IDR Blog

Defining India's role in Indo-US Strategic Partnership
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Shreyas Deshmukh | Date:25 Jun , 2016 0 Comments
Shreyas Deshmukh
is Research Associate at Delhi Policy Group.


In 2005, the Bush administration assigned an additional aircraft carrier to the US Pacific Command (USPACOM). Later, Henry Kissinger in an article published in Washington Post on August 19th, 2009, for the first time talked about ‘Rebalancing Relations with China’. After initial churning of strategic options for the rebalancing act in Asia, President Obama announced his famous ‘Pivot to East-Asia’ policy in 2012. Under the umbrella of a broad strategic plan, efforts were put into place to revive alliances and partnerships by engaging regional powers in bilateral and multilateral dialogues, followed by increased military presence in Asia-Pacific region and bringing new economic agreements such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While defining the role of India in the new strategic paradigm, Kurt Campbell, former US Assistant Secretary, said India is a ‘lynchpin’ of the new emerging system. Admiral Harry Harrison Jr., the USPACOM commander, in his speech at Raisina Dialogue, reiterated the same thought by saying, ‘we need India’s leadership in the Indo-Asia-Pacific… We need you!!’.

However, these statements shows the US desperation to bring India into the game but does not answer in specific terms about India’s role, whether America wants to distribute the power among the allies for collective security or just wants to empower India to use it as a tool against China. The ultimate aim of engaging, sharing and allying with India is indeed to maintain equilibrium or Balance of Power in the Pacific through active intervention.

Balance of power in Pacific

Kautilya’s Madala theory is based on South-east Asian political formation and talks about the Balance of Power which is well versed in Indian foreign policy services. Such theories have been proven true in the past when states fought wars to pursue balance against growing hegemonic power of the period, in which small or middle powers were used by super powers to maintain regional balance. In the present scenario, new forces and patterns are developing in Asia-Pacific. While leaving non-alignment policy behind and replacing it with proactive ‘Act (East and West)’ policies by aligning regional and global powers, carries great risk where outcome is uncertain. Hence, in the alliances and partnerships, principle of compensation is important which needs to be dealt with cautiously.

Principle of compensation

The principle of compensation was used for the first time after the Napoleonic war, in the Congress of Vienna in 1814, when allies of victorious countries were rewarded with land and redrew the map of Europe. Similar processes repeated after the Second World War, but now, States cannot wait until the balance is disturbed. To maintain the status quo and their upper hand on global politics, leading super powers of the time need to reward their allies with technology, not land. It will strengthen them against the emerging rival power which wants to hold the balance. In the present, China is an emerging power and trying to change the status quo in Asia Pacific. It has already declared an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in East China Sea and is now planning the same in South China Sea.

Indo-US cooperation

However, in this so called ‘natural global Indo-US partnership’, India is trying to deal with the US on equal footing, but if this partnership is for ashort-term purpose, that is containment of China, then it might not be stable in the future. There are two kinds of partnerships in International relations, one is negative partnership which is against third country and another is positive partnership which is focused on just betterment of the society of partnering nations. Partnerships are based on common interests but the latter one is more sustainable than the former.

Meanwhile, from PM Modi’s first visit to the US, relations between two countries have come a long way. Last year during President Obama’s visit to India, both the countries outlined joined strategic vision which is focused on free, open and secure sea lanes of communication to maintain rule based global order. Hence, compensating each other, both the countries are working together in different areas and on many agreements, such as-

  • Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
  • India is buying 22 Apache attack Helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy lift Helicopters and 144, M777 Howitzers.
  • In February 2016, Joint Aircraft carrier technology working group met in India and finalised transfer of deck technology to India for its new Aircraft Carrier.
  • White shipping agreement
  • Logistical Exchange Memorandum Agreement (LEMA)
  • Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMoA)
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)
  • Science and technology initiative
  • Cyber Security Infrastructure

To complement these agreements, many bilateral and multilateral initiatives are in place which is focusing on developments in the Pacific, such as Modi-Abe outlined India-Japan Vision 2025; later PM Abe and Australian PM Turnbull had similar discussions where they opposed coercive action by China in South and East China Sea. In military terms, India is participating in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercises and this year’s Malabar naval Exercise has already begun at the Japanese coast from June 10th.

Way forward

Aforementioned compensatory agreements may look lucrative but as said earlier, the future is uncertain; hence, the risk needs to be calculated. In this context, when the US is building up Defensive alliance and partnerships in Pacific, rapid improvement in Indo-US relation can be understood. To prevent rapid escalation of two powers in Asia-Pacific between the US and China, a shift towards multipolar Indo-Pacific could be the solution. Indeed India is a major power in this region but, if the situation escalates, analysis of cost of this new strategic Partnership cannot be ignored.  Because the US may have become a natural partner but China has been a natural neighbour and it will remain.


Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

Post your Comment

2000characters left