Partnering with US in Asia to amplify India's strategic impact

Partnering with US in Asia to amplify India's strategic impact

India should partner with the US in Asia to amplify its impact in the region and not see this as sacrificing its strategic autonomy, a noted American expert has said.

"Partnering more closely with the United States in Asia amplifies India's strategic impact in a way that India cannot have acting alone," said Amer Latif, visiting fellow with the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a prestigious Washington-based think-tank.

"Rather than viewing such an endeavour as sacrificing its strategic autonomy, New Delhi should view this as an opportunity to augment its own capabilities until such time as it can confidently act on its own and have strategic impact," Latif wrote in an article released by the think-tank recently.

Observing that Asia is currently experiencing a dynamic and changing security environment, Latif said Asian countries are rejuvenating regional security architecture through their respective partnerships, not just with the US but with each other, in response to China's growing military power.

India has been a party to some of this change with the US-India-Japan trilateral dialogue and its participation in the East Asia Summit in Bali last year.

"But a country with India's growing political, economic, and military capabilities has more to offer than just participation in multilateral forums.

"New Delhi knows that the security landscape in Asia is rapidly changing, and it should act accordingly to prevent any missed opportunities for playing a more decisive role in Asia," he wrote.

"To that end, India should develop its own strategic guidance for deploying its military and seriously consider closer engagement with the US in shaping Asia's evolving architecture, he said.

Referring to the recently released strategic guidance, which reflected the expected shift towards the Asia-Pacific region, Latif said, "what was a bit unexpected was the attention given to India in such a key document."

Long-standing Asian allies such as Australia, Japan, Korea, and others were lumped under the label of "existing alliances", while India was singled out with the following passage: "The United States is also investing in a long term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region," he said.

The specific mention of India raises interesting questions about how India fits into the United States' vision for security in the Asia-Pacific region, he said, adding that Washington and New Delhi have been actively building their defence relations through defence sales, exercises, and high-level military engagements.

India now conducts more exercises with the United States than with any other country, and it is gradually integrating US platforms and systems into the various branches of its armed forces, he wrote.

"India has also performed admirably in counter piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere throughout the Indian Ocean.

Commenting on India's active role in fighting piracy, Latif said, "It (India) has been actively engaging countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region with ship visits, high-level defence meetings, and the provision of military equipment, and it has even demonstrated leadership by establishing the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and organising the MILAN naval exercises held every two years."

But despite the impressive progress in recent years, he questioned India's commitment and ability to be a security provider in Asia.

"Each of New Delhi's defence engagements abroad is closely scrutinised and calibrated with an eye towards available military capacity, the scope and optics of the mission, and how a particular defence engagement will be politically perceived at home.

"Rather than being guided by an overarching national security strategy or strategic planning documents, these decisions are usually made on a case-by-case basis," he wrote.