Joe Biden is in India this week, the latest effort in the Obama administration’s three-year effort to enlist New Delhi in a closer strategic partnership aimed at hedging against a rising China. Indeed before departing Washington, Biden declared that the United States welcomes New Delhi’s emergence as “a force for security and growth in Southeast Asia and beyond,” underscoring what has become a central theme in U.S. policy towards India.
New Delhi has certainly not been passive in its dealings with East Asia, though questions remain about its capacity to affect the regional balance of power. But it has also been wary of signing up to the Obama administration’s much-ballyhooed strategic pivot (here and here) to Asia. Consider, for example, the divergent signals that were registered in Washington and New Delhi in early 2012. The White House was busy rolling out the pivot project to great fanfare, including releasing a Pentagon policy document that skipped over long-standing Asian allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia to give singular mention of India as “a strategic partner.” At the same time in New Delhi, however, prominent members of the Indian foreign policy establishment were issuing their own report, titled “Nonalignment 2.0.” Seeking to chart out a set of basic principles to guide national security policy over the next decade, the report emphasized that strategic independence remains “the core of India’s global engagements even today.”
The policy lines drawn in Nonalignment 2.0 are a matter of vigorous debate in New Delhi, and it’s gotten pushback from Indian government officials. It’s also striking that the document had much more to say about China than about the United States, including warning that India cannot “entirely dismiss the possibility of a major military offensive” along its contested Himalayan border with the People’s Republic. Yet there was no mistaking the official ambivalence that greeted the proposal for a closer military relationship U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta tendered during his trip to New Delhi last summer. Indeed, some observers called the Indian reaction a “snub.”
One year on, will Mr. Biden find an audience in New Delhi any more receptive? Continue reading