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India's Pivotal Role In America's Rebalance To Asia

03/03/2015 8:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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The recently released National Security Strategy document of the United States reflects the diverse security challenges facing the US: the crisis in Ukraine, rise of the Islamic State, Iran's nuclear ambitions and an ever more powerful China. It urges Americans to use "strategic patience" rather than reflexive actions to address global security challenges by having a long-term view. The Obama administration has often been criticised for being unable to respond quickly to crises. This subsequently has led to a chasm on security issues between the Obama administration and congressional hawks rallying for a more muscular foreign policy. However, there is merit in Obama's policy of diplomatic engagement. The US is pursuing long-term strategy through strategic and diplomatic means and enhanced bilateral undertakings in the Asia-Pacific region.

The National Security Strategy document signals that the US is modernising its essential bilateral ties with allies Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, invigorating ties with the Philippines and strengthening its strategic partnership with India. President Obama has deftly deployed diplomatic tools to safeguard and propel American interests in the complex Asia Pacific region. Strategic moves like enhancing interoperability with and among allies and defence postures ensures that the US engages with a rising China from a 'position of strength', says the document. Large-scale military deployment in the region runs the risk of alienating China which can escalate into a theatre of conflict with already competing maritime claims and an unstable North Korea.

The US and China share a close economic relationship and depend on each other for vitalisation of their respective economies.

In 2011 the Obama administration issued several announcements (see for example here) indicating that the United States would be expanding and intensifying its role in Asia Pacific. President Obama's Pivot to Asia policy is smart and powerful as the Asia Pacific - the fastest growing, most populous, most dynamic region in the world - economically presents ample opportunities for American leadership. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaking in Tokyo on February 13, 2015 stated that President Obama's strategic decision to rebalance America's engagement and resources towards the Asia Pacific region is simple as nowhere in the world are economic and strategic opportunities clearer.

Strategically this region is significant as an engine of global economy with national rivalries steeped deep in history. Simultaneously, advancing talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership to sustain American economic growth and Made in America exports has been the cornerstone of Obama's economic policies.

There are signs that the US is focusing with renewed vigour on providing political commitment to the region. Several factors such as a resurgent American economy, reduced dependence on oil from the Middle East and a partial draw down of forces from Afghanistan have created a conducive geopolitical landscape to revitalise American efforts in the Asia Pacific. Recent reports suggest that the US Navy is considering regular docking of warships in Australia. As a part of expanding maritime cooperation, the US is also increasing the number of Marines at a base outside Darwin. Some commentators have been critical of the United States not maintaining a large forward deployed military presence in the Philippines, Singapore and Australia. However, a large military presence in the region does not necessarily assure that America will be the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability, and President Obama is aware of the limitations of the American military.

While Washington can actively support and bolster the capabilities of allies and partners in the Asia Pacific, there are genuine limits to heavy military deployment in Asia. The US has maintained that the rebalance to Asia is not aimed at pursuing a containment policy towards China. The US and China share a close economic relationship and depend on each other for vitalisation of their respective economies. Thus, without intensifying tensions in the region by military deployment, America is tactically recalibrating its political commitment to the region.

India and the US are faced with treading the tightrope of realpolitik. They must manage the rise of an assertive China whilst maintaining a vital economic relationship with the country.

Of notable significance in the American rebalance to Asia is India's role as the 'lynchpin' of the strategy. With a sense of cautious optimism in its recalibrated economic growth, India is making concerted efforts to carve out an enhanced role for itself in the Asia-Pacific region. India is an important partner for the United States in Asia for strategic and economic reasons. There are synergies between the US Pivot to Asia and India's Act East Policy -America views India as an active partner to provide security and promote stability in the region. The US-India Joint Strategic Vision inked during the President Barack Obama's latest visit to India is rich on both symbolism and substance. The two democracies bridge the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean and it is this connectedness that forges a closer partnership between the US and India. Simultaneously the two countries are also important drivers of regional and global growth.

It is understood that decisions taken by India and America will shape international security order in this region. India is also trying to enhance security ties with other Asian powers like Japan and Australia. Understandably, the US is interested in enabling India develop capabilities to better respond to diplomatic, economic and security challenges in the region. However, India and the US are faced with treading the tightrope of realpolitik. They must manage the rise of an assertive China whilst maintaining a vital economic relationship with the country.

In spite of several criticism of the American rebalance strategy due to the lack of political will and limited American military forces on the ground, the strategy is long term, live and kicking and will serve as a legacy of President Obama's foreign policy initiative. Presently the Asia Pacific is synonymous with growth and economic development and it is in the best interests of all the countries in the region to maintain peace and stability of for future economic progress. The Obama administration is demonstrating 'strategic patience' in diplomatically engaging the region and expanding the scope of security relations with allies (ranging from the US-Japan Space Security Dialogue to considering warship presence in Australia to joining military drills with South Korea and bolstering capabilities of partner countries). Reportedly, there are also emerging talks of reviving the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD).

A restrained American military deployment will help to de-escalate tensions and prevent the already strategically vulnerable region from becoming another flashpoint of crisis. India for its own part is focused on expanding its comprehensive national power and deepening cooperation with other maritime democracies to shape the region's balance of power in favour of a multipolar Asia.

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