It is Time for Closer Ties between the United States and India
China is on the offensive. From the South China Sea, with its intrusion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, along with the militarization of the Spratley Islands, attempting to enclose India with a series of naval bases in the Indian Ocean, as well as their aggression in the Himalayas near Pangong Lake, China is seeking to change the balance of power in its favor.
China’s heralded Belt and Road Initiative is more about enclosing India strategically than bringing prosperity to any nation participating in the BRI. China is attempting to enclose India with military bases that would make India vulnerable in case of open warfare between the two nuclear powers.
India is vital to the long-term national security interests of the United States. It is time for the world’s two largest democracies to join hands in an economic, political, and military alliance.
The U.S. Policy of Accommodation Has Been a Failure
For decades, the United States has held back in challenging China in the South China Sea. The United States had hoped that China would soften its rhetoric and its behavior as time went on. Even when China announced its Belt and Road Initiative, the United States hoped that China would use its rising economic power for constructive purposes, rather than impose its political will on its weaker neighboring states.
This policy of engagement towards China had bi-partisan support from the Clinton administration to the end of the Obama administration. The disastrous involvement of the United States in Iraq forced the United States to develop tunnel vision in world affairs, giving China an opportunity to press its claims in the South China Sea. It was only during the Trump administration that the United States began shifting away from a policy of engagement to a firmer policy of confrontation.
The United States has publicly warned China that it will no longer stand idly by while China engages in “gangster tactics” to get its way in the South China Sea. While the new U.S. focus is welcome news to America’s allies in South East Asia, the reality is that the years of neglect have allowed China to grow militarily, and begin to establish military bases that threaten shipping routes in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as threaten the independence and polity of India. Both of these realities represent a national security threat to the United States.
Possible Outlines of a U.S.-Indian Alliance
For the United States and India to forge an alliance that will endure, the alliance must be based on compatible economic and political agreements and beliefs. A short and temporary alliance of convenience, would make any type of meaningful and effective alliance shallow and prone to economic and political tensions that would constantly threaten the stability of any alliance.
Since 2007, the United States and India have been forging a shared economic policy where both economies benefit. India has become the United States’ eighth-largest trade partner in the world.
With this growth, frictions have developed which have only worsened under the Trump administration. President Trump views trade as a zero-sum game. The Trump administration, seeking domestic political advantage for its own political ends, removed India from the Generalized System of Preferences which was used under the Obama administration to foster increased trade between the two countries, and build a foundation for increased strategic cooperation.
The Trump administration then imposed trade sanctions against India on exports of steel and aluminum in 2018. This prompted India to impose its own sanctions on U.S. agricultural products in 2019. There has also been friction under intellectual property rights, but some progress has been made in this area. With the need for India as a counterweight to Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific area, a trade war is not conducive to better relations.
Both countries need to come to an understanding on trade practices, and to perhaps agree to a council made up of India, the United States, and a neutral third party to adjudicate trade issues. Such a council would impose binding arbitration, encouraging both countries to cooperate economically in the face of Chinese aggression.
Both countries have political systems that are a form of representative government. While India has a parliamentary system, and the United States a federal structure, each country follows political procedures based on law, with a recognition of human rights. It must be said that India has rightly been criticized for its treatments of Muslims and ideally the Trump administration will address this more forcibly.
A military alliance between the United States and India would force China to contemplate the danger of a two-front war, should hostilities break out. With China attempting to surround India in the Indian Ocean with its “string of pearls,” the most effective way of countering China’s enclosure strategy would be to dramatically increase the presence of the United States Navy in the Indian Ocean. This would best be accomplished by arranging the homeporting of an American carrier strike group (CSG) on Indian soil.
Stationing a permanent CSG in the Indian Ocean would force China to expend considerably more naval and air assets in the Indian Ocean than it has so far, and force China to modify its current “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy around the world.
In addition to placing United States naval assets in the Indian Ocean, the United States and India should consider allowing the stationing of U.S. combat troops on Indian soil. The United States should pre-position armored assets in India, to include XM-1 tanks from the armored reserve in the Sierra Army Depot. Supplies of ammunition, fuel, fuel trucks, and other supplies would also need to be pre-positioned. With China’s PLA engaging in military maneuvers using armored vehicles in the high altitude areas along the disputed Line of Actual Control between India and China, and with the majority of India’s armored forces confronting the Pakistan Army on the other side of India, India is being squeezed by both countries.
Barring a dramatic change in the political situation in China, where the Chinese Communist Party has embarked on an aggressive expansion of its military power beyond its borders, a conflict between the United States and China appears to be inevitable. With that being the case, allying with India would give the United States the ability to deter such conflict or give the United States an overwhelming advantage in winning the coming conflict.