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Linchpin of America's Pivot? U.S. Courts India to Maintain Military Superiority Over China

The U.S. is keen to show that there is geostrategic and territorial convergence with India in the Asia-Pacific region.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chat during the State Dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, in New Delhi, India.
Photo Credit: Pete Souza/White House/Wikimedia Commons


The January 2012 Pentagon document on Strategic Guidance, entitled “Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for Twenty First Century,” has inaugurated a new cold war in the Asia-Pacific region between the United States and China. The document affirms that the United States will of necessity rebalance, or “pivot,” towards the Asia-Pacific region. The goal of the rebalancing—American “global leadership”—is a fancy name for empire, maintained by military superiority. 

The document gives a prominent place for India in the U.S. strategy, which came as a surprise to many observers. While India is singled out with specific reference to strategic partnership, long-standing allies such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea are clubbed together under “existing alliances.” In his maiden visit to India in the first week of May, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta piled on, calling defense cooperation with India “a linchpin in U.S. strategy” in Asia.

In what may be called cartographic diplomacy, the United States is keen to show that there is geostrategic and even territorial convergence between the United States and India in the region. The January Strategic Guidance document, for example, refers specifically to “the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia.” In a November 2011 article for Foreign Policy,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defined the Asia-Pacific as stretching “from the Indian subcontinent to the Western shores of the Americas. The region spans two oceans – the Pacific and the Indian–that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy.” It is interesting to note the inclusion of South Asia in the geographic area of the Asia-Pacific pivot. South Asia has generally been considered a distinct strategic sub-region of Asia, one the United States apparently intends to integrate into its strategy for the broader continent.

The United States has been exhorting India to move from its “ Look East” policy to an “Act East” policy. Washington expects India to go beyond forging bilateral relations with countries in the region and to get involved in their critical issues. This, the United States believes, is essential for the integration of the Asia-Pacific region under a U.S. umbrella.

Towards a Military Alliance

While India has provided assistance to the United States in Afghanistan and continued defense cooperation on other fronts, the two countries have operated under a formal framework only since 2005. An agreement signed that year proclaimed that the two countries were entering a new era and transforming their relationship to reflect their “common principles and shared national interests.” It underlined that the countries’ defense relationship was the most important component of the larger strategic partnership, entailing new joint military exercises, exchanges, and multinational operations. The major component is an expansion of “defense transactions, not as ends in and of themselves but as a means to strengthen our security, reinforce our strategic partnership, [and] achieve greater interaction between our defense establishments.”

From the outset of this new stage, it was evident that what the United States wanted was a military alliance. Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, at the end of his New Delhi assignment in May 2003, said that the ultimate strategic objective was to have an Indian military that was capable of operating effectively alongside its American counterpart in future joint operations.

This framework was the basis of the nuclear deal between India and the United States that gave India de facto recognition as a nuclear-armed state, which was announced just weeks afterward. A series of defense-related agreements followed in 2007.

Although India remains unwilling at this juncture to sign pending defense agreements that might be construed as opening the door for an official military alliance with the United States, there has been considerable progress on U.S.-India arms transactions. The United States has bagged the largest number of arms contracts—about $8 billion worth in the last five years—despite its stringent and intrusive end use monitoring requirements. India has fundamentally reoriented its defense procurement, moving away from its traditional reliance on Russia. In fact, nearly half the value of all Indian defense deals in recent years has been in U.S. transactions alone.

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