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India And Its Strategic Location History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition.”

President Obama issued Defense Strategic Guidance in January 2012 stating the U.S. was strategically repositioning to the Pacific and was seeking a strategic partnership with India. President Obama stated that strong U.S.-India relations are important to our vital national interests. [3] A strong strategic relationship with India is vitally important as the U.S. repositions to the Indio-Pacific. [4] This paper examines India, its strategic location, its security interests, U.S. security interests related to India, combined strategic guidance and military security cooperation. This paper examines opportunities to improve strategic relations and security cooperation given numerous shared interests. Finally, this paper also examines obstacles to improving strategic relations and security cooperation. Developing a strategic relationship with India is important to the future of U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy as India is posed to be a leading nation as global power shifts to the Indio-Pacific in this century.

India and Its Strategic Location

“This is the land you have been seeking. This is India rising before you…” [5] 

India has a long and rich history. India was the birthplace of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Islamic Mughal Dynasty and British Raj ruled India successively, influencing its cultural and military heritage. [6] The foundations of math, global business, clothing, exercise, and languages, including the decimal system with zero–the basis of math, science, business, and economics, Sanskrit–the basis for most modern languages and alphabets, yoga–the basis for most mind-body exercises, and cotton-the basis for most clothing, all were invented in India. India was the crown jewel of the British Empire and land of Gandhi and Nehru who achieved independence for India through non-violent means. [7] Modern India is about one-third the size of the United States. [8] India has over one billion people and is the world’s second largest population. [9] India is the most populous English-speaking nation. [10] India is the world’s largest democracy. [11] India is a rising global economic power. [12] India is located in a strategic area of the Indio-Pacific Region. [13] The western part of India is adjacent to the Arabian Sea, near the Suez Canal and the Straits of Hormuz, and has direct access to Northern Africa and the Middle East. The eastern part of India is adjacent to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean that are near the seas lanes leading to the Straits of Malacca. India has a long and proud military tradition as an expeditionary force in the British Raj era and since independence it has ably defended its border interests. As trade and commerce shift to the Indio-Pacific from the Atlantic, control of the sea lanes near India increase in importance. On land, India is located near China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, and Pakistan so it has significant geographic proximity to potential conflict zones in the Indio-Pacific, including the nuclear armed states of China and Pakistan.

India’s Strategic Security Interests and Capacity

“India’s military past could be a useful guide to its strategic future.” [14] “India’s Approach to Arming without Strategic Purpose is not without Wisdom.” [15] 

The primary strategic interests of India are managing its domestic security challenges, maintaining stability with regional competitors, maintaining influence in the Indian Ocean region, establishing ties with China’s eastern neighbors with its “Look-East” policy, and maintaining sea security and sea lines of communication in the region important to its maritime trade. [16] India has yet to develop an overriding global strategic view as it has been preoccupied with domestic economic and political challenges and regional conflicts with its land neighbors since independence. India has pursued a security strategy of restraint since independence from Great Britain, which has arguably served its security interests despite land wars with its neighbors, China and Pakistan. [17] The question remains however, will India develop a cogent defense strategy beyond its border strategy against these two neighbors. [18] The answer is probably so in time. The Army is by far the largest branch of its military and is a regionally capable force. It has a notable expeditionary history in the British Raj era and has performed admirably in conflicts since independence. The Army has over 1 million men in arms, one of the largest armies in the world. The Air Force composed of over xx and is the fourth largest in the world. The Navy is composed of over xx ships and is the sixth largest in the world.

U.S. Interest in Strategic and Security Relations with India

“The United States and India are natural partners.” [19] 

As part of repositioning, the U.S. views India as vital to potentially counter-balancing the growing military and economic power of China. [20] The U.S. also sees its relationship with India as linked to countering common threats from transnational terrorism and extremist religious groups. [21] The U.S. also sees cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation as a key part of U.S.-India security relations. [22] Finally, the U.S. sees India as important to its economic and political its interests in the Indo-Pacific, especially as it repositions to the region to maintain influence and establish a counter-balance the rise of China. [23] 

Combined Strategic Guidance

“India is an indispensable partner for the United States.” “The United States…matters crucially to India’s rise as a great power.” [24] 

