India’s Role in US Defence Strategy

The latest U.S. Defence Strategy states that China presents the most consequential and systemic challenge, while Russia poses acute threats to vital U.S. national interests abroad and to the homeland.

“The world is changing. We’re at a significant inflection point in world history. And our country and the world – the United States of America has always been able to chart the future in times of great change. We’ve been able to constantly renew ourselves. And time and again, we’ve proven there’s not a single thing we cannot do as a nation when we do it together – and I mean that – not a single solitary thing.” President Biden stated in the introductory note to the strategy.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin highlighted the different challenges posed by China and Russia as he unveiled the strategy. According to him the dangers are both conventional – Moscow’s aggression toward its neighbours and Beijing’s efforts to gain control of Taiwan – and nuclear, with Russia possessing an extensive arsenal and China’s stocks of atomic weapons growing fast. The strategy likewise places the primary emphasis on China.

It further asserts that Beijing is seeking to “refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences,” describing this dynamic as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge to US national security.”

The strategy says Chinese rhetoric about and “coercive activity” toward Taiwan – which Beijing has vowed to take control of, by force if necessary – is a destabilising factor that risks miscalculation and threatens peace in the area. As for Russia, it says the “acute threat” posed by Moscow has been most recently demonstrated by Moscow’s February attacks on Ukraine.

Though the strategy tries to portray the U.S. ties in the Indo-Pacific as the most important one, yet India as a whole is mentioned in the strategy only five times and that too in the context of the Indo-Pacific, and there too it refers to China’s campaigns to establish control over the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, and disputed land borders such as with India.

It proclaims to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, which could only be achieved if the U.S. builds collective capacity with other countries, like India. It further asserts that no region will be of more significance to the world and to everyday Americans than the Indo-Pacific, yet it fails to demonstrate India’s importance to achieve this goal as a partner.

The document lists out the U.S. Vision, U.S.’s role in the global arena, and an overview of its strategic approach to different regional issues. Focussing on Middle East, the strategy talks about tweaking its policy in the Middle East and North Africa by eschewing grand designs in favour of more practical steps that can advance U.S. interests and help regional partners lay the foundation for greater stability, prosperity, and opportunity for the people of the Middle East and for the American people.

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The strategy sets forth a new framework for U.S. policy in the region based on America’s unparalleled comparative advantage in building partnerships, coalitions, and alliances to strengthen deterrence, while using diplomacy to de-escalate tensions, reduce risks of new conflicts, and set a long-term foundation for stability.

However, it clearly states that the United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardise freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al Mandab, nor tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another – or the region – through military build-ups, incursions, or threats.

But if we scrutinise the strategy in a little more detail then we realise the emerging contradictions present in the strategy. When the strategy declares the U.S. commitment to support countries “that subscribe to the rules-based international order”, will it include those OPEC countries which recently snubbed the U.S. demands for increased oil production?

When it talks about “military build-ups” then does it really mean that the U.S.  will halt its longstanding efforts to advance its partners’ “military build-ups” in the face of the threat from Iran? Further, how could the U.S. achieve the Israeli “dominance” of Hamas and Hezbollah?

Further, the strategy lays stress on U.S. diplomacy to reduce tensions “wherever possible” – will it translate into normalising ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah?

All this double talk on various regional and global issues and inherent contradictions of the strategy leads on to surmise that it is more of a document to placate the American public and not aimed at really achieving or changing substantially the U.S. policies on these issues. Overall the National Security Strategy 2022 comes out as a bit of a disappointment though perhaps packaged coherently for the first time.

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