India Is a Swing State — Cooperate with it Accordingly

Since the excessive level of its relationship with the West within the early 2010s, India has underperformed on its financial potential, backslid on democratic values, and remained unwilling to decide to extra formal safety preparations. This yr, India’s diplomatic response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine additional dashed hopes in lots of Western capitals that New Delhi was transferring inexorably towards full membership within the Western safety group. But this doesn’t imply the West ought to hand over strengthening its partnership with India. Rather, it gives a possibility for the West to have interaction with India on extra life like phrases.

India’s non-alignment will not be, as some policymakers hoped, merely a relic of the Cold War. Rather, it represents a basic and enduring facet of New Delhi’s worldview. By taking India’s standing as a world swing state into consideration and acknowledging its safety preferences, the West can nonetheless cooperate with it on a mutually productive footing.



This begins with serving to India wean itself away from Russian know-how, whereas recognizing that this won’t lead India to desert its dedication to strategic autonomy. Western states ought to proceed to combine India into unfastened safety preparations within the Indo-Pacific. These will help New Delhi offset China’s army superiority and provide Western states better affect, entry, and protection integration in India’s maritime neighborhood. Western companions also needs to embrace India’s function as a continental energy and assist its deterrence capabilities on the Sino-Indian border. Maintaining the established order there’s a essential a part of any Western technique to comprise China. Finally, India will help Western economies diversify their manufacturing and provide chains away from China. New Delhi doesn’t wish to damage its financial system by sanctioning Russia, however this doesn’t imply it wouldn’t willingly take part in insurance policies that strengthen its financial system at China’s expense.

Befriending a Swing State

Taking India’s place as a “global swing state” significantly requires understanding New Delhi’s deep-rooted dedication to the precept of strategic autonomy. This precept will not be particular to the Cold War or just want for neutrality. Instead, it is key to the best way India understands and manages threat in worldwide politics.

NATO represents a trans-Atlantic strategy to collective safety that prioritizes clearly signaling commitments and taking agency stances towards rivals. Indian policymakers have resisted making use of a comparable strategy to China. They see bloc-like formations as narrowing the strategic choices for center and regional powers like theirs. For these causes, ambiguity has been an asset for India in managing a lot of its tough relationships. While India has been referred to as the “weakest link in the Quad,” its resistance to any type of alliance-like language or commitments that will unsettle Beijing has allowed it to take care of financial ties with China for the reason that Nineties. These haven’t solely contributed to a relative peace between the 2 rivals for many years but additionally helped India advance its distinctive improvement objectives. Even immediately, India and China proceed to take care of sturdy commerce relations regardless of the border clashes of June 2020.

For the primary Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, nonalignment was a ethical alternative and a possibility for managing nice energy battle and creating situations for peace. The present Bharatiya Janata Party’s authorities doesn’t contemplate strategic autonomy in comparable phrases, however it nonetheless thinks of flexibility in decision-making as essential to Indian safety, particularly at a time when the world order is shifting. Modi has not endeavored to make use of India’s impartial place to dealer peace between warring factions, as Nehru did in the course of the Korean disaster in 1950. Instead, he has been making an attempt to handle the destructive implications of the War in Ukraine on India’s financial system and its world status. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s imaginative and prescient of strategic autonomy is inward-looking and unapologetically self-interested. This implies that, opposite to some Western expectations, India doesn’t need its rivalry with China to be subsumed into the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, nor does it wish to subordinate its relationship with Russia in favor of U.S. pursuits. But that doesn’t imply there are not any alternatives for cooperation.

The Limits of Leaving Moscow

In the quick time period, Western companions will help reduce India’s protection dependency on Russia, however they need to not count on this to steer India to desert Moscow. With the dual threats of China and Pakistan on its northern frontiers, this might be too dangerous. The Russian-Indian protection relationship is deep and time-tested. It is strengthened by market forces and mutual belief between policymakers. Moreover, Moscow affords India inexpensive army gear and respects its want for know-how sharing and home capability constructing. Indeed, the affordability of Russian protection provides, alongside with Moscow’s willingness to help Indian manufacturing, has been an vital a part of the connection.

Even if Western companions want to disrupt Russia’s protection commerce, they must overcome problems with interoperability with India’s present Russian gear. Sameer Lalwani of the Stimson Center estimated that the share of Russian-origin weapons and platforms (together with standard and nuclear submarines, plane carriers, and fighter jets) throughout Indian armed forces was as excessive as 85 %. As Vasabjit Banerjee and Benjamin Tkach predict, this implies India will “[seek] out countries that manufacture spares and upgrades for Russian-origin weapons.” It is unclear how keen Western companions can be to assist India modernize its present inventory of Russian-origin weapons and platforms.

