Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy; India and the United States in the Twenty-first Century: Reinventing Partnership

In This Review

Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy
By Rajiv Sikri
SAGE, 2009
336 pp. $39.95

India and the United States in the Twenty-first Century: Reinventing Partnership

By Teresita C. Schaffer
Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009
264 pp. $22.95

India's interests stretch far beyond its immediate periphery, covering several wide arcs from the Middle East through Central Asia, China, and Southeast Asia all the way to Japan, and they intersect at every point with the interests of Russia and the United States. No wonder New Delhi aspires to great-power status -- and has begun to earn it with economic growth, a naval buildup, and smarter diplomacy. Sikri, a retired Indian diplomat, expresses the Indian perspective straightforwardly. The major obstacles to India's ambitions, he says, are an unjust suspicion of its motives on the part of its immediate neighbors and the rise of China. Blaming Afghanistan's ungovernability on Pakistan, he recommends pressuring Islamabad by announcing construction projects that would cut the flow of desperately needed water from the Indus River. He counsels cooperation with Beijing even while suggesting how India might weaken its acknowledgment of Chinese sovereignty in Tibet, where the Chinese presence constitutes a permanent threat to Indian security. India's ambitions in every theater encounter other actors already present. In this sense, Sikri is right to say that India is not a status quo power, even though its goal is to join, not overturn, the great-power system.

Schaffer, a retired U.S. diplomat, explores how India's interests relate to those of the United States. Common interests include increased economic ties, a desire to promote democracy, a commitment to stability in the Middle East, and the need to hedge against China. Even where their interests coincide, however, coordination is hampered by India's insistence on "strategic autonomy." In some important areas, their priorities diverge. In Afghanistan, the United States views Pakistan as more of a helper than a spoiler; in Iran, India's needs for energy and access to Central Asia require cooperation rather than confrontation; and when it comes to China, the Indians are more wary than the Americans. Schaffer counsels that a U.S.-Indian partnership holds great promise but will require a lot of diplomatic cultivation to pay off.