By Sourabh Gupta
Much has been written over the past decade about the promise of a transformed US-India strategic relationship, both globally and in Asia. From safeguarding the global commons to promoting the spread of democratic values to preventing the domination of Asia by a single power, this partnership of ‘natural allies’ is deemed to be ‘indispensible’ for stability and prosperity in the 21st century. Much less has been noted about the limits to such cooperation. Yet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton having passed through New Delhi recently following the second round of the annual US-India Strategic Dialogue, one of only a half-dozen such dialogues that the US has, these limits appear to be kicking in forcefully.
In late April, despite personal lobbying by President Obama, New Delhi eliminated the top two US contenders from its shortlist of suppliers for the Indian Air Force’s fourth-generation of advanced combat aircraft. With New Delhi’s preliminary design contract toward co-development of a fifth-generation fighter recently signed with Moscow, the window to US-India collaboration in this space appears to have closed.
In April, New Delhi signaled its disinclination to upgrade the strategic dialogue to a joint 2+2 (foreign + defence ministers) format, as the US has with Tokyo – in turn leading to postponement of the Strategic Dialogue. Attempts in May to revive the issue were met with firm objections, leaving this format of joint talks stillborn. Near-term disappointments aside, it is the underlying variance in New Delhi’s strategic purposes that has been the key obstacle to deepening the US-India defense relationship.