July 30, 2014
Host: The East-West Center
Dr. Dinshaw Mistry, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati
Dr. Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
In the early 2000’s, as scholars and policymakers watched development come quickly to East Asia, there was a hope amongst some leaders that India would be able to match and balance out China’s rapid growth, while also providing stability and leadership to restive countries in the region such as Pakistan. Unfortunately, as of today, these optimistic expectations have not been fully met. Although the country has become in many ways more strategically aligned with the U.S., there are still several challenges stemming from India’s own strategic and diplomatic interests.
As Dr. Mistry signaled in a recent report, although India and the U.S. have experienced high levels of convergence in UN peacekeeping missions and export control initiatives, cooperation has faltered when it comes to issues regarding the India’s own nuclear commerce and its diplomatic ties with Iran.
After three years of negotiations, the U.S. and India signed a civil nuclear agreement in 2005, placing India’s civil nuclear facilities within IAEA network. However, despite the hopes of many U.S. policymakers, India did not hire any U.S. firms to help with modernize its nuclear framework. Although Dr. Minsky interpreted this move as a sign of independence from the Indian government, demonstrating it is not dictated by U.S. interests, some policymakers in the U.S. interpreted the move as a snub.
In addition, although India has complied with U.S. led sanctions against Iran – India has, according to Dr. Mistry, dropped its import of Iranian oil by about 15% per year over the last three years – there are still strong political ties between India and Iran. However, as Dr. Cohen pointed out, India has strategic reasons for maintaining close ties with Iran. Firstly, India holds second largest Shiite population in the world – second only to Iran – and therefore Iran has strong public support in the country. Second, with the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan at the end of the year, India will likely have to work more closely with Iran, Pakistan, and other regional powers in order to protect their investments in Afghanistan.
Outside of these two areas though, U.S. and Indian policy are increasingly converging along strategic lines. Over the past decade, India has drastically increased the amount of arms it buys from the U.S. – from 2001-04 it spent less than $1 billion and from 2009 to today, it has spent over $11 billion. India is using these acquisitions to not only upgrade its navy, aircraft, and missile technology, all of which Dr. Mistry sees as complimenting U.S. efforts to limit Chinese aggression, but to also play a larger role in international monitoring groups. As of 2010, the U.S. and it allies have supported India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group, and other export control groups aimed at limiting nuclear proliferation. In addition to this, the U.S. has invited India to participate in military exercises with itself, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries which, although Dr. Mistry labels these exercises as simply symbolic, illustrates the U.S.’ desire for India to play a new role in the pivot to Asia. Whether or not India wants or will continue to play a role though remains to be seen.
For the country that still hasn’t lived up to the high expectations put before it at the beginning of the century, Dr. Mistry and Dr. Cohen both believe that India’s primary focus in the coming will be on its own domestic development. They both see India’s participation in international export control groups as an important step, as it signals increased integration with the international community, but is largely driven by Western concerns regarding nuclear proliferation. In India, the idea that these international efforts are limiting India’s own development and capabilities. From an Indian view, nuclear weapons are the one thing that assured the country that it would never have a war with Pakistan, as neither country will risk nuclear war. With such different perspectives, it is hard to say whether the U.S. and India will be able to maintain a strong and long-term strategic partnership. India has the necessary tools, but whether it can live up to its expectations remains to be seen.