The overriding strategic framework jointly signed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the India Minister of Defense for security cooperation and strategic partnering is set forth in the document entitled “New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship,” signed in 2005 establishes a joint defense policy group. [25] The countries have also signed the U.S.-India disaster initiative in 2005, the Indo-U.S. Framework for Maritime Security Cooperation in 2006, and most recently the U.S.-India Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative in 2010. [26] 

Shared Interests Involving the Rise of China

“How a more direct challenge from China affects U.S.-India relations depends on how confident India feels that the United States will back it up.” [27] 

U.S. and India share an interest in responding to the uncertain rise of China. [28] China flanks India to the north and has an aggressive “string of pearls” maritime expansion policy. [29] The risks posed from China could thwart India’s rise as a regional or global power. Both India and the U.S. stand to benefit from a strategic relationship and security cooperation. [30] Neither country will likely have the resources over the long-run the ability to respond to China unilaterally. India must defend its borders and secure its vast Indian Ocean area for growing global trade and resource demands. [31] India’s desire to be a global power will likely increase U.S. opportunities for a strategic relationship and increased defense cooperation to combat potential security threats confronting both nation states in the Indio-Pacific from China. [32] Thus, strong U.S.-India strategic relationship and defense cooperation might counter-balance China in ways advantageous to both the U.S. and India. It was the imperative of the rise of China that likely caused President Bush to move forward with India on the civil nuclear cooperation.

Shared Interest Regarding Pakistan

“Plan Balkan and as its name suggested, it involved the fragmentation of India.” [33] 

India faces enduring threats from Pakistan, its regional neighbor created by the 1947 partition of British India over religious differences. [34] This partition has led to three wars with Pakistan, terrorism, and Kashmir conflict. Kashmir was created when its Prince, a Hindu, aligned with India even though there was a Muslim majority population in Kashmir. [35] The province has been a flashpoint of conflict between Pakistan and India ever since and today many terrorist groups operate inside Kashmir, supported by Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear state who China is rapidly expanding relations with in an effort to contain India. Pakistan is a major problem for both India and the U.S.

Shared Interests Relating to Terrorism

“The Indian state is no stranger to terrorism.” [36] 

Internal security threats from terrorism, separatists, and insurgency are a significant impediment to India expanding its regional strategic reach. [37] Deepening security cooperation on terrorism thus presents a significant opportunity. The internal threats facing India are multi-faceted. India faces internal threats from Islamic, Marxist, tribal, and separatist terror groups that present opportunities to deepen strategic relations and defense cooperation. India faces threats from internal separatists, most notably the Maoist group known as the Naxalites, and tribal and ethnic groups in its Northwestern states. The President of India has stated that the Naxalites are the most significant internal security threat to India. [38] The Maoist Naxalite movement started in Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967. [39] The insurgent group plagues India’s internal security apparatus as it has combined terrorist tactics with Maoist insurgency philosophy. [40] India also faces threat in the seven Northern sister states from group like to the United Liberation Front of Assam (UFLA), a socialist tribal separatist group based in Assam. [41] ULFA members use terror tactics to raise tribal grievances. India has fought terrorist and insurgent groups since independence in 1947. [42] Today, Islamic terrorist groups also operate within India and some of these groups enjoy sponsorship from neighboring states such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. [43] All of these groups operate within large portions of India and require a significant amount of internal police and military resources of the government. [44] Terrorism for most of the past century was based on insurgents, tribes, and ethnic grievance but now India faces the growing Islamic threat. [45] Security cooperation on terrorism will enhance an emerging US-India strategic relationship. [46] This view was affirmed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who stated, “counter-terror cooperation is a pillar of the U.S.-India relation and reflects our increasingly shared outlook and strategic vision.” [47] 

Shared Economic Ties

“The economic relationship between the United States and India has grown significantly.” [48] 

India and the U.S. have expanded economic relations have expanded over the last twenty. The U.S. is the largest foreign investor in India. Strong economic relations can impact arm and technology sales. [49] India will spend close to 100 billion dollars over the next decade on defense purchases. Military sales can encourage strategic changes in India’s military processes. [50] U.S. investment and development in India is much easier due to the language similarity and similarity in economic models. [51] This relationship provides a platform to encourage military arms sales. [52] Arms sale can facilitate broader defense cooperation if Congress and the Indian government can streamline defense trade. Currently although India did not select the U.S. for its combat aircraft, DoD is looking to expand defense cooperation by selling it the joint strike fighter and co-developing weapons systems. [53] The emphasis will be continued expansion of defense trade. [54] 

