- Indian Foreign Policy Responds to the U.S. Pivot
india, united states, china, u.s. pivot, foreign policy[End Page 89]
This article examines India’s foreign policy response to the U.S. pivot toward Asia and investigates New Delhi’s strategy for dealing with the changing balance of power in the region.
India has emerged as an important constituent of the U.S. strategy of pivoting toward the Asia-Pacific region, aimed at balancing China’s growing power. For India, too, China’s growing military and economic prowess poses a strategic challenge. Yet rather than endorse the pivot, Indian foreign policy shows signs of pursuing a hedging strategy in three distinct realms. First, New Delhi is recalibrating its strategic closeness with the U.S., evident in the drift in the U.S.-India defense relationship over the last few years. Second, rather than balancing China through external help, New Delhi has been trying to normalize its relationship with Beijing, without much apparent success. Third, India is encouraging a more localized form of balancing by increasing its defense partnerships with other regional powers.
• The U.S. must be consistent in signaling its commitment and strategy in the Indo-Pacific to help regional powers, including India, shed their reluctance to commit to shaping a more stable regional balance of power.
• The U.S. should encourage greater regional cooperation by pushing for a more substantive Indian presence in the economic and security organizations in East and Southeast Asia. A local balance of power would not only decrease the financial and military burden on the U.S. but also allow regional powers to stand up to Beijing without the U.S. being accused of trying to contain China.
• To fully confront the implications of China’s rise and the U.S.’s relative decline in the region, India needs to augment its strategic partnership with the U.S. while increasing its engagement with Asia’s regional powers. In particular, New Delhi needs to rid itself of its continuing ambivalence about strong defense and security cooperation with Washington. [End Page 90]
Facing an assertive China in the Asia-Pacific, President Barack Obama announced in late 2011 his strategy of pivoting toward the region. India has emerged as an important constituent of this new policy framework. This article argues that the Indian foreign policy response to U.S. “strategic rebalancing” has taken the form of strategic hedging.
Hedging has made inroads into India’s foreign policy for two main reasons. First, during the early years of Obama’s presidency, Indian foreign policy elites viewed U.S. outreach to Beijing as a grand accommodation. This perception of a possible Washington-Beijing rapprochement made India feel both vulnerable and ignored. Therefore, even after the more robust pivot strategy was announced in late 2011, doubts about its credibility continued to pervade Indian perceptions. Concerns that the United States’ continuing economic woes and military sequestration will render the pivot unsustainable have only reaffirmed India’s reluctance. Reinforcing such skepticism are the multiple crises in the Middle East and Europe that seem to have once again taken the United States’ focus away from Asia, as was evident in Obama’s speech at West Point in January 2014, where uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to Asia was conspicuous by the absence of any mention of the pivot. In a period where the United States is struggling to find resources to support its foreign and military commitments, such distractions are bound to adversely affect the efficiency of the pivot strategy. Second, the Indian sense of vulnerability has also brought to the fore the country’s default foreign policy posture of nonalignment. Strategic confusion in U.S. foreign policy has strengthened the hands of those in India who seek greater distance from the United States, thereby renewing a debate on the nature and depth of the interactions New Delhi desires with Washington given the challenge posed by a rising China. India’s hedging vis-à-vis the U.S. pivot is a reflection of the unsettled nature of this debate.
India’s approach to the new U.S...