By Richard E. Caroll
China is on the offensive politically, economically, and militarily worldwide. From the South China Sea, with its intrusion into the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone, along with the militarization of man-made islands in the Spratley Islands, attempting to enclose India with a series of naval bases in the Indian Ocean, as well as their aggression in the Himalaya’s near the Pangong Lake, where Indian military forces are clashing with Chinese military forces, China is seeking to change the balance of power in its favor.
China’s heralded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is more about enclosing India strategically than bringing prosperity to any nation participating in the BRI. China is attempting to enclose India in military bases that would make India vulnerable in case of open warfare between the two nuclear powers.
A free and independent India is vital to the long-term national security interests of the United States. With China threatening the freedom of the world, it is time for the two largest democracies to join hands in an economic, political, and military alliance.
The US Policy of Accommodation Has Been a Failure
For decades, the United States had held back in challenging China in its expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea. The United States had hoped that China would soften its rhetoric and its behavior as time went on and China gained a larger economic stake in peaceful world affairs. Even when China announced its Belt and Road Initiative, the United States hoped that China would use its rising economic power for good, rather than impose its political will on its weaker neighboring states.
This policy of engagement towards China had bi-partisan support from the Clinton Administration to the end of the Obama Administration. The disastrous involvement of the United States in Iraq from 2003 forced the United States to develop tunnel vision in world affairs, giving China the opportunity it had looked for in order to press its claims in the South China Sea.
It was only during the Trump Administration that the United States began shifting away from a policy of engagement to a firmer policy of confrontation.
The Chinese government has been publicly warned by the United States that the United States will no longer stand idly by while China engages in “gangster tactics” to get its way in the South China Sea territorial disputes.
While the new US policy is welcome news to its allies in South East Asia, the reality is that the years of neglect has allowed China to grow a navy, and begin to establish military bases that threaten shipping routes in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as threaten the independence and polity of India. Both of these realities present a national security threat to the future independence of the United States.
Possible Outlines of an India-United States Alliance
In order for the United States and India to forge an alliance that will endure, and stand the test of time, the alliance must be based on compatible economic and political agreements and beliefs. A short and temporary alliance of convenience, such as between the United States and Russia during World War Two, would make any type of meaningful and effective alliance shallow and prone to economic and political tensions that would constantly threaten the stability of any alliance.
Since 2007, the United States and India have been forging a shared economic policy where both economies benefit. Since 2007, India has become the United States eighth largest trade partner in the world.
With this growth, frictions have developed which have only worsened under the Trump Administration. President Trump views trade as a zero sum game. The Trump Administration, seeking domestic political advantage for his own political ends, removed India from the Generalized System of Preferences which was used under the Obama Administration to foster increased trade between the two countries, and build a foundation for increased strategic cooperation.
The Trump Administration then imposed trade sanctions against India on Indian exports of steel and aluminum in 2018. This prompted India to impose its own sanctions on US agricultural products in 2019. There has also been friction under intellectual property rights, but some progress has been made in this area of friction.
With the need for India as a counterweight to Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific area, a trade war is not conducive to better relations.
Both countries need to come to an understanding on trade practices, and to perhaps agree to a council made up of India, the United States and a neutral third party to adjudicate trade issues. Such a council would impose binding arbitration, encouraging both countries to cooperate economically in the face of Chinese aggression.
Both countries have political systems that are a form of representative government. While India has a parliamentary system, and the United States a federal structure, each country follows political procedures based on law, and with a recognition of human rights.
A military alliance between the United States and India would force China to contemplate the danger of a two-front war, should hostilities break out.
With China attempting to surround India in the Indian ocean with its “string of pearls”, the most effective way of countering China’s enclosure strategy would be to dramatically increase the presence of the United States Navy in the Indian Ocean. This would best be accomplished by arranging the home porting of an American Carrier Strike Group (CSG) on Indian soil. The CSG could be reinforced in times of tensions with a US Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), or Lightening carriers as the need arose.
Stationing a permanent CSG in the Indian Ocean would force China to expend considerably more naval and air assets in the Indian Ocean than it has so far, and force China to modify its current “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy around the world.
In addition to placing United States naval assets in the Indian Ocean, the United States and India should consider allowing the stationing of US combat troops on Indian soil. With China’s PLA engaging in military maneuvers using armored vehicles in the high altitude areas along the disputed Line of Actual Control between India and China, and with the majority of India’s armored forces confronting the Pakistan Army on the other side of India, India is being squeezed by both countries.
The United States Army currently has over 3,000 XM1 Main Battle Tanks in storage at the Sierra Army Depot in the high desert of California. By prepositioning 500 to 1,000 of these lethal tanks to India, for use by deploying armored crews from the US Army, or Marines, the fire power of the Indian Army would be strengthened considerably. This would give pause to any coordinated attack on India by Pakistan and China. With Indian experience in high altitude tank warfare, it would appear that the stationing of these US battle tanks on the Pakistan area of operations would make the most sense. The stationing of these armored vehicles should be accompanied by stockpiling critical spare parts, ammunition, fuel trucks, and all other items necessary for armored warfare as well.
An alternative to stationing US combat troops in India would be to simply give these tanks to the Indian Army in a Lend Lease arrangement and assist in the training of Indian combat personnel in the use and abilities of the XM1.
Barring a dramatic change in the political situation in China, where the Chinese Communist Party has embarked on an aggressive expansion of its military power beyond its borders, conflict between the United States and China appears to be inevitable. With that being the case, allying with India would give the United States to deter such a conflict or give the United States an overwhelming advantage in winning the coming conflict.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and soldier.