Guest Column | Kanwal Sibal

Balance of Power
By turning down the US overtures, India may be losing a chance to counterbalance China
By Kanwal Sibal

The direction of our strategic ties with the US has come under renewed focus with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to India on June 5-6 and the third round of the Strategic dialogue between India and the US at the Foreign Minister level at Washington on June 13.

During his visit to Delhi after visiting the US Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii, Singapore, Cam Ranh Bay and Hanoi in Vietnam- an itinerary that speaks for itself- Panetta spoke about the
new US defence strategy of ‘rebalancing’ toward the Asia-Pacific region by expanding US military partnerships and presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. A few days earlier at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore he announced that the US will shift 60 per cent of its naval fleet, including as many as six aircraft carriers, to the Pacific Ocean by 2020. The Pentagon has also referred to India as a link India between East and West Asia and a net provider of security from the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan and beyond.
The US seems to have concluded that there is no political down-side to identifying India openly as a crucial element in this new defence strategy. In its judgment neither the Indian government nor the majority of public opinion will recoil at being so visibly enlisted as a defence partner of the US in its expanded military role in Asia. The US is aware of the degree of controversy generated in India by the Indo-US nuclear deal in terms of its ramifications for India’s strategic independence. It is cognizant of Indian sensitivities about unwanted messages going out to Russia and China from the degree of India-US defence engagement. Yet, Panetta has not hesitated in Delhi to describe India, with its size and military capability, as a lynchpin in this US strategy.
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