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The U.S.-India Defense Relationship

An Update for President Obama's State Visit to India, November 2010


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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In advance of President Barack Obama’s November 2010 visit to India, this report revisits and updates key findings from a 2009 workshop that explored India’s strategic environment and defense policies to inform evolving dynamics in the U.S.-India defense relationship.

Main Findings

  • India faces a complex strategic environment of both extant and emerging challenges in the region as well as at home. Indian strategy has emphasized responding by pursuing maximum flexibility in terms of security partners but without diminishing the priority of domestic development.
  • China looms large in Indian strategic thinking and defense planning. Indian concerns about Chinese infrastructure development in southern Tibet have been matched by force developments in the northeastern provinces that increase the possibility of tension.
  • Pakistan continues to represent the greatest near-term military challenge to India, both in conventional ways and in its use of proxy insurgents. Moreover, in high-risk scenarios, Indian defense planners see potential Chinese military involvement in an Indo-Pak conflict, which would present a two-front challenge for India.
  • Internal defense challenges include doctrinal issues, personnel shortfalls, and a structure that ill-serves India’s peacetime and operational functions.

Policy Implications

  • The U.S. and India continue to make enormous strides toward the type of strategic relationship that befits the status of each as a leading democracy but without pursuing a de facto alliance-like relationship. Obstacles to closer ties remain, and in developing a productive relationship, these difficulties must be managed in order to fulfill the promise of the relationship.
  • In the developing Indian-U.S. strategic relationship, defense relations are a major component. Much of this aspect of the relationship centers around increased Indian willingness to buy and integrate U.S. defense systems, a calculation which is affected by both a set of assumptions at the top-level about new political realities and an Indian system that is ill-structured to absorb massive amounts of U.S.-produced systems.
  • While arms sales are important, neither side is well-served by a “transactional” relationship that measures progress toward a strategic relationship by the volume of arms sales.

RELATED PUBLICATION

Obama in India - Building a Global Partnership: Challenges, Risks, Opportunities
Ashley J. Tellis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (October 26, 2010)