This paper will focus on the strategy of “Offshore Balancing” which is a political approach that involves recognising the need to pursue regional balances of power (Mearsheimer, 2017). It shall further examine Offshore Balancing and the strengthening of Indo-US relations. Thirdly, the paper will look at the role India can play in global geopolitics in the coming decades.
The exponential growth that India has witnessed in the past decade, has made it a more influential force in global politics. Its fast growing economy has many suitors. However, since independence, India’s foreign policy was that of “Non-Alignment”, and this tactical policy served it well as it has been able to balance power poles to benefit its national interests. This policy of being “non-aligned” has led to India becoming a swing state while remaining autonomous in its policies. The United States, on the contrary, has had a slightly different approach to geopolitics as it practises “Offshore Balancing” and as the United States and India’s relations are at their best phase at present, India is presented with an array of both opportunities and challenges.
The British were the initiators of “offshore balancing” as they sent their troops to war against Napoleonic France, Wilhelmine and Nazi Germany and the allies of these nations. These policies were directed by a need to maintain hegemony in both Europe and subsequently the world. The United States acted in a similar manner during the Cold War (Blagden 2011), which we discuss in detail in the next passages. The balance of regional powers in both Europe and Asia is in the interest of larger insular powers such as Britain and the United States.
“Eureka” was the word which then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remarked to then President Nixon on his successful and secretive visit to China, followed by Nixon's own week-long visit, which made history. The very purpose of this diplomatic outreach was to sway China towards the United States. At the time, China and the Soviet Union shared ideology, however the former was wary of the latter aiming to subjugate it and as they already had border disputes, there was a prevailing sense of mistrust in Beijing regarding Moscow (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, 2014). In the midst of this, the US was failing to get the Soviet Union to agree to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-1). Nixon’s trip, however, altered global politics as it created a triangular relationship between the three nations, followed by subsequent investments in technology and industrialisation by the United States in China. Moscow now gave into US pressure for the SALT Treaty and also allowed for American wheat to be shipped to the Soviet Union. This strategic diplomacy created China as a regional power to balance the Soviet influence and led to the US retaining the role of global hegemon.
Today, more than forty years since the “ping pong diplomacy” between the US and China, both nations seem to at loggerheads on all global issues. This new adversarial relationship between the two will have new beneficiaries, and India, is one amongst them, which with its large market size, young and skilled population added with recent ambitions and investments in enterprise, science and technology hopes to attract US investments for it to scale. In recent years, transnational corporations, which are largely American have developed a new fear of being too deeply invested in China. This is due to China’s erratic policies and growing tensions with the United States. Many in the United States do not want China to have unfettered dominance in global supply chains, in goods such as semiconductors or batteries which are seen as necessary for the future. Therefore, they are pressuring corporations to disinvest from China, as we saw in the cases of NVIDIA and asking them not to buy from Chinese firms such as Huawei. Their aim is now to reduce China’s influence in global supply chains, henceforth developing the China plus one strategy which aims to move production outside of China, to other friendly nations, with stable governments, large domestic markets and adequate labour, India fits this image.
Much before the West, for India, Sino-India border conflicts and Chinese funding for Pakistan further soured its relation with China (Lodhi 2008). For the US this presents a great opportunity to build trust with India as a hedge against China, this also defeats the future possibility of a Beijing-Moscow-New Delhi axis (Lodhi 2008). India would gain through America’s subsequent partnership in trade, defence, security and technology. As we witnessed on the side lines of the recent G-20 Summit, India signed an Agreement to take on US Navy repairment in the future, a further boost to defence ties (Indian Government, 2023). India is also the third largest defence spender with an expenditure of 111 billion USD PPP (Lowy Institute Asia Power Index, 2023). Large American and Indian firms would look to cooperate on defence to capture this large market. The acquisition of 31 predator drones from Boeing may just be the beginning of greater ties in military technology.
Pouring in of American capital and technology in India may certainly help the nation achieve the status of a developed nation, even as India pursues its independent global approach. Further, this partnership maybe one of the most crucial for this century as two large nations, endowed by different and multiple factors, come together to enrich themselves and tame their opponents. At the same time, it is also clear that India aspires to be a leading power, and not only a balancing power, which seems well within India’s grasp.
*Maahir Sachdeva, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
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