The Pivot to India

By Adrian Mangiuca
posted on May 22, 2013 in Diplomacy, Grand Strategy

The US—India relationship is vital to America’s political and economic interests. A recent speech by Assistant Secretary Robert Blake affirmed that future cooperation falls within the purview of the current US strategy of pivoting toward Asia. The United States and India have enjoyed the benefits of strong economic ties since the end of Nehru-style socialism, ushered in by Dr. Manmohan Singh’s reforms in the early 1990s. The time has come for American foreign policymakers to more actively solidify this relationship.  


China’s Measured Provocations

The need for a strategic pivot to India is clear. China’s recent maneuvering in Aksai Chin is the latest in a long line of measured provocations directed at testing the resolve of its southern neighbor and foremost regional counterpart. China arguably seeks to promote harmony, in the Confucian sense, by staying the rise of perceived regional competition—hence its longstanding relationship with Pakistan. China’s expansion of Core Interests to Senkaku/Diaoyu, and the potential for further expansion to Okinawa, highlights its desire to move disputes as far from its home territory as possible.

Within this context, the United States can hardly take a strong position on matters like Aksai Chin beyond “supporting a peaceful and bilateral solution,” lest the Chinese government perceive foreign meddling. A more comprehensive series of interdependencies on security, social, and economic fronts must therefore be forged with China’s most credible counterpart.


Forging Room for Maneuver

An old Chinese saying states that one mountain cannot accommodate two tigers. Given the increasingly interdependent global markets, it is unlikely that China and India will again go to war to settle border disputes in the short and medium terms. However, the long-term importance of securing the integrity of its borders and ensuring the non-interference of neighboring states, and thereby ensuring continued growth and internal stability, cannot be understated. It is this exigency that forces Beijing’s foreign policy mechanism to seek to stabilize the periphery.

Naturally, a focused pivot to India would certainly raise eyebrows and tempers in Beijing. Considering China’s stalwart position on negotiating perceived internal matters, encouraging the perception in Beijing that the US/India partnership remains solid may open the door for flexibility in future negotiations and ultimately prevent future tests of India’s patience. As China expands its list of core interests (read: non-negotiables), the imperative for expanding international room for maneuver in negotiations with Beijing expands.


Small Steps

Fortunately, there are signs of life for expanded cooperation between the US and India. Joint exercises, both land and sea-based, will continue this year. Social ties are being strengthened with recent attempts like the State Department’s push for the streamlining of the American student visa program for study in India. The budding relationship, however, has remained largely ambiguous and noncommittal.

For such a relationship to be viable, the Indian government must make concerted steps to improve its foreign policy mechanism—starting with its weak foreign service. That should be India’s first step toward fostering regional balance with the cooperation of the United States.