Indias Rise as an Asian Power: Nation, Neighborhood, and Region (South Asia in World Affairs)
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Notwithstanding occasional disappointments since, that bet is still worth making today. The policy options for future U. But it is also because of its strong links and historical relationship with the U. At the same meeting, President Obama announced the Enhanced Economic Engagement E3 , which is designed to assist implementation of trade facilitation measures and identifies specific cooperative activities to increase the efficiency of trade flows. There are, therefore, more than enough recommendations and initiatives on the table for ASEAN to implement. The challenge is not to introduce more initiatives, but to make sure existing initiatives are effectively implemented and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Only when cooler heads prevail can the countries of the region turn their attention to the more difficult task of resolving the causes underlying the tensions in the South China Sea and developing cooperative solutions toward exploiting the mineral riches that lie under the seabed.
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This is not a new concept. These areas are being developed through six joint U. By working together on a broad range of topics of mutual interest and importance, both sides are building cooperative structures that will deepen understanding and advance shared interests. Given the diversity of countries in Southeast Asia, developing a comprehensive partnership with the entire Southeast Asian region will prove difficult. Instead, the approach adopted by the U. Certainly, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam would be excellent candidates for deepening bilateral cooperation.
But perhaps the most important could be Myanmar, where conditions are the most fragile and the forces for reform, human rights, democracy, and free markets deserve the greatest encouragement. The areas for partnership and joint development would need to be identified separately for each country and will likely be different in each case. Over time, however, as these partnerships develop, they will undoubtedly display common features that have the potential of being brought together gradually across the entire Southeast Asian region. Finally, the U.
Ironically, although countries like the U. If negotiations for the RCEP are successful, it will become the largest free trade agreement in the world. At this point, negotiations for the TPP are more advanced, but they face significant challenges before they can come to closure. Discussions on the RCEP have only just begun and also face obstacles, but progress could accelerate if agreement on the basic parameters is reached soon. While both trade agreements can coexist, they not only include a different combination of countries most significantly, the TPP excludes China and the RCEP excludes the United States , but also represent different philosophies on how economic integration should be achieved.
The philosophy behind the TPP is that trade agreements should include external commitments that promote domestic reform. That of the RCEP, on the other hand, is for domestic reforms to drive trade and for trade agreements to reflect market developments and prevent a retreat into protectionism. One possibility is that as the RCEP is gradually upgraded to address behind-the-border trade barriers, its differences with the TPP could narrow to the point that it would make sense for the two trade agreements to be merged. Another possibility is that the U. A lot has been accomplished in the 18 months since it was announced—the increased U.
The challenge now is to deepen and sustain the effort and broaden it to include South Asia, in particular by strengthening ties with India, enhancing bilateral cooperation with the ASEAN nations, and advancing trade and investment liberalization across the entire Indo-Pacific. Follow the conversation— Sign up to receive email updates when comments are posted to this article. A nicely written article urging cooperation between the West and the East. Something should have been said about the recent American attitude towards Iran.
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Latest Analysis Publications Popular Projects. Programs Projects. Regions and Countries Issues. Related Media and Tools Full Text. Print Page 2. Sign up for weekly updates from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace If you enjoyed reading this, subscribe for more! Policy Recommendations: Engage China on common concerns: Washington should work closely with Beijing on food safety, a multilateral investment treaty, reforming international financial institutions, and cybersecurity to lay the foundation for resolving larger, more contentious issues.
Strengthen engagement with Southeast Asia: Using the U. Advance trade and investment liberalization in Asia: The United States should push to bring negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to a successful close. Nehru was a nonresident senior fellow in the Carnegie Asia Program. An expert on development economics, growth, poverty reduction, debt sustainability, governance, and the performance and prospects of East Asia, his research focuses on the economic, political, and strategic issues confronting Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.
No links or markup permitted. Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Screen names appear with your comment. Screen Name. Email Address. Hedging can overcome this disadvantage. Although hedging does not guarantee strategic wisdom, such a strategy could encourage decisionmakers to be much more pragmatic and less prone to such mistakes. A second additional advantage of hedging over nonalignment is that it is a lot more flexible. Hedging involves recognizing the need to respond to a threatening environment and accepting that such a response might include aligning with one side or another.
The rigidity of nonalignment can make rapid changes less likely until it is too late. Hedging could make Indian strategy somewhat more adaptable to changing circumstances than it has been traditionally. Hedging also suffers from at least four additional disadvantages. First, hedging assumes that India faces equal threats from both the United States and China. This is obviously absurd. Still, it is not wholly unimaginable that if China were to decline or collapse and India were to grow sufficiently strong, the natural dynamics of the balance of power in global politics could someday raise the possibility that India may begin to consider the United States a military threat.
