India and the United States: Can the Elephant Pivot?

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, thoughquestions 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

U.S. and India: The So-So Strategic Dialogue

This year’s session of the annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which brought Secretary of State John Kerry to New Delhi two weeks ago, produced few headlines.  The gathering was preceded by low expectations as well as talk (here and here) about how bilateral affairs have plateaued in the years since the nuclear cooperation agreement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Nonetheless, there are some things going in the relationship that are worthy of note.  Here is a rundown. Continue reading

Obama and Syria: Red Lines Redeemed?

I’ve contended in previous posts (here, here and here) that President Obama’s failure to enforce his numerous threats against the use of chemical weapons by the Bashir al-Assad regime in Damascus is a significant reason to doubt the credibility of his repeated vows to use military force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.  So is my argument undermined now that Mr. Obama has decided to provide light weapons to rebel forces in Syria, ostensibly in reaction to the use of sarin, a lethal nerve gas?  Quite the reverse: As I see it, his actions and the ambivalent manner by which they were signaled provide further support for my case. Continue reading