted the principles of non-alignment, while being close to the Soviet Union in most circumstances. This is of great concern to the United States. Keeping an eye on India was thus one of the three long-term missions of the American military presence in the Indian Ocean.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India had the opportunity to adjust its foreign policy. Initially, the United States did not care about India, which frustrated the latter. In an effort to gain more international attention and strengthen its international status, India carried out a series of nuclear explosions in 1998. The United States and Japan imposed sanctions on India, which were lifted in 2001. Gaining global attention in a special way, India made the United States attach more importance to it and promote relations with India. In 2005, the United States and India signed a civil nuclear agreement, a milestone in the history of relations between the United States and India. The corner on the nuclear issue ultimately ended with special treatment given to India by the United States.
The United States is hoping to woo India into becoming a strategic balancer in the United States’ global landscape, helping the United States contain its strategic competitors at a critical time. It worked during Trump’s day and developed further under the Biden administration. The United States and India signed a 10-year Defense Framework Agreement and entered into four defense agreements covering military information, logistics exchange, compatibility, and security. The United States granted India the right to import a wide range of high-tech products, just as it did Japan and South Korea. In addition, the United States and India have also deepened their cooperative relationship through the Quad Mechanism, the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the 2 + 2 Dialogue between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of the two countries. These practices between the United States and India have put great pressure on China.
Yet India cannot completely satisfy the United States. The United States wants India to become a second Japan or “America’s Deputy Sheriff” in the Indo-Pacific region. In short, he wants to control India. However, India wants to use the power of the United States to contain China and take advantage of Sino-American competition to boost its own economic development and improve its status on the world stage. At the same time, New Delhi does not want to be controlled by Washington or lose its strategic autonomy. He also does not want to damage his image and his status as a great power because of cooperation with Washington.
Therefore, India moved away from the Non-Aligned Movement and proposed a new multi-alignment strategy to simultaneously develop closer relations with other great powers, in particular with Russia. It is clear that India intends to develop its relationship with Russia in order to balance its relations with the United States and thus preserve its strategic autonomy.
India is a great country that wants to be a world power. He also likes to claim to be a great world power. India has taken a unique path of strategic autonomy since its independence, which has allowed the country to benefit from both sides of the conflict. It is also in line with the traditions and cultural interests of India. So far India has shown no signs of changing the principle of strategic autonomy.
The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University. [email protected]