But this is not the case today, and, at this point, it appears to be highly unlikely for the foreseeable future. Second, although hedging sounds viable in theory, it is not clear that a pure hedging strategy between China and the United States is possible anymore. Indian military plans are already obviously directed at balancing Beijing, not the United States. India is increasing its military capability along the border, including by raising an entirely new corps in the Indian Army to face China and by building new transportation infrastructure in the border regions.
A third problem with hedging is that it assumes that strategic partners will be available when a country reaches a decision to stop hedging and align with one side. As Ashley J. Tellis has noted, to assume that the United States will be available to back India when New Delhi needs it to, irrespective of Indian policy in the interim, is highly risky.
A final related disadvantage with hedging is that even if strategic partners are available, they might not be able to effectively help deal with a rapidly developing threat if called upon to do so at the eleventh hour. Alignments take time to build, and building indigenous capabilities through alignments takes even more time. Time is a luxury that a hedging state might not have should a threat rise suddenly, especially since hedging takes place in an already tense security environment.
As an example, in , even if India had asked for assistance from the United States a few weeks or months earlier, this still might have been insufficient to develop Indian military strength to stave off defeat at the hands of China. These disadvantages make hedging a risky strategy, even though it is much more pragmatic than nonalignment. As with nonalignment, hedging might make it difficult for India to enhance its military power because key countries like the United States and Russia might not be as willing to cooperate militarily with a country that is hedging its bets.
But internal balancing focuses primarily on building up independent military capabilities to counter external threats in a way that ideally obviates the need for external alignments. Internal balancing is a corollary to nonalignment, in that the latter presumes that a country has sufficient capacity for internal balancing.
States generally prefer internal balancing because it offers greater control compared to external partnerships, which require dependence on others. In addition to allowing India to avoid the general problems of alliances, such as the twin fears of entrapment and abandonment, internal balancing offers at least three advantages. Second, internal balancing would allow India to avoid contentious domestic debates about which countries India should align with. Although internal balancing is expensive, so far there have been few domestic political controversies in India about the burden of defense spending.
Third, internal balancing may reduce tensions with other countries that can result from aligning too closely with one country or another. But these solid advantages also need to be weighed against the potential pitfalls of an internal balancing strategy. Any such strategy must be adequate to meet all potential external threats. First, India does not currently have sufficient military capability to counter China on its own.
Besides the fact that its military is being outspent by Beijing, New Delhi also has other problems. India has much worse border infrastructure, especially the roads and rail links needed to rapidly move Indian forces and supplies to the border. This does not mean that India will never have the capacity to internally balance against China. While this may be possible, it would not be wise to make this assumption the basis for strategic planning. To give only one example, frequent charges of corruption in Indian defense deals have slowed defense acquisition to a crawl.
These tasks require strong and willing partners. Because a strategy based purely on internal balancing is not predicated on building strategic partnerships with other countries, India would not be able to count on help from other powerful states in multilateral bodies. New Delhi might, of course, be able to build partnerships on specific issues, as it has done on UNSC reforms. It is equally true that having strong partners might not guarantee that India will get everything it wants in multilateral engagements.
Still, any assessment of the merits of a go-it-alone strategy needs to consider this a serious disadvantage. Ultimately, India has little choice but to enhance its military capabilities to the extent that it can, irrespective of which of the six strategies it follows. But a pure internal balancing strategy would be unwise because India has inadequate military capabilities—a condition that will likely not change in the immediate future—and because India has goals that go beyond just territorial defense.
Regional balancing is a strategy India could pursue to align with other Asian countries in order to balance against China.
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Such partners could include Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam—although, in the future, Indonesia and Malaysia could potentially be incorporated. There are multiple advantages to such a regional balancing approach. First, it would allow India to balance China without the disadvantage of aligning with another great power such as the United States. Indeed, there is multipartisan consensus in India over the need to do this.
If anything, any criticism of expanding ties with other Asian countries has been about the lack of delivery on initiatives like Look East and Act East. Second, a regional balancing strategy would circumvent worries in some corners about a new wave of U. Some U. Under U. If India were to emphasize building strategic partnerships with other Asia Pacific powers, regional balancing could also provide an alternative route if the United States should prove to be an unfaithful partner.
Third, unlike an alignment with another great power, India would likely be the more powerful partner in the relationships that would form a regional alignment in Asia, where only Japan is of comparable power. This would likely reduce potential concerns in New Delhi that other great powers may seek to use India as a pawn in their great power games. Fourth, this strategy has an inherent legitimacy.
