Widening strategic trust
Much of the recent history of the relationship between India and the United States has revolved around creating strategic trust between the two countries. New Delhi asks, in effect, to what extent is Washington prepared to invest in making India a more powerful and active global player? The recently declassified parts of the United States Defence Department’s Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific provide a partial answer. Laying out the strategic objectives of the Pentagon in the region, it states one primary goal is to “accelerate India’s rise and capacity to serve as a net provider of security and Major Defence Partner” and otherwise help make India a military player in the Indo-Pacific region.
This will help counter those in India who continue to see the bilateral ties through the prism of the Cold War. But one document does not make a doctrine. The framework was issued by the Donald Trump administration, and, so it can hardly be said to represent the product of a carefully debated political consensus in Washington. It is also the product of a single department, even if it is the most vocal cheerleader for India. Strategic consensus is all the more doubtful given the lack of common space between the two political parties in the United States on most issues. However, it helps strengthen a steady drumbeat within the country that a strong India is fundamental to the future security and status of the United States. This was first enunciated by the George W Bush administration, accepted by that of President Barack Obama, and is being relayed onward by the Trump team.
What continues to be reworked, however, is the small print. The ups and downs on this are a stickling point, but reflect more internal debates in the United States about India’s larger role in the world. The India-United States nuclear deal was in large part about lifting sanctions that were blocking the former’s access to advanced technology. The Obama administration was less enthused about arms and preferred to look to climate and other issues. Mr Trump has been enthusiastic about military ties, but less constructive on economic matters. It is unclear what President-elect Joe Biden will stress. What is evident is that there is complete agreement in the United States that a powerful India is in its interest. The only question is the blueprint for making this a reality.