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Monday, December 3, 2012

India-U.S. Security Relations: Current Engagement

K. Alan Kronstadt
Specialist in South Asian Affairs

Sonia Pinto
Research Associate

U.S.-India engagement on shared security interests is a topic of interest to the U.S. Congress, where there is considerable support for a deepened U.S. partnership with the world’s largest democracy. Congressional advocacy of closer relations with India is generally bipartisan and widespread; House and Senate caucuses on India and Indian-Americans are the largest of their kind. Caucus leaders have encouraged the Obama Administration to work toward improving the compatibility of the U.S. and Indian defense acquisitions systems, as well as to seek potential opportunities for co-development or co-production of military weapons systems with India. In a report accompanying the FY2012 Defense Authorization (S.Rept. 112-26), the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed its belief that a deepened strategic partnership with India will be critical to the promotion of core mutual national interests in the 21st century.

The United States and India have since 2004 been pursuing a “strategic partnership” that incorporates numerous economic, security, and global initiatives. Defense cooperation between the two countries remains in relatively early stages of development. However, over the past decade—and despite a concurrent U.S. engagement with Indian rival Pakistan and a Cold War history of bilateral estrangement—U.S.-India security cooperation has flourished. American diplomats now rate military links and defense trade among the most important aspects of transformed bilateral relations in the 21st century. The United States views security cooperation with India in the context of common principles and shared national interests such as defeating terrorism, preventing weapons proliferation, and maintaining regional stability. After initial uncertainty, under President Barack Obama, senior Pentagon officials assured New Delhi that the United States is fully committed to strengthening ties through the enhancement of the defense relationship made newly substantive under President George W. Bush.

Many analysts view increased U.S.-India security ties as providing a perceived “hedge” against or “counterbalance” to growing Chinese influence in Asia, although both Washington and New Delhi repeatedly downplay such motives. While a complete congruence of U.S. and Indian national security objectives is unlikely in the foreseeable future, meaningful convergences are identified in areas such as the emergence of a new balance-of-power arrangement in the region. Still, indications remain that the perceptions and expectations of top U.S. and Indian strategic planners are divergent on several key issues, perhaps especially on the role of Pakistan, as well as on India’s relations with Iran. Moreover, given a national foreign policy tradition of “nonalignment,” Indian leaders are averse to forming any “alliance” with the United States and are clear in their intention to maintain India’s “strategic autonomy.” Questions remain about the ability of the Indian economy to grow at rates sufficient to improve its security capabilities at the pace sought in both Washington and New Delhi. Despite these factors, U.S. leaders only expect India’s importance to U.S. interests to grow steadily, and they foresee India taking on new security roles commensurate with its status as a major power and stakeholder in the international system. This expectation is a key aspect of the Obama Administration’s policy of “rebalancing” or “pivoting” toward the Asia-Pacific, which is conceived as including the Indian Ocean region.

This report reviews the major facets of U.S.-India security relations with a focus on military-tomilitary contacts, counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation, and defense trade. It also discusses some of the many obstacles to deeper cooperation in each of these areas. This report will be followed by a companion piece on the strategic aspects of U.S.-India security relations. For a discussion of U.S.-India relations more broadly, see CRS Report RL33529, India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations, coordinated by K. Alan Kronstadt.

Date of Report: November 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R42823
Price: $29.95

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