It would be an overstatement to call India an ally of the United States, although they have flirted with that status. At least, India is not the kind of ally that we can currently rely upon to put boots on the ground with our forces. If the actions of the past few months are an accurate indication, however, major changes may be in the offing.
During “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan, Indian Navy ships conducted escort patrols for American ships through the Malacca Straits and India provided the Coalition intelligence, use of its facilities and territory, and humanitarian aid. The Indian government seriously considered granting our request for Indian army forces of more than 17,000 troops to take on the responsibility of administering the northern sector of Iraq. Ultimately, the request was rejected.
Despite this setback, both countries clearly understand the mutual benefits of a strong partnership, and that partnership continues to grow with astonishing rapidity. Now that our administration has lifted sanctions against India for its 1998 violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Indian forces may soon be carrying the kind of equipment that Washington sells only to its closest allies.
Only last month the U.S. lifted its veto of an Israeli military sale of the Phalcon early warning airborne radar system (which resembles the AWACS). Washington had blocked the same sale to the Chinese three years ago. The past year alone has seen American warships routinely refueling in Chennai and Mumbai, Indian paratroopers practicing parachute jumps in Alaska, a USAF C-130 cargo aircraft flying to the Indian air base near Agra for a military airlift exercise, and a four-day U.S.-India naval exercise that included anti-submarine training. By early 2004, the U.S. and India will have conducted their first joint air exercise with fighter aircraft. India and the United States may soon begin cooperating on theater missile defenses.
Earlier this year the U.S. and India began discussing what has been described by the press as an “Asian NATO.” Presumably this relationship would involve many of the same procedures that now characterize the Transatlantic Alliance. Such an Asian NATO would entail some form of regular U.S. forward presence or deployment in and around India with New Delhi’s consent. In other words, it would mean the possibility of something resembling actual U.S. bases in and around India. The establishment of such an alliance relationship, to whatever degree of formalization is agreed to by the parties, would represent a strategic earthquake in Asia.
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