Nevertheless, with Marines deploying to Australia, the positioning of coastal combat ships in Singapore, and the Philippines reopening old bases to U.S. forces, “questions may arise in the U.S. security establishment and Asia about what India’s enduring contributions will be to this endeavour,” S. Amer Latif, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a report this year.
Washington is not demanding any specific commitments from the Indians as part of the rebalance, but officials and defense manufacturers have expressed frustration over India’s refusal to sign two key defense agreements usually demanded of U.S. allies — enabling seamless communications between the two militaries’ weapons systems and guaranteeing mutual “logistical support.”
Defense trade between the two nations is booming, and India conducts more joint military exercises with the United States than with any other country, but experts say military ties still lack a strategic and political underpinning.
India’s tentative “Look East” policy, which is supposed to foster closer ties with East and Southeast Asia, has also disappointed some U.S. officials and strategic experts who would like to see New Delhi forging closer trade and security links with America’s Asian allies.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a New Delhi a nudge last year, urging it “not just to look east, but to engage east and act east, as well.”
“Is India willing to come out and say ‘we don’t like it’ if China misbehaves?” asked Paul Kapur, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “India may not want to go on record saying that.”
Indeed, Clinton herself calls India a “strategic bet,” rather than a sure-fire certainty.
“You can see frustration in Washington because people are not entirely clear what India wants,” said Harsh V. Pant, a lecturer in the Department of Defense Studies in King’s College London, who says strategic autonomy effectively means India wants friendly relations with everybody. “That means you are not ready to make choices.”
“If India doesn’t want to take the risk, does it make sense for Washington to invest more in other partners, to invest in other Southeast Asian nations which are more willing to play ball?” he asked.
At a seminar last week, Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon spoke of the “remarkable transformation” that had taken place in U.S.-India relations over the past decade, buttressed by a shared vision and a shared set of values.
And Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, said it would be wrong to give up on India.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the short-term frustrations . . . but the strategic logic that brings these two countries together is sound,” he said. “People are increasingly viewing India with more of a sense of realism than romanticism.”