More than two years ago when I (correctly) outlined the Taliban strategy for attacking lines of logistics, Steve Schippert and I were discussing (via e-mail) one potential alternative to my recommended logistical line through the Caucasus, namely India, from port (there are several capable of handling the flow of supplies) to Kabul, admittedly across terrain that is both Pakistani and Pakistani-claimed portions of Kashmir. Nonetheless, if we were serious about the campaign in Afghanistan, it was an option if combined with strong political and military pressure on Pakistan to accept such an arrangement. Furthermore, it would have been more conducive to security than the existing lines through Torkham and Chaman have been.
But partnership with India would serve many more useful purposes than mere logistics. Austin Bay weighs in.
President Barack Obama’s looming post-election state visit to India is another indication of evolution and maturation — the incremental but genuine change measured in decades that marks the coalescing of U.S. and Indian global interests.
Media coverage has thus far portrayed the trip as either a presidential escape from an anticipated midterm electoral defeat or a multibillion dollar weapons-peddling expedition with the president as salesman in chief.
These near-term interpretations both contain a grain of truth, but they shouldn’t obscure the truly compelling story: the great U.S.-India rapprochement is one of the early 21st century’s major historic events. To illustrate, let’s go to the 21st century map of India, and view it and President Obama’s visit from the perspective of a Chinese admiral sitting in Beijing.
The Indian subcontinent physically dominates the Indian Ocean. China, seeking to assure a steady supply of raw materials and energy for its expanding economy, has invested a lot of time and money in Africa and the Middle East. Tankers carry oil from Sudan and merchant vessels cobalt from the Congo to Chinese ports. These ships pass through waters patrolled by the Indian Navy, which is a rather formidable and increasingly modern force.
Our Chinese admiral knows his history. China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet riled India. China’s military support of Pakistan and its clandestine encouragement of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program also irritate New Delhi. In 1962, India and China fought the Sino-Indian War along their Himalayan frontier. That war remains something of a “frozen” conflict politically, and given the altitude, literally. Despite negotiations, the border dispute is not quite resolved.
Should another conflict erupt, the Indian Navy is positioned to damage if not strangle China’s economy. Moreover, India just might have America on its side. For over two decades, American strategists have touted the logic of an Indo-American alliance based on linguistic and cultural connections, accelerating economic cooperation and — well, here’s the gist of it — an increasing interest in curbing Chinese hegemony in Asia.
Sept. 11 and Islamist terrorist attacks in India forge another common cause. As for mutual economic interests, an Indian technician fixing an American computer from a call center in Bangalore is a telling indicator. The Indian government, unlike China’s, does not fear global connectivity.
Chinese admirals aren’t the only ones who see the implications of this strategic merger. Diplomats in New Delhi and Washington are quite aware of it.
Mention “alliance” and the U.S. in the same sentence, however, and India’s left-wing parties go berserk. Indian ultra-nationalists who still rail about British colonialism remain deeply suspicious of political entanglements with the U.S. — though there seems to be little objection to cooperating with other former British colonies like Australia and Singapore.
So “alliance” is a word Indian and American diplomats intentionally avoid. Three years ago, I interviewed James Clad — at the time the Department of Defense’s deputy assistant secretary for South and Southeast Asia — about the prospects for a formal U.S.-India defense alliance. Clad demurred. “We’re not looking for an alliance with anyone. … It (the word “alliance”) sends a wrong signal,” for alliances “figure a real or potential opponent.” It was a deft answer. Why provoke the Chinese admiral?
Clad now teaches at the National Defense University. This past week, he told a Reuters reporter, “The maturation of U.S.-India defense ties is steady … .” That was another deft answer, and accurate.
The relationship between India, the developing giant, and the U.S., the developed giant, is maturing — and Obama’s presidential visit is part of this long, involved and delicate diplomatic process that began developing as the Cold War ended. It is in both India’s and America’s long-term interest that this process continue.
Mr. Bay has it right concerning the natural ally that India makes, but he is wrong about Mr. Obama’s visit to India. This visit is entirely in response to the poor mid-administration elections, and if the elections had gone differently he would have been stateside preening and pushing his agenda forward. Don’t doubt it for a second. Truth be told, India should be rather offended that this is Mr. Obama’s rebound choice rather than being an initial focus when he took office.
Michael Yon is wiser, more measured and less fawning:
After much travels through India, I believe we are natural allies. We have much to learn and gain from each other. India and the United States should do what is natural. We should deepen our ties. Our relationship must be sincere and bonded.
Why should we want an even playing field between India and Pakistan? Pakistan exports terrorism. India does not. Pakistan is sliding backward. India is moving forward. India is a natural partner with the United States. Pakistan will stab us in the back.
Well, and indeed has stabbed us in the back many times. Pakistan is an unnatural ally. More to the point, Pakistan is no ally at all, and the tenuous relationship is founded upon largesse. A relationship with India would be natural. In fact, a reciprocal defense relationship (i.e., U.S. comes to the aid of India, India does the same for the U.S., weapons and intelligence is shared, etc.), is the only solution to Chinese regional hegemony. A security agreement with India would be in my estimation far more valuable than even the relationship we currently have with NATO.
Mr. Obama’s trip to India, which stupidly and arrogantly involves a platoon of Marines in the Taj Mahal, is only significant in its usurpation of India for a “feel good” drug after a poor election cycle. India deserves more respect than that, and the U.S. deserves a President that will understand allies and enemies for who they are.