Additionally, Western companions are solely slowly overcoming their reticence to share delicate protection know-how with a non-NATO ally. For occasion, U.S. efforts to co-produce the javelin missile with India below the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative failed in 2010 because of American reservations over mental property. However, Lockheed Martin has lately signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Indian Company Bharat Dynamics to revive this course of, indicating a newfound readiness to share know-how with India. But whether or not Lockheed Martin’s settlement with Bharat Dynamics will bear fruit and turn out to be a precedent for protection commerce extra typically stays to be seen. The United States and its allies definitely “can offer India more — diplomatically, financially, and militarily — than can Russia.” But the West might want to match the tenor and nature of India’s protection ties with Russia to take action. In any case, protection exports characterize a restricted alternative to positively have an effect on India’s safety preferences.

Collective Security within the Indo-Pacific

The West also can interact India whereas respecting its want for autonomy by persevering with to combine it into unfastened or minilateral safety preparations such because the Quad. New Delhi has proven that it is unwilling to declare China an enemy or be a part of a NATO-like safety association. However, its participation in a rising variety of joint army workouts within the Indian Ocean area reveals that India is ready to affix Western nations in defending its maritime pursuits.

In this narrower geographical scope, the place its pursuits are extra intently affected, New Delhi will help Western companions shield vital maritime chokepoints. In case of a battle with China, India is unlikely to ship ships to the Taiwan strait. However, India and the United States have had a logistics settlement in place since 2017 that has facilitated the refueling of ships and tankers. Partnership with India also can present Western states entry to the Indian Ocean Region, the place New Delhi now welcomes involvement from extra-regional powers to offset China. Historically, India has sought to disclaim nice powers entry to its neighborhood. However, as New Delhi lastly confronts its lack of ability to match China’s maritime strengths and financial heft, that is starting to vary. Japan and India are already collaborating to counter Chinese affect in Sri Lanka — comparable fashions might convey this type of cooperation to different components of the Indo-Pacific.

Opportunities for strategic collaboration additionally exist alongside India’s 2100-mile-long disputed border with China. Any Western technique of containment ought to search to bolster India’s standing right here. Not solely is stopping the Chinese from altering the established order on the Sino-Indian border vital to upholding the norm of territorial sovereignty typically, however the prospect of a two-front battle would additionally deter Chinese adventurism throughout the Taiwan Strait. Indo-U.S. forces will perform joint protection workouts in Alaska later this yr to extend “jointness, interoperability, and coalition interoperability.” Similar efforts to assist India counter China’s infrastructure upgrades and rising army capability within the Tibetan plateau would concurrently improve the Indo-U.S. partnership and strengthen U.S. containment.

The program for Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness introduced on the Quad leaders’ May 2022 assembly is a crucial step towards additional cooperation. It seeks to supply a “near-real-time, integrated, and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture” as a way to enable Quad members and companions to “fully monitor the waters on their shores and, in turn, to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The initiative is prone to assist better transparency within the area and shine a mild on unlawful Chinese fishing in addition to aggressive naval growth. As Zack Cooper and Gregory Poling wrote for War on the Rocks, the “maritime domain awareness initiative combines public goods provision with the Quad’s natural strengths: security cooperation and capacity building”.

However, New Delhi nonetheless worries that the initiative displays Washington’s Pacific-focused imaginative and prescient of the Indo-Pacific, quite than India’s concern with the Western Indian Ocean. Additionally, whereas India is ready to work with the United States, it is hesitant about having this cooperation described in overly securitized or anti-Chinese phrases. For occasion, Gen. Charles Flynn, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Army, mentioned that India might turn out to be a helpful army “counterweight” to China within the area. U.S. State Department Secretary for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, in a latest interview urged that India changing into a “global security power” was “in the interest of the United States”. He additional described his imaginative and prescient of India being “militarily ready … to project that power far beyond India’s borders” in protection of the “common view of the security of Asia.” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has mentioned that the United States is taking part in the “long game” with India and would choose it “over the fullness of time.” Such feedback by American diplomats and army officers proceed to counsel an inevitable alignment of Western safety pursuits with India quite than reflecting India’s personal want for autonomy.

