Indo-US defence treaty: Killing many birds with one stone

  • John Yoo and Riddhi Dasgupta
  • Updated: Nov 25, 2014 13:26 IST

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stimulate India’s economy, a new balance of power must emerge in Asia. As the world’s most powerful democracies, India and the United States should form an alliance. A mutual defence treaty will maintain regional peace and security, counter rising threats to the liberal economic order, and promote the postwar status quo that will generate India’s rejuvenation.

With the end of the Cold War, the falling out between Pakistan and the US, and China’s rise, the timing is perfect for an India-US accord. Defence cooperation between the two nations remains strong. In 2005, the US and India agreed to nuclear cooperation. Last year, India imported approximately $2 billion of military equipment from the US, a significant increase from $237 million in 2009. Today, the US is the Indian Army’s most frequent partner for military exercises.

Americans are benefiting enormously from renewed relations with India. Indians have emigrated to the US in large numbers, they and their children have enriched American universities, and their entrepreneurship and technical skills have produced thousands of jobs and companies. Indian-Americans have become political leaders, university professors, and the CEOs. Bilateral trade has increased five-fold since 2001 to nearly $100 billion; and New Delhi’s economic reforms have reinforced its valuable role in regional stability at a time when disorder seems to plague West Asia and Southeast Asia.

As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi is already on record as favouring neoliberal economic policies that spurn India’s vestiges of socialism, five-year plans and the permit-licence raj. Modi’s political success and promises of economic reform make the new prime minister a reformer in the American mould. But most importantly, India and the US share an immediate interest: Containing China. China’s political and military rise as the world’s largest economy might be inevitable. However, it is unknown whether its rise will spell the end of the western economic and political order. At the beginning of the Cold War, many observers similarly worried that the Soviet Union and the communist bloc would rise to world dominance. But the US and its allies successfully pursued a steady, half-century containment strategy, rebuilding the West, fostering Asian and Latin American growth, and waiting until the Soviet empire could manage itself no more.

Drawing 2.3 million active frontline personnel and a $126 billion defence budget, China seems intent on using its military to expand its political influence. But China can be fickle in its allegiances and its only constant commitment has been to pragmatism. Beijing famously broke with Moscow, invaded Vietnam, and has of course gone from antipathy to affection to engaged rivalry with the US. Despite troubled relations with India since the war of 1962, China knows that its status as Washington’s most favoured nation (or, since 1998, the rechristened Permanent Normal Trade Relations) economic partner is much too crucial to jeopardise.

India can build a balancing coalition consisting of the US, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia. Its emergence as a counterweight to China presents an opportunity matched by the time for a re-alignment in the American approach to Pakistan. Once Washington’s most dependable regional ally, Pakistan has become an impediment to freeing Afghanistan of the Taliban and destroying al Qaeda. Without the US, however, Pakistan would lose its primary adviser and financial source.

India wants to collaborate with the US and the community of nations. A military equipment deal, a goodwill package or legislation raising India’s H1B visa quota would work deftly. The same goes with mutual cooperation to apprehend terrorist networks.

The deal makes eminent sense on both defence and economic fronts.

John Yoo is Heller Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley,
and Riddhi Dasgupta is an international law expert
The views expressed by the authors are personal

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