By Dr Subhash Kapila
Indo Pacific security and stability in 2018 occupies a centrality in US National Strategy stands unambiguously asserted at the highest levels of Trump Administration. India is expected by United States to play a pivotal role towards this end though not an exclusive one. Contextual geopolitical environment in Indo Pacific dictates India plays an assertive role, but the question is whether India is ready for this role?
Political analysts of late have raised doubts of United States under President Trump being unpredictable and therefore India has to be careful in not aligning itself too closely with the United States, least of all in the security cooperation domains. Such analyses seem to be inspired ones aimed at India not becoming strategically proximate to the United States. India needs to ponder as to which nation or nations would not like the US-India Strategic Partnership to evolve into a substantive and a partnership that could provide conventional deterrence against those bent on creating turbulence in the Indo Pacific region?
The recent address by US Secretary of State Pompeo at the Indo Pacific Business Forum organised by US Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Jul31 2018 should provide enough assurances to India’s ‘Doubting Thomases Worst Confounded’ that the United States intentions in terms of Indo Pacific security and stability continue to be firm and unwavering. US Secretary of State’s assertions during this address was not only aimed at assuring US businesses would not suffer with any course that the US-China trade war takes place, but also aimed at assuring the wider Indo Pacific Region that the United States is firmly committed.
While US Secretary of State, Pompeo’s remarks were basically trade and commerce oriented and the history of United States massive economic development of Asia Pacific countries, there were significant strategic underpinnings that laced his address. It was thus a combination of stress on a mix of geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges that face the Indo Pacific wide expanse.
Some of the significant excerpts of relevance to India’s options are outlined below:
- United States does not seek dominance over the Indo Pacific and will oppose any country that does so.
- United States maintains that Indo Pacific region remain “free and open”
- United States believes in ‘Strategic Partnership’ and not ‘Strategic Dominance’ of the Indo Pacific region.
- United States believes in ‘Strategic Partnership’ and not ‘Strategic dependency’.
- In the US State Department transcript US Secretary of State Pompeo is quoted as saying “We want the nations, every nation, to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion by other countries”.
- Amplifying on what the United States implies by ‘open seas and open skyways’ US Secretary of State asserted that “When we say ‘open’ in the Indo Pacific, we want all nations to enjoy open access across all seas and airways. We want the peaceful resolution of all territorial and maritime disputes.”
Unmistakeably implicit in these assertions is that the United States has China in mind and the threat it poses to Indo Pacific region as exemplified by China’s aggressive military occupation of the entire South China Sea and claiming sovereignty over the entire maritime expanse. China to achieve this has impinged on the sovereignty of Vietnam and the Philippines and not amenable to solve its maritime disputes with these smaller nations.
China despite all the gloss being put by India on reset of China-India relations stubbornly opposes peaceful resolution of the boundary dispute in the High Himalayas between India and China Occupied Tibet.
The China Threat to Indo Pacific region encompassing the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean is real and live. The China Threat to India should never be de-emphasised or under-emphasised by India’s political and security planning establishment. It would amount to a return to the pre-1962 Nehruvian template.
From the above reality flows the choice of options open to India in terms of neutralising or minimising the China Threat and more importantly that China in the garb of ‘Born Again’ friendly feelings for India does not surreptiously create geopolitical minefields arresting India’s rise to prominence in global affairs.
India was pushed into the US-India Strategic Partnership by China’s anti-Indian hostility and strategic intrusiveness in South Asian geopolitics. Now that this Partnership is acquiring substantial and meaningful contours, China wants to entice away India from the US –India Strategic Partnership. Does the Indian policy establishment or strategic community need to be educated on China’s propensity for ‘Swing Strategies”?
India’s policy establishment has to concede that India’s current prominence did not arise due to Russia or China but as a ‘spinoff’ from the evolution of the US-India Strategic Partnership. India’s collateral substantial Strategic Partnerships with Japan, Israel and South Korea flow from India’s “Reset of Relations with the United States’ at the turn of the Millennium.
Contextually, therefore without more discussion, what emerges from the above reality check is that India has only one viable option and that is that it should secure itself by attaching itself unambiguously with Indo Pacific Security templates of the United States and the wide range of strategic convergences that exist between the United States and India.
The above policy precept will in no way bar India from sustenance of its old and valued relationship with Russia and in case of China explore meaningful ways to resolve peacefully the boundary dispute that China employs as strong ‘pressure point’ against India and will keep doing so till such time geopolitical factors push China into more accommodative stances towards India.
India’s left-overs of the ‘Non-Alignment Era have no relevance for India’s geopolitical and strategic outlook and this hangover needs to be shaken off. Repeatedly, in my writings in the past was a singular fact that India does not have the wherewithal or the capabilities presently tp sermonise and practise ‘Non-Alignment -2’ or ‘Strategic Autonomy’. Till that stage is reached by India, the only viable option is to adhere to the precepts of ‘Balance of Power” policy precepts.
The pertinent question that arises is as to who India has to balance geopolitical and strategically? Definitely not the United States and definitely not Russia also. It is China that needs to be balanced by India as China’s transactional and spasmodic overtures are no balm over its six decades of hostile stances against India directly and through proxy use of Pakistan as the regional Spoiler State.
United States current mood to improve relations with Russia coincides with India’s current mood to reset relations with Russia after Russia impetuously pivoted towards Pakistan. It would also be not far wide off the mark to assert that Russia’s current mood to improve relations with the United States is also impelled by unease on China.
While recommending personally that India should become unambiguous in term of teaming up with the United States for the security and stability of the Indo Pacific Region, one would in tandem like to stress that it is more than incumbent on the United States to unambiguously assert that India is the lynch-pin and the preferred partner of the United States in the Indo Pacific Region. Written by me earlier was that India and Japan are the ‘Twin Pillars of Security” for the United States and if that be so then does not strong convergences exist amongst these three nations? Then why should India dither?
The United Stes does not help its mission when some US Administration officials assert at public forums that ‘Indo Pacific is not only India and the United States but Indo Pacific extends beyond India’. What does that imply? Pakistan? Does not seem so. Then why such confusing statements are being made and ammunition being provided to those in India who question India’s growing proximity to the United States.
In conclusion, both the United States and India’s policy establishments need to realise that contemporaneous geopolitical realities hovering over the Indo Pacific places strong imperatives on both nations to join hands in an equitable partnership for maintenance of Indo Pacific security and stability. The United States needs to recognise that USA has to display more than extra sensitivity to honour India’s strategic predicaments as it strives to shed its decades- old Non- Alignment paralytic fixations.