Traditionally, India has objected to great power politics that are played out in the territories of small, weak countries for the benefit of others. But a regional balancing strategy involves defending small powers against a local hegemon, which is an eminently justifiable and legitimate task. Moreover, India is part of the Indo-Pacific region, not an interloper that is exploiting the region for its own benefit. Fifth, there would likely be economic benefits to building up such links, particularly in terms of trade-fueled economic growth. Although strategic concerns have become more prominent over the last few years, the original and continuing emphasis of the Look East and Act East initiatives has been predominantly economic, predicated on the attractiveness of linking India with an economically dynamic region.
Despite these important advantages, however, there are some key drawbacks to a regional balancing strategy that also need to be considered. The most important one is that China is likely much too strong already for regional states to balance against it. Balancing becomes progressively more difficult as the power disparity between a leading power in a region and its neighbors grows. This pattern is likely to hold or perhaps even become more exacerbated as time goes on.
As Figure 2 shows, by , China had already crossed well over the 50 percent threshold in terms of the total aggregate GDP of the countries listed above. Figure 2 also shows that this gap is likely to get wider in the coming decades. This suggests that even if these regional powers were to come together, they likely would not have the material capacity to balance China in and of themselves.
Second, geography and the challenge of coordination add to the problem. Although a couple of the Southeast Asian countries are clustered closer together, they also would be the weakest members of any such regional alliance. On the other hand, China has the benefit of internal lines of communication, which would allow the Chinese military to swiftly shift land and air forces from one theater to another, while its naval forces could stay close to its shores.
Geography thus represents a significant hurdle to such a regional balancing strategy. A third disadvantage of the regional balancing approach is that even an alliance with weaker powers does not solve some of the problems of alliance politics, such as burden sharing. There tends to be a temptation among weaker powers to let the stronger members of any alliance pull the most weight.
So in a potential Asian regional alliance, Australia, Japan, and India would probably carry most of the burden of balancing China. This dynamic could lead to disputes within the alliance, weakening it further. A fourth disadvantage is another general problem of alliances—entrapment. Weaker powers could conceivably engage in military adventurism against China that could drag alliance members into an unnecessary conflict. Indian analysts have considered the entrapment problem only in the context of an Indian alignment with the United States, but this problem could affect a regional balancing strategy too.
While such an alliance may provide India some international diplomatic support, these partners do not have sufficient influence, even acting together, to counteract China in multilateral forums. Ultimately, though, despite having some advantages, a purely regional alliance would likely not suffice to bring a strategic balance back to Asia. In addition, regional balancing also would probably fare poorly in the context of the four tools that India needs to develop. Given the limitations of its other potential strategies, India could also take the counterintuitive step of exploring the theoretical possibility of an alignment with China.
It must be noted, again, that such an alignment would not necessitate an actual military alliance. Both India and China tend to be wary of formal partnerships, but both have worked closely with others in the past, even without the benefit of formal alliances: India with the Soviet Union, and China with both the United States and Pakistan. This is without a doubt the least attractive potential option for India. Indeed, this is not an option that is generally even considered in the Indian strategic debate. Nevertheless, this option must be considered seriously. Aligning with a powerful state like China would have at least three significant advantages that should not be ignored in any Indian strategic calculation.
An important Indian objective with regard to a powerful neighbor like China is to avoid becoming its target, and this type of bandwagoning is not an uncommon tactic in international politics. Another potential benefit of such an alignment is that China might then be willing to shift gears and support Indian strategic goals, such as membership on the UNSC or in the NSG. Weaker states often bandwagon with stronger states in order to benefit from their power—a strategy called bandwagoning for profit. Bandwagoning for profit does not make for as strong an alliance as bandwagoning out of security concerns because the former suggests a greater element of choice than the latter.
Also, China does not yet have the kind of global normative and institutional dominance the United States has to make such a strategy very attractive for India. China is undoubtedly a more serious threat to India, but Pakistan arguably constitutes a more immediate challenge. Set against these significant benefits are at least four important drawbacks of aligning with China that need to be considered. First, most obviously, India and China went to war in and are still locked in a territorial dispute that remains a constant sore spot in the relationship.
It is difficult to align with a country with which one has fought a war and continues to have a border dispute. A second serious difficulty to forming a Sino-Indian alignment is the lack of a common adversary. Alliances are generally motivated by enmities. The only logical possibility is Washington because only the United States is stronger than both and could potentially represent a threat to both. But the United States is not currently, or even conceivably for the near to medium term, considered a threat to India. Third, bandwagoning with China would, by definition, relegate India to being a junior partner, as it is always the weaker state that seeks to bandwagon.
