Friends Without Benefits

Is the U.S.-Indian Relationship Built to Last?

Courtesy Reuters


In his critique of U.S. President Barack Obama’s India policy, Nicholas Burns (“Passage to India,” September/October 2014) correctly identifies the issues that have bedeviled U.S.-Indian relations, such as differences over international agreements on climate change and trade. But he overestimates both India’s desire to improve the relationship and the benefits doing so would bring.

Like many advocates of stronger U.S.-Indian ties, Burns fails to recognize that two countries with the same system of government do not necessarily develop similar interests or policies. In the case of India, the burdens of colonialism and economic underdevelopment have led it to oppose much of the U.S. agenda. Like China, India continues to view the United States as a presumptuous superpower and competitor. And if India realizes its goal of becoming an economic powerhouse with global influence, New Delhi’s rivalry with Washington, particularly in South Asia, will likely intensify.

Although Burns writes that “the United States and India should continue to strengthen their defense and political coordination in the Asia-Pacific region,” he neglects to mention that India appears uninterested in cooperating on this front. The United States has included India in multilateral strategic discussions on the Asia-Pacific region, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, with Australia and Japan, which sought to respond to increased Chinese power, but India has not made such meetings a priority. New Delhi has also been conspicuously absent from the two combined naval task forces the United States assembled to combat terrorism and piracy in the Indian Ocean. And despite providing development assistance to Afghanistan, India has refused to participate in the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s security mission in Afghanistan.

When India does participate in multilateral organizations, it routinely opposes initiatives proposed by the United States and other Western powers. India’s opposition to interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs has led New Delhi to vote against human rights resolutions in the UN General Assembly and to

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