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President Barack Obama’s trip to India is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere for its size and cost—and with an estimated 3,000 people in the presidential entourage, it’s easy to understand why—but there are more significant reasons that the summit in India should command the American peoples’ attention and support.
India is emerging as a crucial partner for the United States in this new century. It’s a partnership built on shared values, shared economic interests and shared threats.
First, the two countries have strong democratic credentials. After all, India calls itself the world’s largest democracy, and the U.S. considers itself the world’s oldest continuous democracy. India and the U.S. embrace similar views on freedom and free enterprise. And even as other countries wax and wane in their support for the U.S., India’s 1.1 billion people have been remarkably consistent in their pro-American views: more than 65 percent held a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 2002, 71 percent in 2005 and 76 percent in 2009.
The past decade has seen India step up to become an important cog in regional and international security. And today India is primed to play what military thinkers call a force-multiplying role, buttressing U.S. goals by helping to expand the zone of peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean and in South Asia.
The U.S. is encouraging this. Defense Secretary Gates has labeled India “a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.” Increasingly, the operative word here is “beyond.”
- In mid-2009, Indian warships steamed to the Atlantic Ocean for exercises with the French and British navies. This month, India and Britain are conducting joint air exercises, and the French are in discussions with India on long-term military ties.
- The Indian navy is participating in counter-piracy operations off the coasts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In December 2009, Indian warships and helicopters foiled a pirate attack against a Norwegian tanker in the Gulf of Aden.
- Elements of the Indian air force deployed to Oman for joint exercises in late 2009. As Defense News reports, India and Oman are planning joint anti-piracy operations.
- India and Vietnam have announced deeper defense collaboration, with India planning to help on ship repair and military training.
- India also is upgrading military-to-military ties with Israel and Japan.
The convergence of India and Japan—and India and Vietnam—is being fueled by one of the very same factors fueling the U.S.-India partnership: the rapid emergence of China.
India and the U.S. view one another as a helpful counterweight to China, each providing strategic depth vis-à-vis China in the global chess match.
While sidestepping any direct reference to China, Obama says India is helping shape “a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia” and calls America’s relationship with India “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
This spirit of partnership is a dramatic change from the Cold War period, when India and the U.S. were usually at odds. But today, China’s emergence and Islamist terrorism have forced the U.S. and India to work together.
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