As suggested earlier, any stable form of bandwagoning would be one that India chooses for security purposes or, more indelicately, out of fear rather than for profit. Since as early as the s, China arguably has followed a strategy of seeking to contain India, and this shows no sign of changing. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that this is true. On the contrary, in multiple ways, China has sought to balance against and contain India, mainly through its undeclared alliance with Pakistan. In sum, while there may be some theoretical benefits to a potential Sino-Indian alignment, such a pairing could only be a bandwagoning arrangement.
That reality almost certainly makes any alignment with China unworkable and quite possibly dangerous. In multilateral venues, such a partnership might lead China to support Indian ambitions. But this could also lead others such as the United States or even Russia to oppose India, which would leave New Delhi no better off. It is possible that India could perhaps garner some economic benefits from a partnership with China, but the aforementioned political and strategic consequences far outweigh these.
To reiterate, further advancing such a partnership does not require a formal treaty alliance—although this would not be wholly ruled out—but rather a deep and abiding relationship of strategic empathy grounded in only one shared basis: a common interest in together balancing against China to ensure that it does not become the hegemonic power in Asia. Although India has developed a close relationship with the United States over the last decade, so far this relationship has looked more like a profit-driven bandwagoning relationship than one based on the requirements of balancing.
India has bandwagoned with the United States to accrue various benefits—the U. A relationship based on balancing would have stressed military cooperation much more, but as the decade-long delay in the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement shows, India continues to remain somewhat wary of being seen as militarily balancing with the United States. But an alignment with the United States as considered here is different in that it would involve seeking a partnership based on the common need to balance China rather than simply continuing a profit-driven bandwagoning relationship, as bandwagoning by itself is not a strong basis for a partnership.
Even those Indian analysts who are skeptical of deeper U. The prospect of a U. It is also the subject of much confusion about what such a partnership would involve, the balance of obligations, and its consequences. But while plenty of opinions have been expressed about specific aspects of such an alignment, there has been little effort to directly explore its advantages and drawback. The most important benefit of deepening such a partnership is that this would help India balance China.
This is a unique benefit that by itself should suffice as the basis of a partnership, because no other country aside from the United States, or even a combination of countries, can provide India this benefit. The United States is an attractive partner because of four factors: its power, its self-interest, its external balancing strategy, and its willingness to partner with India.
The United States is the only country in the world that is stronger than China and thus the most attractive potential partner for India to balance China. All of this is based on U. There may be other countries willing to join India to balance China, especially various other neighbors of China but, as illustrated previously, they are simply not strong enough—even together—to balance against Beijing.
But as long as the balance of power between the United States and China continues to favor Washington, aligning with the United States to balance China is an obvious choice. This common interest was the basis of both the U. As China becomes stronger, Indian and U. Unsurprisingly, if China weakens in the coming decades, India and the United States would no longer have this common strategic interest.
This would be the worst outcome for India, because it then would be left to fend off China alone and would be reduced to using a combination of internal and regional balancing. There are recent examples of this: the last three U. In addition, the United States appears willing to align with others to balance China.
This is a sensible strategy for the United States because such alliances reduce its burden. There are admittedly voices within the U. If the United States were to decide to adopt a purely internal balancing strategy or an isolationist foreign policy, Washington would no longer be an attractive strategic partner for India. This is not a concern yet, however, because the United States so far has seemed committed to an external balancing strategy. Even though there have been some concerns that President Trump does not share the traditional U.
Finally, over the last decade, the United States has also demonstrated an implicit willingness to align with India to balance China. But Washington likely recognizes that New Delhi brings substantial capacities to the table and that balancing China would be easier with India in the mix. Building a partnership with the United States would be difficult, or at the least more expensive, if the United States were reluctant to form such a partnership with India. The value of having a willing ally should not be underestimated, especially considering that India might not be able to count on Russia much because of deepening Russian dependence on China.
This is a mistake: the United States has other choices, but India does not. Thus, the greatest benefit of aligning with the United States is that such a partnership can help India in balancing China, as a combined result of U. Though they pale in comparison, a few other advantages of aligning with the United States are also worth mentioning. A second benefit to partnering with the United States is that this may be the most viable way of attempting to ensure that no single Asian power dominates. Admittedly, in the current context, the only Asian power that could dominate Asia is China, which might make this benefit appear redundant.
But Japan did make a bid for Asian dominance less than a century back. If it cannot dominate the region itself, India should be interested in ensuring that no other regional power does so either. Though U. This is why small states usually seek help to balance dominant regional powers with the help of outside great powers. A third benefit of a strategic partnership with the United States is related to U. It is often forgotten that multilateral institutions also reflect material power, even if they do so much more indirectly than the military balance of power.