Trade and Supply Chain Resilience

Since the United States is already considered one of India’s largest buying and selling companions, strengthening relations on this entrance is a productive avenue for India-U.S. engagement. India has favored an “Act East Policy” to construct nearer financial ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and different vital Southeast Asian nations. Its withdrawal from Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, nonetheless, reveals that this strategy has failed. India has, nonetheless, lately deserted its earlier skepticism towards free commerce agreements and begun tilting Westward in its commerce ties. India is presently negotiating bilateral free commerce agreements with the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. Throughout these negotiations, India has additionally been extra keen to align its home trade requirements to world benchmarks on compliance, transparency, market entry, labor, and the setting. The rhetoric of self-sufficiency however, financial partnership with the West now has unprecedented assist in New Delhi.

That mentioned, a complete settlement on free commerce with Washington has remained elusive. Talks failed in 2020, and since then the United States has made an government resolution to not signal another new free commerce agreements. Claiming that India didn’t enable ample entry to the agricultural and dairy sector and in addition levied prohibitively excessive tariffs on the import of medical gadgets, the Trump administration additionally revoked India’s eligibility for concessions below the Generalized System of Preferences. This is a missed alternative since commerce is one space the place India’s “swing” westwards is most obvious. Citing India’s current Free Trade Agreement with Japan and ongoing talks with Australia, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has urged the Biden administration to replicate on the potential worth of stronger commerce relations between each nations.

The good thing about deeper commerce ties with India from a strategic standpoint is obvious. This would enable Western democracies, companies, and their provide chains to diversify and construct better resilience. One of the important thing classes of the battle in Ukraine is that Western dependence on belligerent actors will be weaponized to blunt the impact of sanctions, because the West has been pressured to belatedly scramble to seek out alternate options for Russian oil. The United States needs to be extra proactive in searching for alternate options to China because the “world’s factory”. Countries like India, which have a younger and in depth labor pressure and huge home markets, provide lots of the benefits that China did within the Nineties. Moreover, if this shift was framed by way of placing a premium on democracy and transparency, it would enable the West to talk to India extra overtly about issues over authoritarianism and protectionism. India could also be keen to affix such a counter-coalition to cut back dependence on China and stop the weaponization of financial statecraft within the Indo-Pacific, as a result of, in contrast to with sanctions on Russia, it can be a direct beneficiary.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework launched on the final Quad Summit is one other step in the suitable route. The framework took place as a technique to exchange the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that the United States withdrew from below President Trump. The Biden Administration hopes the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework will present flexibility of alternative for its 13 members, which represent 40 % of the worldwide GDP. Members will launch separate bilateral negotiations with one another primarily based on an “à la carte approach” below the framework. Sullivan clarified that this was “not a traditional free trade agreement” and due to this fact wouldn’t require congressional approval.

At first look, this may occasionally appear to accommodate India’s financial preferences as a growing financial system and its common dislike for collective buying and selling agreements. But on nearer inspection, there are some evident limitations. Since the Biden administration has promised to guard home employees and producers, which requires shielding them from international competitors, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework affords no direct market entry to the United States. Indeed, Washington couldn’t provide or demand market entry with out congressional approval. It expects individuals “to adjust their economies in lines with a range of new rules on clean energy, taxes, data protection etc. without offering increased market access in return.” As a outcome, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework lacks the tangible rewards of a conventional free commerce settlement and dangers being seen within the area as a device of U.S. hegemony. India stays captivated with a mutually helpful financial initiative to counter Chinese affect. But it is unclear how nicely the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework would serve this aim.


The battle in Ukraine has proven that, when it involves India’s ties with the West, a revision of expectations is overdue. India’s significance for sustaining the steadiness of energy within the Indo-Pacific makes it inconceivable to miss as a associate. Additionally, regardless of underperforming over the past decade because of world headwinds, India is predicted to be the world’s fastest-growing massive financial system this yr. As a outcome, Western companions ought to concentrate on these features of commerce and continental and maritime safety the place shared pursuits provide a sturdy basis for cooperation, quite than hope India will proceed on a legendary, teleological journey towards changing into Japan. India will be anticipated to tacitly assist steadiness China’s rise. But it is prone to collaborate with its Western companions as a world swing state, in ways in which align with its personal geographic and safety issues.



Dr. Sharinee L. Jagtiani is the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Visiting Research Fellow on the German Institute for Global and Area Studies and an affiliate on the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, the place she accomplished her doctorate in International Relations. She is presently primarily based in Berlin.

Ameya Pratap Singh is a doctoral candidate in Area Studies (South Asia) on the University of Oxford and the managing editor of Statecraft, a global-affairs each day.  

Image: Flickr consumer MEAphotogallery, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.