Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Readings Post

This week, I read about India and its place in the East Asian security sphere. In particular, I read:

Ashton Carter, “America’s New Strategic Partner?” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006
C. Raja Mohan, “India and the Balance of Power” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006

Both were particularly pleased with new American plans to make a semi-ally out of India. I cannot argue; it's a great idea. A very large country expected to build up a large economy and already possessing one of the larger militaries in the region makes for a strong partner. Add in the importance of the region and the ideological and cultural connections, and it becomes a wonder that the US had not reached out to India previously. Even the Cold War really is no excuse, since the US had already made countries like Poland or China allies at different points.

These two articles really overlap, with the Carter article spending more time on the nuclear deal, and the Mohan coming at the idea more from an Indian perspective and looking at the overall picture.

One thing I think both articles understate is the extent to which India and China are competitors. Both countries have gone out of their way to downplay this idea, and have set up some very good cooperative ventures. However, they still have some VERY strong disagreements on borders. They also have a potential flashpoint in Tibet, with India supporting the Dalai Lama and giving him sanctuary. Add in to this the normal rising power tension, and the competition for influence in southeast Asia, and it becomes obvious how much it is in India's interest to have the US on its side.

This opens up interesting possibilities for US diplomacy, if the US is willing to really play the diplomatic game. In a strategic triangle like this, the strongest position is to be the pivot between two rivals, as long as you are willing to use that to your advantage. Right now, a pro-India tilt makes sense, as India is the weaker party. However, the US (if nimble enough), could use the position and threats of tilting in different directions to attempt some concessions from both China and India.Align Right

Of course, US diplomacy is seldom that nimble. Instead, the US could end up in a position closer to the one it holds between the PRC and ROC. That probably wouldn't help anyone at all. But, there are interesting possibilities to be considered in preserving the power of the region, and maintaining its own relevance.

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