Academic journal article Naval War College Review

THE AMERICAN "PIVOT" AND THE INDIAN NAVY: It's Hedging All the Way

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

THE AMERICAN "PIVOT" AND THE INDIAN NAVY: It's Hedging All the Way

Article excerpt

Just after addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2012, Leon Panetta, then the American secretary of defense, visited New Delhi, where he remarked that "defense cooperation with India is a lynchpin in this [pivot] strat- egy."1 Since the thrust of the "pivot" has been on the maritime balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans have gained tremendous traction in the new U.S. strategy. From the very initiation of the pivot, India has featured on the American radar as an important strategic partner. Based on pub- licly available Indian government and Indian Navy documents, as well as structured interviews with key Indian naval officials, this article investigates the Indian Navy's response to the strategy of the pivot and argues that it has had no major influ- ence on its approach to the region. This is evident in the unchanging nature of its exercises with the U.S. and regional navies, stagnation in defense agreements with the United States important for interoperability, and Indian Navy reservations on increasing its constabulary role in the Indian Ocean. This lack of response can be located in the larger strategic discourse that is guiding Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis the changing balance of power in the region. Indian strategy so far has been primarily to hedge-which translates into reluctance and caution when it comes to actively participating in the pivot.

This article first discusses the current strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific, underlining the transition of power taking place in the region-that is, China's ascending relative power vis-à-vis the United States. Further, it reflects on the strategy of the pivot as a response to this strategic flux, suggesting that this power transition is more likely to unfold on the high seas rather than on Asia's continental landmass and that the Indo-Pacific region, therefore, is geostrategi- cally significant for the success of the pivot. Subsequently, this article focuses on the Indo-Pacific nature of America's pivot, then on India's emergence as a potent naval power in the region. India's maritime strategy, ambitions, and objectives are seen as largely compatible with those of the United States. An empirical appraisal of the Indian Navy's response to the pivot follows, along three dimensions: naval exercises with the U.S. and regional navies, progress on interoperability with the U.S. Navy, and change in India's constabulary services in the region. Finally, the article explains the unresponsiveness of the Indian Navy to the American strategy in terms of the larger Indian foreign-policy paradigm. It concludes with some policy recommendations for better coordination between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific, given their mutual apprehensions over China's regional aims and their compatible objectives in seeking greater regional stability.

THE "PIVOT" AND THE NEED FOR STRATEGIC PARTNERS

In late 2011, the Barack Obama administration issued a series of official state- ments and policy directives indicating a shift in America's strategic focus. In a major foreign-policy speech to the Australian parliament, President Obama declared the strategy of a "pivot," a shift that entailed a strong military commit- ment to the Asia-Pacific.2 Action followed words: it was announced that 2,500 U.S. Marines would be stationed in the Australian port city of Darwin.3 By Janu- ary 2012, the Pentagon was ready with a major policy directive, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.4 The terminology it used to define the new strategic vision-one geared toward the Pacific-was "strategic rebalancing."5

This rebalancing entailed a comprehensive shift in America's military and diplomatic commitment to the Asia-Pacific. By the summer of 2012 the Depart- ment of Defense had declared that 60 percent of America's naval assets would be stationed under the U.S. Pacific Command.6 Washington followed up by increas- ing its defense cooperation with Vietnam, renewing its military engagement with the Philippines, promising more conventional arms to Taiwan, and permanently stationing a flotilla of littoral combat ships in the port city of Singapore. …

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