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CRS — U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues

February 8, 2013

U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In today’s fluid geopolitical environment, the relationship between the United States, the world’s oldest democracy and an established global power, and India, its most populous democracy and an aspiring global power, is seen as a key variable in the unfolding international dynamics of the 21st century. As U.S. foreign policy attention shifts toward the Asia-Pacific (or Indo-Pacific) region, and as India’s economic and military capabilities grow, Washington’s pursuit of a strategic partnership with New Delhi demonstrates that the mutual wariness of the Cold War era has rapidly faded. A vital and in some ways leading aspect of this partnership has been security relations, and today the two countries are engaging in unprecedented levels of military-to-military ties, defense trade, and counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation. Still, although considerable enthusiasm for deepened security engagement is found in both capitals—and not least in the U.S. Congress—there is also a persistent sense that this aspect of the bilateral relationship lacks purpose and focus. Some observers arrgue that the potential of the relationship has been oversold, and that the benefits either hoped for or expected may not materialize in the near future. While Obama Administration officials variously contend that India is now or will be a net provider of security in its region, many independent analysts are skeptical that this aspiration can be realized, at least in the near-term.

Nongovernmental analyses of the course and pace of U.S.-India security relations are oftentimes incompatible or even conflicting in their assumptions and recommendations. Such incompatibility is frequently the result of the differing conclusions rooted in short-term versus long-term perspectives. The Obama Administration—along with numerous pro-India analysts in Washington—has tended to emphasize the anticipated benefits of long-term engagement as opposed to a short-term approach that seeks gains derived through more narrow transactions. This latter tack can have the effect of raising and then thwarting expectations in Washington, as was the case with the ultimate failure of U.S. defense firms to secure the multi-billion-dollar contracts to supply new combat aircraft to India. At the same time, frustrations among many in the United States have arisen from the sense that India’s enthusiasm for further deepening bilateral security cooperation is limited, and that New Delhi’s reciprocity has been insufficient.

Looking ahead, there is widespread concurrence among many officials and analysts that the security relationship would benefit from undergirding ambitious rhetoric with more concrete action in areas of mutual agreement. In their view, defining which actions will provide meaningful gains, even on a modest scale, appears to be the central task facing U.S. and Indian policy makers in coming years.

To assist Members of Congress and their staffs in clarifying the status of and outlook for bilateral security cooperation, this report—a companion to CRS Report R42823, India-U.S. Security Relations: Current Engagement, by K. Alan Kronstadt and Sonia Pinto—takes a systematic approach to the major strategic perspectives held by policy makers in both countries and the ways in which these perspectives are variously harmonious, discordant, or, in some cases, both. The report opens with a brief review of the pre-2005 history of U.S.-India security relations. This is followed by discussion of key U.S. security interests related to India. Next is a focus on India’s defense posture writ large. With this context set, the report reviews key areas of convergent and divergent security interests and perspectives. A brief discussion of the outlook for future security cooperation closes. For information on U.S.-India relations more broadly, see CRS Report RL33529, India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations , coordinated by K. Alan Kronstadt.

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