As President Barack Obama put it in a November 2010 speech, the Constitution of India and the United States Constitution “begin with the same revolutionary words.” Those words, of course, are “We the People.”
This may seem to be a coincidence of diction, but the rights and ideals of democracy and personal freedom enshrined in India’s 1949 constitution bear a striking resemblance to those articulated in Philadelphia.
India, however, is a lonely proponent of these ideals among large, developing nations. The Chinese Communist Party does not care about personal liberty, human rights, or market capitalism, and China has been the belle of the BRIC ball for so long that the future of these principles seem to be in grave danger. This has contributed to the fit of anxiety currently gripping academia and punditry throughout the United States. In the midst of this new “Age of Anxiety,” it is worth remembering that even as other powers rise, perhaps it is too early to ring the death knell for liberalism, democracy, and the current international order. One of the biggest bright spots in the field right now is a rising, democratic, and dynamic India. Strengthening ties with the world’s largest democracy will be one of the most important aspects of American grand strategy in this century. Within the next few decades, India will be not only one of the largest and fastest growing economies, but the world’s most populous country. In supporting a rising India, America receives not only a strategic partner, but a powerful and proud advocate for democracy.
But we can’t rise for them, of course, and as with any ally, we can’t force them to see eye-to-eye with us on every topic. I don’t mean to imply that we can pull a lever in Washington and instantly have a servile, wealthy India at our disposal. Skeptics of India-US relations, such as the Carnegie Endowment’s George Perkovich, seem to think that this is what my kind of optimism entails. India remains relatively poor, impoverished with regards to infrastructure, at odds with Pakistan, and pretty chaotic (I’m thinking of issues like Maoist rebels in Jharkhand, not bumpy taxi rides). In spite of these near-term challenges, the long-term outlook for cooperation looks bright. Here are just a few potential areas for strategic cooperation between the US and India:
The Pivot & The Maintenance of Free Access to Global Commons
The Obama Administration’s “Pivot” to East Asia coincides nicely with India’s recent “look east” policy, and both countries have begun to see how crucial East and Southeast Asia are for economic and security reasons.
The Promotion of Democracy
As the world’s largest democracy, at times India is described as having “too much democracy.” But in terms of democracy promotion, India could prove to be a useful partner to the US. I don’t have another Iraq in mind, and as in the case of Iran, India cannot be expected to sacrifice its strategic necessities to help the US. Nonetheless, there is opportunity here, and we should seek include India in any future endeavors.
As the 2008 and 2011 terrorist strikes against Mumbai make perfectly clear, terrorism is a much more immediate and present threat to Indians than to Americans. Because terrorism is such a threat to India, it is a natural partner in the fight against extremists and terrorists throughout the world.
Strengthening a Liberal International Order
India provides a model for other democratic developing nations, and is an important contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions. Due to its liberal, democratic values, India’s growth on the international scene will help to strengthen the liberal international order built by the US and its allies after World War II.
These are just a few of the reasons why I have fallen in love with the idea of India becoming a closer strategic partner of the United States. And you should, too.