The Indo-US strategic nexus vis-a-vis geopolitical competition with China takes another stride after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the US.
The defense deal between the two countries, precisely the willingness of Biden to grant India access to crucial American technology like F414—which it seldom shares with non-allies—is the most significant declaration of all those made so far.
It indicates that such defense deals will counter China by advancing India’s defense technologies. Both States have converging interests in the regional and global political spectrum. New Delhi seeks the US for regional geopolitics, while Washington relies on India for global geopolitics. However, a challenge arises as Washington fails to recognize the incompatibility between the Chinese geopolitical model, focused on cooperation for prosperity, and its own Cold War-style military deterrence approach. Viewing Beijing as its main rival, the US competes with China in various realms, such as economy, diplomacy, technology, and military strength. The deepening Indo-US defense ties showcase their goal of preventing a Chinese-led Power Transition in the region.
Indo-US strategic romance peaked with the 2+2 dialogue between India’s defense minister Rajnath Sing and his US counterpart Mark T Esper in October 2020. The dialogue covered various aspects, i.e., expanding defense and strategic ties and deepening military cooperation between the two counties by finalizing BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). With the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement), BECA, and LEMOA (Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) under the belt, India would emerge as a decisive military power in the Indo-Pacific region. The three pacts did not fulfill India’s dream of “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan.” Instead, it told to exercise Trump’s doctrine of militarizing the Asia Pacific region in his quest for containing China by standing India as US supervisor in the area.
To understand growing Indo-US ties deeply, one must understand the growing power struggle in the Indo-pacific region. The Asia Pacific chess board has been going to show exciting competition with its newly introduced term “Indo-Pacific” since the formal proclamation of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy Report.
The time Indo-pacific is originally a geographic concept that spans the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is first used by Gurpreet S. Khurana, a marine strategist, ten years ago to explain the natural connectivity between the two oceans. Recently the Indo-Pacific term has become a strategy of China-phobic pole to contain China’s rise in the region.
On June 1, 2019, the Pentagon released a full-fledged strategic plan under the “Indo-pacific Strategy Report.” Analyzing the report shows the U.S.’s clear intention that the states it plans to engage with eagerly agree to contain China (Andrew Korybko). The report explicitly criticizes China as a so-called “Revisionist Power” that allegedly opposes the US vision of a purportedly free and open Indo-Pacific, despite China being the country that stands for a free and open trade route for its export. From P.V. Narasimha’s Look East strategy to Modi’s Act East Policy is invigorated by Obama’s pivot to Asia to Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy and recently Biden’s New Asia Pacific Economic Bloc are all aim to revive the relatively declining US alliance system in the region.
India, the major player in the region, is concerned about China’s increasing economic power, while Japan sees Beijing’s escalating assertiveness as a severe and rising strategic danger. Having complementary rather than identical strategic visions, New Delhi and Tokyo joined hands to manage and minimize the potential assertive impact from Beijing. As time passes, the Indo-Pacific romance between the US-led allies grows warmer. In July 2017, the India-Japan agreement for collaboration on nuclear energy for peaceful purposes became effective. It was the first time Japan had ever agreed with a non-NPT nation. As an opportunist to prevent Power Transition in the region, the United States turned this romance into a strategic weapon to contain China.
China’s assertive actions proved itself as the potential Challenger against the existing International order led by the U.S. Among the four major powers ( Russia, China, India, and Brazil), China’s economic hegemony with its dissatisfied nature against the existing capitalist world order and never becoming an ally of any U.S. moves, China proved itself as the significant global contender against the current hegemon.
China’s activities are far more pacifistic as it concentrates on the economic win-win game, in contrast to Organski’s premise of the Power Transition thesis that the challenger will initiate war against the incumbent hegemon, which functions as a preventer of global order. Instead of China, the first phase of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report entails military strategic postures, including the installation of missile defense systems in Japan and Australia, as well as the creation of a joint American-Australian military complex on the Papua New Guinea Island of Manus, the announcement of a military agreement with India by Trump, and most recently, the formation of INDUS-X by Modi and Biden to promote engagement on defense technologies and speed up the integration of India’s private defense sector.
It is concerning for regional peace that soft Chinese power is being contained by an assertive military alliance led by the United States. Focusing on greater economic interdependence rather than the military competition the US wants to incite is the most practical approach to maintaining peace in the area. Only geo-economic policies and shared social development can contribute to regional peace and prosperity. Still, the belligerent China-phobic nexus tends to sacrifice stability in favor of its aggressive aims to limit China.
The Author is a researcher associated with the India Program at the Institute of Regional Studies. He consistently writes on environmental and security issues having a special interest in South Asia and Middle East Affairs. His writings cover vast areas of defense, diplomacy, and social issues. He can be approached at: firstname.lastname@example.org . He Tweets @NisarAL72795563