Though events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe have recently preoccupied the United States’ foreign policy focus, it is in Asia where its interests are most significant and most at risk. As a region with a number of rapidly developing economies and growing multinational institutions, Asia is coming to have increasing significance in global affairs. Meanwhile, China’s economic rise, military modernization, and increasing regional assertiveness have been met by many in Washington with concern. Recognizing this, the Obama administration has tried to reaffirm and refocus American commitment to the region through its foreign policy “pivot.” Perhaps overlooked in this discussion over the United States’ future in Asia, a discussion often dominated by the U.S.-China dynamic, is the role that India has and will come to play. As the United States and India share a number of security concerns and are working toward a deeper strategic relationship, a successful India can significantly abet American regional foreign policy. Indeed, the U.S.-India relationship will be vital to maintaining a favorable regional balance of power for the United States. Such is why India’s success is so important to the United States, and why recent American administrations have sought to support India’s ascendency in the region.
Doubtlessly, the coming relationship between the United States and China will define the state of world affairs for much of the 21st century. Some see the emergence of structural bipolarity between the United States and China, locked in competition for regional hegemony, as a distinct possibility. Yet in this increasingly globalized and economically interdependent world, a “Cold War” style confrontation between these two states is decidedly outside of their interests. Conflict emergent from Chinese challenges to the balance of power could have disastrous economic consequences for the region and, in turn, the world. As such, in order to preserve the existing balance of power in the region and offset China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, the United States has sought a closer strategic relationship with India. Indian strength and success, it has been reasoned, will serve as an effective balance against a rising China, and represents one of the few options the United States has in preserving its Asian interests. Bolstering Indian strength, and ensuring that India continues to see success in its rise as an economic power and regional player, is thus very much in the United States’ strategic interest.
This is not, however, to say that Indian success is important to the United States only as a means to contain China. Framing the U.S.-Indian relationship as such is counterproductive. Rather, India’s continued success and rise on the global arena should be seen as a way to support the United States’ efforts in solving global problems. Lasting peace in Asia, nuclear proliferation and safety, global climate change, piracy, and crime are all issues which affect both the United States and India; a strong, successful India working in concert with the United States to resolve these issues would be within the long-term interests of both countries. Bolstering India’s clout and capacity to effectively deal with global problems would be a boon to America’s efforts to support a peaceful, stable international environment; India’s success in this area would be quite beneficial to the United States.
Outside of the context of the coming U.S.-China relationship, India’s success supports and will support the United States in a number of ways. India’s relationship with Afghanistan and Iran could greatly abet the United States’ foreign policy goals. India has influence on Iran as a major importer of Iranian oil and an important supplier of their agriculture goods. As a member of Iran’s general neighborhood and a recent member of the global nonproliferation regime, it is in India’s interest to demand Iranian compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. A more assertive, powerful India could support the United States’ commitment to a non-nuclear Iran by adding an influential voice in the calls for non-proliferation; doing so, after all, is within its interests. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, India provides significant investment in Afghani infrastructure, resource extraction, industries, and education and health. Indian reconstruction in Afghanistan has helped strengthen the legitimacy of the national government in Kabul and has won widespread support from Afghanis. India wishes to see an Afghanistan with durable governance which is capable of maintaining internal security; strife in Afghanistan could create an environment for terrorist groups to threaten India. The United States’ and India’s interests thus align in the case of Afghanistan, and India has the clout and local support necessary to play a significant role in supporting those interests. As such, India’s continued success and continued proactive policies of engagement in Afghanistan are of major help to the United States’ global counter-terrorism effort.
It is clear that India’s success is thus very important to the United States. Discussed here were the various geopolitical reasons for why Indian success matters to the U.S., but a multitude of other reasons exist as well. Indian economic success would give room for deeper trade relations with the U.S., more American investment, and, in turn, would support the growth and development of both countries’ economies. India’s success as a regional space power will likely come to support the United States’ space programs, will bring tangible benefits to millions of Indians, and will serve as an effective counter to China’s increasing ambitions for outer space. As the world’s largest democracy, success in the political realm through combating corruption and strengthening institutions can reaffirm the U.S.-supported democratic model of governance against China’s increasingly attractive single-party model. Bolstering India’s growth and seeing to its continued success should thus be a continuing policy for the United States. After all, as President Obama made note of, the relationship between India and the U.S. could become “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”