Military Cooperation

“U.S.-India military engagement represents an important…dimension in the relationship.” [55] 

The U.S. and India have developed a significant level of military cooperation. [56] According to DoD, there were 56 combined events with India in 2011. [57] Enhancing security cooperation to strategic cooperation is an area for emphasis. [58] Based on the DoD report to Congress, the U.S. and India have a developed a significant military relationship especially in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. [59] The areas of expansion according to the report focus on combined operations on terrorism, maritime security, countering piracy, and humanitarian and disaster relief. [60] The most fruitful area of military to military engagement has been at sea in the Indian Ocean. [61] The Indian Navy is the most doctrinally reform-minded of its services. [62] The U.S. and India have a proven track record of combined naval operations. [63] The countries participated in a number of combined exercises. The current emphasis of military to military air and space engagement is on relief operations and transport. [64] This coupled more recent air-to-air combat exercises could provide a basis for expanding combined operations and doctrine. Sales of U.S. aircraft provide a basis for expanding combined operations and doctrine. India, long a customer of Russia, has recently purchased the Globemaster, the P3-C Orion, and several platforms vital to Air power. Both sides have discussed sales of the F-18 Super Hornet and the F-16 Super Viper, although India opted for the French aircraft instead. [65] Discussions are now under way on sales of the Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. and India can also expand cooperation into Ballistic Missile Defense. [66] The U.S. and India can also expand space cooperation. The current emphasis of Army cooperation focuses on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and peace-keeping missions. [67] Cooperation between Armies in joint exercises ostensibly is an area for increasing engagement however the Indian Army focus tends to be on border threats from Pakistan and China. [68] Cooperation by Special Forces units is focused on counterterrorism efforts and counterinsurgency training. [69] This robust military cooperation should be expanded to combined efforts in maritime security, space, peacekeeping and other areas of shared interests in the Indio-Pacific.

Obstacles to Strategic Relations and Security Cooperation

“Indian leaders are averse to forming any “alliance” with the United States and are clear in their intention to maintain India’s strategic autonomy.” [70] 

There are several obstacles to a deeper U.S.-India strategic relationship and more robust defense cooperation. [71] Although such a strategic relationship with India is desired because it is the world’s second most populous nation, it is English speaking, and it has the manpower for future Asian contingencies, it remains unclear whether a deeper U.S.-India strategic relationship is possible or even necessary for sustaining United States influence in Asia given apparent impediments. [72] The treaties that have been negotiated between the two countries have not resulted in accords that advance a sustained shared strategic vision. [73] There have been notable missteps by both sides that seemingly undermine aspirations for a strategic partnership. [74] Indeed, it is noted by some that active defense cooperation is the next step in the relationship. [75] But beyond all of the rhetoric and aspirations no concrete strategic framework to guide relations has been developed. Since Independence, India has been very reluctant to engage in matter beyond defending direct regional interests. [76] China’s activities with Pakistan, Burma, and on its border with India might change the strategic outlook of India towards a more defined relationship with the U.S. The continued purchase of most of its arms from Russia is another problematic impediment to a deepened strategic partnership.


“The history of America’s relations with its closest allies… is replete with examples of disagreements.” [77] 

Presidential Defense Strategic Guidance issued in January 2012 stated the U.S. was repositioning to the Pacific and was seeking a strategic partnership with India. [78] Presidential guidance stated that strong U.S.-India relations were important to securing vital national interests. [79] This paper examined opportunities and obstacles to improve U.S.-India strategic relations and security cooperation. Despite obstacles the U.S. should pursue opportunities to deepen strategic relations and security cooperation with India. Strong U.S.-India strategic relations and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific will enhance U.S. repositioning, will counter-balance the rise of China, will assist in counter-terrorism efforts, will assist in maintain freedom of access in SLOCs, and will sustain U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific. [80] India though has remained unaligned since its independence and appears to remain wary of deeper strategic relations and more robust security cooperation. [81] However, as Robert Kaplan argued in “Monsoon, The Indian Ocean and Future of American Power,” sustaining American influence and power in the Indio-Pacific means maintaining control of the sea and the lines of communication in the global commons in this region. [82] So forging ahead to deepen U.S.-India cooperation and relations are important to furthering national security interests in the Indio-Pacific.

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