The visits between India’s Prime Minister Modi (end of 2014) to the United States and that of Mr. Obama as President of the United States to India this past month (Jan. 2015) have been mutually historic for the people of each respective nation that transcends to a clear global message to the birth of a strategic partnership. Mr. Modi in his speech referred to it as “a natural global partnership” what it fundamentally is, is a partnership of necessity.
Both nations share common values based on democratic ideals, a growing mutuality of economic and technological dependency but as if not more compelling provide the probative counterbalance to the Chinese sphere of expanding influence in the South / Southeast Asia Region. As recently as 1971, India and the United States were not collaboratively geo-politically aligned despite that India boasted being the largest democracy in the world and the US then as now being the “arsenal of democracy” as one of two superpowers asserting its position in the South Asia region. In 1971, the US 7th Fleet had been ordered into the Bay of Bengal in order to support the national government of Pakistan’s attempt to prevent the breakaway of the Eastern portion of its country. The self-determination of independence by the people of Bengal that would later form Bangladesh as a sovereign nation was supported by India. Back channel diplomatic communication and the possibility of Soviet (the other Superpower at the time) intervention based on a military support pact with India averted the US 7th Fleet and potentially direct superpower engagement.
Fast forward to 2015 and the dynamics over time and occurrence have twisted and turned into a horizon glow of new geo-political realities albeit predicated on foes of old and commonality – China
India and China continue to be at odds on several matters that include sovereign territorial claims. 1962 saw warring between the two countries that resulted in a decisive loss to India. Skirmishes along boundaries continue from time to time, despite ongoing trade and government relations.
India’s geography as a peninsula is as has often been referenced is a thrusting protruding 1000 kilometer dagger into the Indian Ocean. Island chains of such as Andaman & Nicobar, enhance India’s presence, influence and control of shipping lanes in these waters. Approximately 60,000 commercial vessels transit these waters each year, an average of one every nine minutes. The Indian Navy boasts that its flotilla of some 135 warships, has total and dominating presence over these shipping lanes. China fully aware of these facts and assertions boldly declares that – ‘Indian Ocean is not India’s ocean’ (Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, 1994)
China is building up a fleet to challenge presence and project ‘blue sea’ participatory capacity that include the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean. The expansion of naval capacity is a matter of keen interest and concern.
The essence of the strategic geo-political partnership is India’s military capacity, its ability to project and enhance it in the interest of regional security, peace and counterbalance the possibility of any one nation asserting too much influence in a given sphere.
In recognizing the common geo-political and economic threats India and the US constructed policy declarations that included but were not limited to:
- A Joint Strategic Vision statement for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region with respect to shared concerns on maritime disputes in the South China seas.
- Joint production on 4 defense projects that would include joint manufacturing of four military products and explore the development of two more high-end technologies.
- Joint maritime exercise and intelligence sharing
- 4 Billion USD to enhance Trade and Economy to offset China’s permeating efforts to entrench its influence in the Indian economy.
There are increasing opportunities for India and the US to work together moving into the future. Both countries share common views on regional matters although the security interest appears shared only to the Eastern borders of India and shipping lanes of commerce. India’s concern to the west with Pakistan and the after effects of the US insertion of Afghanistan are yet to develop and be defined. Moving into the future also leaves for reflection the historical composite of relationship development, and the matrices of non-aligned interest for both parties. Enhanced inter-dependency in time and actionability through occurrence have yet to be realized.