India and the US in the last few years have increasingly grown closer. US continues to define the Indo-US partnership as the defining partnership of the 21st century. In 2005, the then US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice said US wants to help India become a great power.
India for its part wants to be a leading power as declared by the Modi government. This is a move away from the earlier swing power or balancing power. India has also declared itself to be a net security provider in the region.
India and the US continue to have converging interests in the Indo-Pacific region with an assertive and aggressive China which has practically declared the entire South China Sea as its own and has made artificial islands and militarized them. The US is conducting freedom of navigation operations in those islands and has asked China to respect international laws. China refuses to heed to that.
China has warned India to stay off the South China Sea where India has legitimate interests. US decision to focus on the Pacific Ocean with its pivot to Asia has coincided with India’s policy move from “look east” to “act east” policy.
India and the US have an expanding military ties. In the last few years India has bought various military equipment from the US. The two countries also have the defence technology and trade initiative which is looking to codevelop weapons systems. There is also a good possibility of India buying a US fighter jet that will be made in India.
India and US are increasingly conducting military exercises whose scope and complexity has increased and continues to do so with the aim to increase interoperability. This will be given a boost once the LSA is signed as declared recently by defence minister Manohar Parrikar during the visit US secretary of defence Ashton Carter. The other two agreements, CISMOA & BECA too will be signed in due course.
The growing military ties between India and the US has unnerved many in India. The oft repeated line by them is that the US is using India to counter balance China. This underestimates India’s ability to act independently in its own interests.
It also fails to recognize that India is acting in its own interests against China when it gets strategically and militarily closer to the US. India has fought a war with China over the border in 1962. China continues to occupy Indian territory of Aksai Chin and keeps sending its military into the Indian side of the Line of Actual control. China declared entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own and calls its South Tibet. Tibet itself is a occupied land by China. India and China didn’t share a border till China annexed Tibet. China doesn’t recognize Kashmir as integral part of India and issues stapled visas for people from Kashmir.
China armed Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles. Pakistan consititutes over 50% of Chinese arms exports. It supports Pakistan sponsored terrorism by blocking efforts to ban acknowledged terrorists from Pakistsn who have conducted terror strikes against India. China is also making the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir without any regard to Indian protest over it.
China is making a push into the Indian Ocean. In the name of anti piracy operations, it has sent nuclear powered submarines. China made Gwadar port has military implications. It’s part of the CPEC project. China is making ports around India in what is termed as strings of pearls which has since been rechristianed Maritime Silk Route. China has recently acquired its first overseas base in Djibouti as part of its goal to get a foothold into Indian Ocean region. It wants to acquire military bases in other Indian Ocean islands to deny India the dominance India seeks and being a net security provider.
The US which is a dominating force in the Indian Ocean region has accepted the role of India as a net security provider. It wants India to shoulder greater responsibility in securing the sea lanes of communication. It has proposed joint patrols in South China Sea which India has declined for the moment. Other smaller Indian Ocean littoral states as well as those in Sourh East Asia look up to India as a security provider against an aggressive China.
The US decided to shift 60% of its sophisticated naval fleet to the Pacific Ocean by 2020. This will leave gaps in the Indian Ocean through which 70% of the worlds oil shipment passes, gaps which have to be filled by a reliable and capable power. India is the only such power in the region and it has already announced intentions to fullfill the role as India’s energy security as well as trade depends on the security of the Indian Ocean.
The US wants India to have the capabilities to fulfill that role. It has sold India its most advanced maritime reconnaissance plane, P8I. The US has also decided to assist India in making the next aircraft carrier especially with the EMALS technology. Noted analyst Ashley Tellis has argued that the US should also assist India with nuclear reactors for the carriers. The various exercises US conducts with India is to enhance capabilities and increase interoperability between the the navies of the two countries.
India has interests in the South China Sea as well. While China wants a foothold in the Indian Ocean, it has warned India to stay off the South China Sea. There have been incidents off Vietnam between Indian navy and the Chinese PLAAN.
So the argument that US is using India to counter China is false. India has its own interests to protect in the Indian Ocean Region which is described as the primary area of interest in India’s maritime doctrine. Expanding ties with the US helps India in this goal. It is a win win situation for both India and the US whose strategic goals coincide for the region.
Those who say growing Indo-US ties will irk China fail to realize that China has done everything possible over the years to pin India down directly and through proxies. How can India be “sensitive” to Chinese feelings in this regard when it is India’s principal rival and when China has shown scant regards for Indian concerns? It only projects India as a soft state. India will be able to counter China better by increasing military ties with countries that are also troubled by Chinese policies. Strong ties with the US will help India achieve that.