To Deter China, Deepen the US-Indian Partnership

By Richard Rossow and Hemant K. Singh

November 20, 2019

The Indo-Pacific is shrinking, and there are few remaining uncontested waters. New powers are rising, and not all support the ideals of rule of law and transparency. Strengthening the U.S.- India maritime security partnership will be of increasing importance in coming decades.

Fortunately, our countries’ security relations are also on the rise. India and the United States have expanded the scope and depth of their discussions and exercises. Cooperative agreements that seemed near-impossible a few years ago have been signed, with others on the near horizon. New Delhi has access to a much higher level of U.S. defense technology. And India has taken other visible steps to become a core security partner anchoring the South Asia region. But the “easy wins” are fewer, and some hard choices lie ahead. Our shared interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific must shape our next phase of cooperation.

The primary challenge is from China, which is expanding its reach and influence into the region. Delhi has long been aware of these efforts; the United States, to some extent, is still waking up to them. Among the tools Beijing is using to shape geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region are:

Our nations must also think through what other tools China may choose to employ in the future. It is unlikely Beijing’s attempt to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean region will directly mirror its operations in the South China Sea, unless it “discovers” an analogue to the 9-Dash Line to stake a physical claim in the region. But China could, for example, choose to: 

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To push back on and deter China, the U.S. and India must develop and deploy a complementary set of tools. Last month, the U.S.-India Maritime Security Cooperation working group convened by Delhi Policy Group and Center for Strategic and International Studies (and including the two authors of this piece) released recommendations for deepening security cooperation. Beyond continuing efforts to deepen interoperability, India-U.S. cooperation in the Indo-Pacific must set the table for expanded security cooperation by:

A September 2018 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue brought our defense and foreign affairs ministries together in New Delhi to produce agreements on Indian access to Central Command, communications interoperability, and a new tri-service exercise. A second such meeting is expected in coming months. We urge our countries to bring some of these ideas to the table.

By Richard Rossow and Hemant K. Singh // Richard Rossow is a senior adviser and holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS. // Hemant K. Singh is a former career diplomat who has served in the U.S. and has been India’s Ambassador to Japan and Indonesia. He is currently Director General, Delhi Policy Group.

November 20, 2019