Lastly, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal had an explicit strategic dimension. By the turn of the 21st century, balancing China’s growing power had become a strategic imperative for the U.S., which saw India as a viable alternative to China because of its sheer size, geography, military capabilities, and democratic political values. The nuclear deal was supposed to provide the edifice of a robust security relationship between the two states centered on balancing Chinese power.
Rather than actively balancing China, India has mostly pursued a hedging strategy, as most prominently demonstrated by the unofficial but influential Nonalignment 2.0 report from earlier this year. As Ashley Tellis presciently remarks, “for the U.S., which has just recovered from India’s Nonalignment 1.0, Nonalignment 2.0 is a strategic nightmare.” Whether India is explicitly pursuing a nonalignment redux policy or not, there’s little doubt that it has tried to avoid creating an overwhelming dependence on American military hardware.
Based on the above evidence, many in Washington speak of the false promise of the nuclear deal in transforming India-U.S. relations. This general impression is compounded by the policy paralysis with which the Manmohan Singh government has suffered for most of its present term.
There are a number of problems with the above picture, however. First, it portrays the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal as a strategic fix to India-U.S. relations rather than a strategic bet. To be sure, the Bush administration fully understood that a single document would not realign India’s entire worldview to bring it in line with the America’s own outlook. That being said, it was a calculated gamble which, once it was decided that India mattered for the U.S. at the highest levels, was the most optimal strategy to transform the bilateral relationship.
Second, the critical view also discounts the complexities that domestic politics interject into the foreign policy decision-making of democracies like India. Third, four years is a very short time period for passing any judgment on the consequences of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and, in any case, strategic choices always take some time to produce their desired results.