Academic journal article Asia Policy

Indian Foreign Policy Responds to the U.S. Pivot

Academic journal article Asia Policy

Indian Foreign Policy Responds to the U.S. Pivot

Article excerpt

Facing an assertive China in the Asia-Pacific, President Barack Obama announced in late 2011 his strategy of pivoting toward the region. India has emerged as an important constituent of this new policy framework. This article argues that the Indian foreign policy response to U.S. "strategic rebalancing" has taken the form of strategic hedging.

Hedging has made inroads into India's foreign policy for two main reasons. First, during the early years of Obama's presidency, Indian foreign policy elites viewed U.S. outreach to Beijing as a grand accommodation. This perception of a possible Washington-Beijing rapprochement made India feel both vulnerable and ignored. Therefore, even after the more robust pivot strategy was announced in late 2011, doubts about its credibility continued to pervade Indian perceptions. Concerns that the United States' continuing economic woes and military sequestration will render the pivot unsustainable have only reaffirmed India's reluctance. Reinforcing such skepticism are the multiple crises in the Middle East and Europe that seem to have once again taken the United States' focus away from Asia, as was evident in Obama's speech at West Point in January 2014, where uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to Asia was conspicuous by the absence of any mention of the pivot. In a period where the United States is struggling to find resources to support its foreign and military commitments, such distractions are bound to adversely affect the efficiency of the pivot strategy. Second, the Indian sense of vulnerability has also brought to the fore the country's default foreign policy posture of nonalignment. Strategic confusion in U.S. foreign policy has strengthened the hands of those in India who seek greater distance from the United States, thereby renewing a debate on the nature and depth of the interactions New Delhi desires with Washington given the challenge posed by a rising China. India's hedging vis-à-vis the U.S. pivot is a reflection of the unsettled nature of this debate.

India's approach to the new U.S. strategy is therefore punctuated by reluctance and caution, aiming to avoid any entrapment in the great-power tussle between Beijing and Washington. This hedging strategy is manifest in three distinct realms. First, India has been recalibrating its strategic closeness with the United States, which is evident in the drift in the U.S.-India defense relationship over the last few years. Second, rather than balancing China through external help, New Delhi has attempted to normalize its relationship with Beijing by making a substantive change in ground realities. Third, India has pursued a localized form of balancing by increasing defense partnerships with other regional powers.

This article is organized as follows:

* pp. 92-96 discuss the U.S. pivot and examine India's important role in this strategy, highlighting opportunities for Indian foreign policy.

* pp. 96-110 explicate India's hedging strategy by examining the country's stagnating relationship with the United States, attempts at stabilizing relations with China, and efforts to build regional partnerships in the Asia-Pacific.

* pp. 111-14 consider the implications of this hedging strategy and chart out scenarios under which India may opt to be a more active participant in the U.S. rebalancing strategy.

THE PIVOT AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIA

The U.S. Pivot and India's Projected Role

To arrest China's increasingly assertive behavior in the Asia-Pacific and the perception of the United States' relative decline, in November 2011 President Obama announced the U.S. strategy of pivoting toward Asia. This strategy represented "a simultaneous attempt to warn China away from using heavy-handed tactics against its neighbors and provide confidence to other Asia-Pacific countries that want to resist pressure from Beijing now and in the future."1 The pivot, in essence, is primarily an effort to address the regional insecurity engendered by China's rising military power and aggressive intentions. …

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