The Future of South Asia and the Role of the United States
New Delhi will continue to look to Washington to support it, not only in the NSG but also in other technology control regimes. In addition, India will need U. A fourth advantage of a strategic partnership with the United States is that New Delhi has no major disputes—especially territorial—with Washington. India had a number of significant political disputes with the United States throughout the Cold War, including the U. But that history does not necessarily preclude future cooperation between New Delhi and Washington. India can benefit from this U. The United States has often been reluctant to pass on technologies or weapon systems that employ advanced technology, but this is at least partly because Washington and New Delhi have not developed a sufficiently close strategic partnership.
Over the past decade, as this partnership has bloomed, so has U. A closer strategic relationship would likely increase U. Finally, a closer strategic partnership with the United States would be a continuation of a general but slow trend that has been visible in Indian strategy over the last decade—something that both major Indian domestic political camps have contributed to. Still, there are some disadvantages to a closer partnership with the United States that also need to be considered.
Some of these are unavoidable; others are not significant. Russia has been a relatively reliable strategic partner for decades. It would be of great benefit if India could count on both Moscow and Washington to balance Beijing. Russia is also relatively weaker today than it was before. But even if it were stronger, that would not matter much to India because if Russia were to be dependent on China, that dependence would ensure that Russia would not be of much help to India. Indian decisionmakers could help by seeking, to the greatest extent possible, to isolate the broader India-Russia relationship from these developments, but this may prove difficult.
But critics who blame closer ties with United States for deteriorating India-China ties are wrong: China has consistently seen India as a competitor and has consistently balanced against New Delhi, going back to the s. And there is little correlation between the state of U. China has balanced against India even at times when U. Another disadvantage is that New Delhi will likely need to be much more circumspect about U.
This is the natural cost of any strategic partnership: India repeatedly held its tongue about various Soviet actions such as its invasions of Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary during the Cold War. India and the United States would have to discuss their disagreements in private, much as India and the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, in order to avoid letting disagreements about unrelated policy issues poison their relationship.
This might be somewhat more difficult because India and the United States are democracies with vibrant media sectors, legislative committees and opposition parties that scrutinize government policies, and active public policy debates. Many of the other disadvantages that are outlined in the Indian policy debate over whether to deepen ties with the United States relate to the level of commitment that India would have to make in a deeper relationship.
For example, there are frequently expressed concerns that India might become embroiled in U. Such views misunderstand geopolitical alignments: such partnerships are not permanent legal commitments but simply temporary arrangements to deal with a pressing security concern; this applies even to formal, treaty-based alliances. Neither the United States nor India will be able to hold each other to the commitments they make unless both sides think that it is in their self-interest to do so.
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In this sense, all international partnerships are coalitions of the willing. This does require India to be vigilant, because it is quite possible that under some circumstances the United States will have less of an interest in balancing against China than India does. If such a situation should arise, India would have to also change its policy. But this is a natural issue inherent to any international strategic partnership, not just a U.
There is another, related, disadvantage. Both India and the United States have a tendency to oversell the relationship, which could lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, India and the United States are not natural allies or at least no more so than any other two allies. There are no natural allies in international politics unless the term is meant to imply the naturalness of expediency and self-interest.
While such characterizations may be understandable in diplomacy, they should have little role in academic and policy discussions. One example of such overselling is a tendency for the United States and India to refer to the fact that both countries are democracies. They are, but this fact may not be especially relevant to a U. If this were a relevant factor, India would have partnered with the United States a long while back instead of partnering with the authoritarian Soviet Union and later Russia.
The last but probably most important unwarranted expectation that comes up in the Indian debate over strengthening ties with the United States is about Pakistan and terrorism. Alignments are generally about countering one dominant threat, not all possible threats. A deeper U. It is possible that Indian and American interests would converge on other issues too, such as Pakistan.
India should generally expect U. But the purpose of this proposed deeper partnership is not about balancing Pakistan. To the extent that Indian and U. There is little reason for India to submit to U. Efforts to make Pakistan the litmus test of the relationship though, by either side, would only harm their far greater common interest in balancing China. Given all these considerations, a closer strategic alignment with the United States offers India the best chance of balancing China. Though there are undoubtedly some disadvantages to such a partnership, these are far less costly than its potential benefits.
A deeper partnership with the United States seems to offer India the greatest chance of successfully managing these challenges. Regional balancing and building indigenous defense capabilities are necessary but supplemental strategies to a strengthened U.