Bull in a China Shop

Spearhead Analysis – 11.03.2016

By Ayesha N.I. Ahmad
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Context

cowboy-bull-ridingAfter years of Russian dominance the United States is emerging as India’s top arms source, and currently holds more joint exercises with it than any other country. In a clear sign of shifting geopolitical alliances, India and United States are closing in on the Logistic Support agreement (LSA). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration’s desire to move ahead with the LSA would mean that both countries militaries provide their bases, fuel and other kinds of logistics support to each others’ fighter jets and naval warships.

The origins of the LSA can be found in the Strategic Partnership document signed by both countries in March 2006 during the visit of the US President George W. Bush to New Delhi which stated that the US and India will soon sign an agreement to facilitate mutual logistic support during combined training, exercises and disaster relief operations. The agreement was always meant to be part of a larger security cooperation including maritime, counter-terrorism, defence trade and efforts for a quick conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. However the previous Indian government had reservations about the agreement fearing that it would weaken India’s strategic autonomy and draw it into an undeclared military alliance with the United States.

This obstacle according to Indian government officials has been addressed and cleared. New Delhi will not be bound by the agreement if the US went to war with a friendly country or embarked on any other unilateral action that New Delhi did not support. For many observers in the region, this pact gives added weight to the growing unification between Obama’s Asia pivot and Modi’s Act East policy.

Clipping the wings of the Iron Phoenix?

Obama’s Asia pivot and Modi’s Act East Policy can both be seen as examples of the balance of power theory at work that IR theorists often talk about. In a bid to curtail growing Chinese power in Asia, the US and India have been hard at work trying to come up with effective solutions. India, who like the US has always had an adversarial relationship with China, had been growing increasingly alarmed by Chinese naval excursions into the Indian Ocean and its connection in maritime infrastructure projects on island nations. China’s collaboration with Pakistan on the CPEC project and its One Belt One Road initiative has also not gone down well with both the governments of India and US.  Thus the finalization of the LSA will be seen as an alliance to ‘balance’ out this perceived mutual Chinese threat.  Regarding this growing closeness between New Delhi and Washington D.C., Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We hope the relevant cooperation is beneficial to regional peace and cooperation and should not be aimed at the interests of third parties.”

Analysis

India as it fosters its growing US relationship will have to factor into account the potential risk of segregation in the region in which it resides in. For starters it will have to contend with the growing Russian apprehension with increasing Indian and US military cooperation especially after the formation of DTTI (Defence Technology and Trade Initiative), a body to remove obstacles to release the technology to India. Moscow views the Asia pivot as way to prevent the Russian Eurasian integration, going so far as claiming that the US is employing a hybrid war policy to deliberately sabotage concrete geo-economic interests of Russia. In a move showing its unhappiness small overtures to Pakistan are being made in hopes of making New Delhi fall back into line as well as establish a linkage between Russia’s Eurasian Vision and China’s Silk Road initiatives given the centrality of Pakistan

Antagonizing Beijing by deciding to join US patrols of the South China Sea will also not help India in its nuclear ambitions. Despite the US stepping up efforts to admit India into the NSG , China has very clearly stated that it will not back India’s bid to join the group as  “other states” are also aspiring to join the elite 48-member club and asserted that any decision on the inclusion of new members will be based on “consensus”. “Besides India, there are other non-NPT states who have expressed similar aspirations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

In the SAARC organization, India’s Pakistan centric vision is not helping it. The simple fact is Pakistan cannot be wished away from SAARC nor can it be sidelined. While India encourages the isolation of Pakistan amongst these nations its own tussle with China and Sri-Lanka (both firm friends of Pakistan) means that it has no real sway apart from preventing regional connectivity and in the long run itself becoming a victim of isolationism. The dominant factor in all matters related to the region remains China, whose insistence on increased regional connectivity to promote economic benefits seems attractive compared to Indian bullying.

Pakistan, contrary to the US and indian media narrative is steadily improving its image. Though frustration might exist internally, regarding the civil-military balance, internationally the nation is making inroads with its regional partners and encouraging economic co-operation with all. The establishment in India needs to look at the new reality in Pakistan; the gradual turn around in its policies to bring about internal harmony and security, to sideline religious intolerance and compare it with the internal problems that India faces. Pakistan today is confronting the forces that seek to destabilize through an orchestration of state power—the results of which are discernible.

While it is clear that the current Indian government is as removed from the Nehruvian way of governance as can be, India must realize that an antagonistic attitude with its regional neighbors is not helping it. The fact that the US has clearly indicated Pakistan’s centrality to any solution in Afghanistan and praised the country’s fight against terrorism indicates that though, the US-Indo partnership is maturing, D.C. remains firmly committed to its own national interest first and foremost where Pakistan is concerned.  If India truly is serious about wanting to emerge as key player in the global order, than it must play a peaceful role in the regions geopolitics.

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