By: Stephen P. Cohen and Michael O’Hanlon
January 24, 2015
Great powers are often characterised by a worldview that is widely shared from generation to generation — a strategic culture, and a good deal of consistency in vision and strategic priorities. The present visions of US and Indian elites go back to roughly World War II. The US sought — in that war and in the subsequent Cold War — to create a world order in which its economic and ideological interests would be protected; this vision was implemented through a strategy of alliance, institution-building and democracy promotion. India — which became the world’s largest democracy when it became a republic in 1950 — saw a desirable world order as one in which colonialism was rooted out and replaced by a non-aligned block that would be free of Cold War pressures, allowing it to take its proper place as one of the great civilisational powers, even if its economic and military power measured in traditional terms might not immediately rival some of the other great powers. These visions were, in their historical context, like ships that pass in the night.
A new period of strategic engagement began after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and there were discussions, albeit futile, of American technology sales to India, especially the development of a light combat aircraft. Americans had serious doubts about India’s technical capabilities; India had doubts about America as a reliable source of technology (in the end both were correct). However, India’s nascent nuclear weapon programme intruded and both Indian and Pakistani nuclear and space programmes fell under US sanctions.
The US-India nuclear agreement of 2005 was a positive milestone. But more recently, the joint statement of September 30, 2014 by US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced another new beginning. Like earlier statements, it placed defence cooperation — embodied in the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) — at or near the core of the relationship. This time, however, three developments may make the promise of a transformed defence relationship more likely to be realised.