“If India hastily joins the US alliance system,” an editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times suggested, “it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. It will not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region.” This was Chinese media’s reaction on the imminent signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) during the current Indian defense minister’s visit to the United States. This deal is being hailed as a ‘war pact’ by American and Chinese media. However the important question which comes in the mind is: Why is India leaning towards the United States? Is the recent bonhomie between India and the United States beneficial for India? The answer is not as obvious as it seems…
India became independent in August 1947, at the same time as Pakistan. The Second World War had just winded up, leaving Britain, France and Germany too weak and exhausted to continue as the reigning superpowers. This led to the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the new superpowers. Both the countries started to recruit countries in their respective ‘camps’ during the Cold War. Now, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister was a vociferous supporter of the Non-Aligned movement (NAM), of which India was a founding member. India refused to become a satellite state, and pursued an individual foreign policy.
Despite this, the United States tried hard to woo India to its camp. However it failed to support India on the critical Kashmir issue, angering the political circle in New Delhi. The Soviet Union, seeing the chance to win India to its side, openly supported India’s position on the Kashmir issue. Though India did not overtly join the Soviet camp, it effectively took the Soviet position on all international issues.
At this time, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “domino theory” was prevalent in the United States. This theory stated that if one country in a region adopts communism, it will spread like a virus to all other countries of the region. Alarmed at India’s pro-Soviet stance, the US openly courted Pakistan, including it into key-defense alliances and pumping in money and weapons to counter the Soviet influence in South Asia.
These dynamics continued until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, which marked the end of the Cold War. Again, the United States tried to bring India to its side, however India sacrificed its relationship with the US, in favor of its relationship with Russia.
Suddenly the world changed in when Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden attacked New York City in 2001. The United States responded by launching the War on Terror, by invading Afghanistan to dispose the ruling Taliban. During the War on Terror, Pakistan was a natural ally for the US, partly due to its proximity to Afghanistan, and partly due to its readiness to act as a satellite state for the US. Thus, India and Russia grew closer.
The War on Terror effectively ended in 2011, when a SEAL team from the US Navy eliminated Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, possibly under support from the ISI angered the American citizens, and around the same time favorability ratings of Pakistan in the US fell. Just take a look at the graph below:
Notice the dip?
Around this time, the rise of China became startlingly prominent, leading the US to change its focus from the Atlantic region to the Asia-Pacific region. The US already had two important partners in the Asia-Pacific region: Japan and Australia. However, the strongest competitor and rival to China in this region is India, the fastest growing major economy on Earth. Thus, in an effort to please India, the US started supporting India on major international fora, and stopped mediating in the Kashmir issue, a longtime demand of India.
The Congress government (2004-2014) led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reciprocated and started the pivot towards the United States. This policy is being continued by the current Narendra Modi led government, which is only natural. The imminent signing of the logistics pact testifies that India is getting increasingly comfortable in joining the US led camp.
As China’s economy grows and its influence becomes more assertive in geopolitical issues, it is only natural that India will seek to counter China by increasingly tilting towards the West. This tilt however should not come at the cost of an autonomous strategic foreign policy, for which India is known. The catch here for India is to tilt towards the US slowly, but steadily and use strategic maneuvering wisely.
Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.