Despite US unease, India may be its best partner in a multipolar world
- India’s strategic autonomy and aversion to ideological groupings irk Washington but, unlike other allies, it is not reliant on US military aid and defence exports
- As India assumes the G20 chair, the US will become patently aware of New Delhi’s role in the Global South and the West – and should seek to capitalise on this
At the risk of sounding polemical, if Indian analysts at think tanks in Washington, New York or London got a penny every time they heard an armchair expert opine about how India is a very difficult country or why it is not condemning so and so, they’d all be rich by now.
Yet, Washington’s Cold-War-era ideas of India, and the Biden administration’s bifurcation of the world into “us vs them”, has proved a dampener on the relationship.
Understandably, India did not shoot down that offer. With over 58 per cent of its population engaged in agriculture, it can afford neither high fertiliser nor crude prices since they would have a direct impact on inflation, affecting large swathes of the population.
This year, as India assumes the G20 chair, Washington will become patently aware of India’s feet in both worlds – the Global South and the West – and its agnostic approach to ideological groupings.
In evoking slogans such as “one Earth, one family, one future”, and characterising the “confrontation and competition between ideas, ideologies and personalities” as “a zero-sum mindset”, Modi has dismissed the West’s courting of India to enter its ideological fold.
India seeks to champion the causes of the Global South while forging its path in the fourth industrial revolution through partnerships with advanced Western economies.
But should India step up to this role, it will not be from the partisan place the West expects it to be – siding with Ukraine while severing ties with Russia.
New Delhi has actively worked towards de-hyphenating the Russo-India bilateral relationship with the US-India relationship. Interestingly, that has not been the case for US-India-China. New Delhi’s deteriorating relations with Beijing has proved to be a catalyst for its increased cooperation with Washington.
India’s feet in the Global South and its ambitions of modernising using Western technologies are not necessarily at odds. The US, for once, should partner with a nation not reliant on its military aid and defence exports.
While this independence may irk some in Washington, American taxpayers can rest assured their tax dollars are not underwriting the security of a faraway land nor will they be deployed to fight a war in the region.
Unlike America’s allies in the Middle East, Europe and East Asia who underspend on defence and count on America to save the day, India, with the world’s second-largest ground forces, as the fifth-largest economy with over 150 nuclear warheads, and having fought three wars since its independence, is well equipped to deal with its own challenges.
Akhil Ramesh is a fellow at the Pacific Forum