Through Sickness to Strategic Health

Saying India and the United States are strategically made for each other isn’t in favour in New Delhi or Washington these days. So it’s refreshing to have someone just say right out: “It’s a match made in heaven. Just do it.”

William Avery was a State Department official when the Indo-US nuclear deal was being put together. Dishing out visas in Chennai, he didn’t have much to do with the deal. However, he was infected by the same geopolitical bug that bit George W. Bush, and it’s stayed with him, though now he’s a corporate merger and acquisitions advisor.

India’s rise is, he argues, “China’s nightmare, America’s dream” in his book of the same name. These different national responses pretty much tell you why a US-India partnership makes so much sense. Avery sees the US as the obvious partner to address the missing pieces in India’s power puzzle. “Building stronger defence ties with the United States, and its allies, is the only way for India to create the weapons industry it needs.” And the economic sinews of a superpower, for him, lie in the creation of multinationals. India is producing them, but it needs to do more, quicker. Again, the US is the model.

This is not a patronising work: Avery’s enthusiasm for India would make the Bajrang Dal blush. “I believe India is capable of being a true world power. The world needs India to become a true global power.” He frets at India’s passivity about taking over its own ocean, the weakness of its indigenous defence industry and its general caution about everything.

Avery wants the rupee to be a global reserve currency by 2025. He even believes India should get off its call centring obsession — “outsourcing can only survive so long as India is poor.”

Understandably, he’s disappointed with the Obama administration and Manmohan Singh 2.0 and the way both have frittered away the Bush momentum. “It turns out the Indo-American relationship could have used a little less professor and a little more cowboy.” India has other good global friends but they don’t have what it takes given the horizons India should be aiming for. France and Russia are nice, but they are too small or declining too rapidly. As for the US, its main international relationship is with China — and it’s “mutually dysfunctional; they sell us junk we don’t need and we fall in love with consuming it.” Pakistan? Easy. There should be a complete Indo-US mind-meld over handling that failing State.

What’s nice about Avery’s book is that he pushes out a big idea that the Indian strategic establishment is still wary to talk about and US strategists still can’t take seriously. He is realistic enough to know that no matter how close they get, India and the US will never have a full-blown alliance.

What’s missing is that Avery doesn’t do a detailed geopolitical and economic nuts and bolts study that would make a classic case for an IndoAmerican alliance. Maybe its because neither country hasn’t worked out how their interests converge. India’s national security thinking is still a work in progress. Avery’s answer: “Don’t overthink Indo-US relations. You have to step back. Once you do, it becomes pretty obvious.”

Copyright © 2012 the Hindustan Times.

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