In an increasingly complex global landscape, the United States finds itself at a critical juncture in its foreign policy objectives. One region that demands careful attention is the Indo-Pacific, and, in particular, the strategic position that India holds within it.
As the United States recalibrates its international alliances and economic dependencies, India emerges as a pivotal player that could help shape the future of this crucial geopolitical theater.
The world has witnessed a significant shift in the dynamics of international relations. The declining relationship between the United States and China, coupled with concerns over human rights abuses and regional tensions, is prompting a reassessment of the economic and strategic ties between the two nations.
This is not to say that India is without its own democratic flaws.
However, the over-dependence of a consumer America on Chinese imports, with a staggering trade deficit of $382.92 billion as of 2022, underscores the urgency of diversifying trade partners.
There is no exact substitute for China. But there is a way for the U.S. to diversify its dependence — India.
The world’s largest democracy, and now most populated, shares fundamental values with the United States, such as democracy (while questionable), commitment to counterterrorism and engagement with international institutions. These shared principles provide a solid foundation for a deeper strategic partnership.
Here are some compelling reasons why the United States should consider India as a significant ally:
Democratic Values: For namesake — The alignment of the world’s largest democracy (India) with the world’s oldest democracy (the United States) offers opportunities for collaboration on defense, security, economics and global cooperation.
Strategic Location: India’s location in the Indo-Pacific region is pivotal for global trade and security. Its rapidly developing infrastructure, including ports, highways and railways, positions India as an essential hub for international trade, countering China’s influence.
Indo-Chinese Strains: The strained relationship between India and China, exacerbated by disputes over initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and border clashes, creates an opening for the United States to foster stronger economic ties with India.
While the benefits of a closer U.S.-India partnership are evident, certain challenges must be acknowledged and addressed:
India’s Relationship with Russia: India’s reliance on Russia for defense procurement and oil purchases may not align perfectly with American interests. Nevertheless, aligning with India in the context of its non-support for the war in Ukraine is crucial for U.S. security.
The Pakistan Question: Closer economic ties between the United States and India could be perceived as a threat by Pakistan, potentially leading to stronger ties with China or other U.S. rivals. Careful diplomatic efforts must be made to navigate this complex situation.
Domestic Policies: India’s protectionist policies aimed at safeguarding domestic industries could pose challenges for U.S. businesses. Incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies can help mitigate these obstacles.
The Way Forward — A marriage of future economic convenience?
The United States could prioritize discussions with India to establish an exclusive trade agreement through a Trade Policy Forum (TPF) and renew the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) Program. These actions can lead to increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), diversified investment portfolios and more favorable tariff treatments for Indian products.
Additionally, engaging in mega-regional trade agreements that involve India but exclude China, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), could be explored. These agreements align with the US policy of “friendshoring” and promote multilateralism, helping maintain U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
To protect America’s national security and economic interests, a trilateral trade agreement involving India, the United States and South Korea might be a strategic move to counter a growing Chinese influence.
India’s strategic significance in the Indo-Pacific region cannot be underestimated. The potential benefits far outweigh the challenges, making India a key partner in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape of the 21st century.