Fourth, the United States’ long “preference” for Pakistan is a major problem in our relationship with India, but it’s something Indians reluctantly accept and, when Pakistan is on the verge of collapse, are glad to see a stabilizing force influencing Pakistani leaders. India fears violent Islamic fundamentalists as much as we do. New Delhi is much closer to the Northwest Frontier Province than Washington, DC.
Fifth, India wakes up worried about China and goes to bed worried about China. While India wants good relations with the United States and China, they are trying to play a challenging balancing game in their relations with both countries.
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For the next president, whether it’s Obama or Romney, India will play a central role in the United States’ success in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Given India’s large population and 7 percent to 9 percent sustained growth rate, India believes it’s a great power and wants to be treated like one. Reality, however, can offer a mixed picture of India’s economic and military power. Given its highly inefficient bureaucracy that can be anti-American out of tradition more than a real antipathy towards the United States, Americans who come to New Delhi with grand ideas and elaborate plans will often leave disappointed. Still. It’s worth noting that the bureaucracy is slowly changing as Cold War era bureaucrats retire and a younger generation takes their place.
India is a natural ally of the United States, but Americans need to better understand India’s interests and concerns if we are going to work with India in a way that is mutually beneficial. Improving our understandingof the conditions under which Indian leaders operate will go a long way to improving our interaction. When we reach a point when we can read the Hindustan Times and really make sense of what is taking place across the country, we will be on the right track.
But the United States must also accept the limits of our relationship. Pushing too hard will only drive India away. Whether India actually is the great power it sees in the mirror is irrelevant. So long as its self-perception is such, American leaders can make greater headway in achieving stability across the region by according it the respect of a large and prosperous nation.
In the end, the United States should aim low and over deliver in its relationship with India. Both countries will go home satisfied.
Adam B. Lowther is a member of the faculty at the U.S. Air Force's Air University. Panayotis A. Yannakogeorgos is a cyber defense analyst with the U.S. Air Force Research Institute. The views expressed are their own.