Although it’s generally assumed that what matters most in determining Washington’s policies toward India and Pakistan is how China treats them, there is another way to view South Asia and that is how India and Pakistan relate strategically with Russia.
How deep might Moscow’s military ties with India and Pakistan be and how, if at all, might Russian strategic nuclear thinking be shared with either? To get the answers, NPEC commissioned a series of studies, which the Air University’s Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs released late last week. It showcased research Dr. Sameer Lalwani, Dr. Frank O’Donnell, Tyler Sagerstrom, Akriti Vasudeva, Brig. General Feroz Khan (Pakistan Army retired), and Dr. Vipin Narang completed for NPEC.
The analyses are quite detailed. Russian military assistance to India has been and remains massive. A vast majority of the weapons India deploys and is developing — whether it be hypersonic missiles, advanced missile defenses, space systems, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers or tanks, fighters or bombers — are Russian. Since America opened up high-technology trade with India in 2005, New Deli’s military dependency on Moscow has hardly lessened.
This suggests that hopes that India might buy American arms in any major way any time soon, need to be temped. It seems India cherishes its independence in security affairs at least as much as it might desire closer strategic security ties with the United States. This is especially true when it comes to strategic weapons systems such as air and missile defenses, nuclear submarines, hypersonic missiles, and space technology, all of which rely heavily on Russian exports. Russian military instruction of Indian personnel related to specific weapons systems is significant.
As for strategic cooperation with Pakistan, Russia is now reaching out to it as well, making military sales and affording military training. Although there is no evidence yet that Russian military science has influenced Pakistani strategic planning, both Pakistan and India emphasize first and early use of nuclear weapons to respond to an overwhelming conventional attack.
How Russian, Pakistani, and Indian strategic interests align should moderate optimism that the United States can easily play India against China or ignore Pakistan or Russia in trying to balance India strategically against Beijing.
Dr. Sameer Lalwani, Dr. Frank O’Donnell, Tyler Sagerstrom, Akriti Vasudeva
The US–India relationship—described as “a defining partnership for the 21st century”—has seen a dramatic rise over the past two decades.1 Seeing India as a “natural ally” with “shared values,” the United States undertook great efforts, beginning in 2005, “to help India to become a major world power in the 21st century.”2 To that end, Washington has sought to boost New Delhi’s standing in the global order and international institutions, bolster India’s arms capabilities and technology base, and enable interoperability for military opera- tions. Today, India has been designated a “major defense partner” on par with NATO allies, apex national security officials underscore how “vital” and “critical” India is to US strategy, and US officials contend India has a “pre-eminent role in the Administration’s Indo-Pacific vision.”3 Despite the American embrace, India also professes a great friendship and unprecedented “strategic partnership” with Russia, a country explicitly regarded by the United States as a hostile revisionist adversary and long-term strategic competitor.4
India has embraced Russia in a “special and privileged strategic partnership” that features regular dialogues between the heads of state as well as ministries, substantial advanced arms sales, and intergovernmental commissions to cooperate in trade, energy, science, technology, and culture. India has also joined Russia in new institutions and “minilaterals” (for example, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO]; the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa [BRICS] grouping; and Russia–India–China [RIC] trilateral meeting), demurred from op- posing Russia’s revisionist assault on the global order (from Crimea/Ukraine, to democratic election interference, to the Skripal chemical weapons attack), and extolled the partners’ shared “civilizational values,” pledging “new heights of coop- eration through trust and friendship.”5
1. Statements by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi of the Republic of India, New Delhi, India, 25 January 2015, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/.
2. Address by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, Asia Society, New York, 7 September 2000, https://asiasociety.org/; Narendra Modi, “For the U.S. and India, a Convergence of Interests and Values,” Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2017, https://www.wsj.com/; and David C. Mulford, “US-India Relationship to Reach New Heights,” Times of India, 31 March 2005.
3. US Department of State, A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision, 4 Novem- ber 2019, 9; and Statement of Alice G. Wells Senior Bureau Official for South and Central Asian Affairs Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific, and Nonprolifera- tion, “U.S. Interests in South Asia and the FY 2020 Budget,” 13 June 2019. A lead author of the NDS has echoed this sentiment. See: Elbridge Colby, “Take India’s Side, America,” Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2019.
4. James Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, Washington, DC: Department of Defense.
5. Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “India-Russia Joint Statement during Visit of Prime Minister to Vladivostok,” 5 September 2019, https://www.mea.gov.in/.
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