Probably the single most important country that will determine the shape of future events is India. At the moment India is not a particularly powerful country, but that is likely to drastically change in the coming decades. India has a massive population of nearly 1.1 billion but an economy of only $720 billion and defense expenditures of $19 billion. Overall, by my reckoning they are the 9th most powerful country in the world. It is not their current ranking that is important, but their future one. India is not at the moment allied with any country and is currently developing relations with both the U.S. and China. India's potential in the future to either help solve the world's problems or add to them that makes India a vital nation for our foreign policy to move closer to us.
When approached rationally, it makes perfect sense for India to ally with the United States. At the most basic, America is the richest most powerful democracy and India is the most populous. We are both products of the British Empire with many of the same democratic traditions and policies. Due to our strategic positions we are essentially maritime powers though we do both have the need for a somewhat stronger army than a typical island nation. The rise of powerful autocracies like China and Russia, and the rise of militant Islam are threats to both of us (if somewhat more so for India since they are closer). The Indians are focusing their development on hi-tech and medical fields which would make us an excellent fit for a free trade agreement. It would seem that shorn of the emotions that so often dominate human interactions India would have no problems allying with us, but there are problems.
The main challenge of India is that it has a tradition of socialist anti-American politics in the Congress Party. While they are making some progress in moderating their politics, the fact is that old habits die hard. Unless major changes in thinking occur in the Congress Party, we cannot expect a deep alliance if they are in power. This is a holdover from the Cold War Non-Alignment ideology of the Indian political class when hatred of American capitalism and “imperialism” was the rule. We also need to understand that the Indians may simply not want to pay the price of keeping the world stable. It is not an easy or enviable job. We need to be very concerned though that India does not get hoodwinked by the Beijing-Moscow Axis into believing that it could play a role in the glorious destruction of the American “Empire”. India would never be more than a vassal state in China’s eyes and the more they understand that the better. Another point of concern is that India is almost entirely dependant on energy imports to meet its needs. India is therefore susceptible to a live and let live and let the U.S. handle any crazies mentality with regards to the Islamic states it depends on for energy.
Our policies with India must reflect these realities. Of critical importance is the nuclear energy agreement that President Bush signed with India. This deal is good at all levels. It gives India a moral boost, increases U.S. exports to India, provides India with a large amount of non-oil energy, and opens the way to future deals. We should let the Indians know that the era of the U.S. being able to shoulder the burden of solving all of the world’s problems is coming to an end. If they do not want the crazies disrupting their stability, they will have to help us. Allying with China would definitely be alluring for the Indians, especially as the Chinese will say whatever it takes to achieve it. We will have to combat this tendency constantly in the future. One way to do it is to make it clear to the Indians that we are not looking for a fight with China, only preparing for one should the Chinese start it. The Indians also have to understand that the more nations that will unite against Chinese aggression, the less likely it is that any of them will have to fight China. We should push a free trade agreement with India and encourage it to become the major market for U.S. and Japanese exporters so that neither of us becomes dependant on the Chinese market and India becomes more intertwined with the democratic world.
It is essentially a certainty that sometime in the next 20 years India will overtake China in population. It is a possibility that India will overtake China economically (though I would not put money on it) based on a comparison between India/China in the 21st Century and Britain/France of the 17th & 18th Centuries. Even if the Indians don’t manage that, they will still likely grow at a rapid clip in the next 20 years. When combined with India’s rising defense budget and large military, this means India will wield much more power and influence in the future. We have to do everything we can to see that India is pro-U.S. at this time. President Bush is doing this despite the objections of the American left who cannot stand to see their prior arms control agreements and European friends ignored. We must make sure that the future’s three most powerful democracies (including Japan) stand together to confront the world’s many, many problems. If we fail in this mission, we will possibly be left holding the lines of the mid-Atlantic and Straits of Tsushima.