South Asia: New Alliances Reshape Regional Power Dynamics

The complicated political situation in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. The changing relationships between the US, India, Russia, and China affect the region's stability and the balance of power around the world.

Must Read

Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

The geopolitical landscape of South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region is witnessing dynamic shifts, primarily influenced by the evolving relationships between major powers like the United States, India, Russia, and China. 

This focus is to examine the nuances of these relationships, with a deep dive into the intricate balance of interests, strategic alignments, and historical ties that shape the current and future dynamics of the region. 

From the intricacies of India’s interactions with China and Russia and Pakistan’s connections with these major world powers to the defence cooperation and difficulties in managing differing viewpoints that substantially influence the U.S.-India partnership. 

The ramifications of how these interactions influence regional stability and global power structures have been attempted. It also addresses sensitive issues such as human rights concerns, trade policies, and the role of significant democracies in navigating these turbulent waters. The objective is to comprehensively understand the multifaceted relationships and strategic calculations crucial for predicting future trends and potential outcomes in this geopolitically significant region.

The US-India relationship navigates complex geopolitical terrains shaped by both countries’ distinct global views and regional security interests. 

Global Worldview and Power Dynamics

Historically, the US is a dominant global power and appears to struggle with the evolving multipolar world order where power is more diffused. India, in contrast, seems more accommodating of a multipolar world with diverse power centres and civilisations. This difference in outlook might influence how each country approaches international relations and global governance.

Regional Security Concerns

In the South Asian context, the US and India have differing perspectives on critical issues like the role of the Pakistan military, terrorism, politics in Bangladesh, and aspects of India’s territorial integrity and domestic politics. These differences are crucial as they directly impact India’s core security interests.

The “China threat” has significantly brought the US and India closer, especially in the Indo-Pacific strategy and initiatives like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). However, the durability of this alignment, primarily driven by the shared concern over China’s rise, could be better if fundamental disagreements in other areas are addressed.

While leveraging the China factor, the sustainability of the US-India relationship depends on how both nations manage these divergences. A key aspect will be how they balance their immediate strategic interests (like countering China’s influence) with their broader, long-term visions for global and regional order. It is a delicate diplomatic balance, requiring continuous engagement, mutual respect for core interests, and a willingness to accommodate and compromise on specific issues.

The US and India’s growing defence cooperation and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) between the US, India, Japan, and Australia play a significant role in determining the Indo-Pacific region’s geopolitical environment. These activities become more important in light of India’s and the US’s democratic status.  

QUAD as a Strategic Framework

Democratic Alliance. The QUAD, as a collective of leading democracies, symbolises a commitment to a rules-based international order. This is particularly relevant in the context of China’s assertive actions in the region, which often challenge this order.

Balancing China. The primary, albeit often unstated, objective of the QUAD is to serve as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence and assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea (SCS) and the broader Indo-Pacific region.

Multilateral Cooperation. The QUAD encourages multilateral cooperation in various domains, including military, economic, technological, and humanitarian assistance. This cooperation is about containing China and promoting the region’s stability, connectivity, and prosperity.

U.S.-India Defense Cooperation

Shared Concerns about China. The US and India, alarmed by China’s military modernisation and territorial ambitions, find common ground in defence cooperation. This includes arms sales, joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and logistics agreements.

Interoperability and Capability Enhancement. Joint exercises and defence agreements, like the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), enhance interoperability between US and Indian military forces. This readiness is crucial for any potential coordinated response to regional security challenges.

Strategic Messaging. Robust U.S.-India defence ties send a strategic message about their commitment to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It demonstrates their ability to work together in the face of common threats.

The Role of Leading Democracies

As leading democracies, the US and India are responsible for upholding democratic values and norms. 

Promoting Democratic Ideals. Their cooperation is seen as a beacon of democratic resilience and governance, offering an alternative model to authoritarian development paradigms.

Domestic Challenges. Both countries, however, face internal challenges to democracy, including political polarisation, social tensions, and human rights issues. How they address these concerns can impact their global standing and the credibility of their democratic leadership.

Global Governance. As major democracies, they have the potential to influence global governance structures, advocating for reforms that reflect current global realities and not just the post-World War II power structure.

Challenges and Prospects

While QUAD and defence cooperation are central to the U.S.-India strategic partnership, there are challenges.

Differing Perceptions. India’s strategic autonomy and its traditional non-alignment policy can sometimes be at odds with US expectations of a more aligned stance, particularly towards Russia and Iran.

Regional Dynamics. Both countries must navigate complex regional dynamics, including India’s tense relationship with Pakistan and China and the US’s East Asian alliances.

Nijjar – Panun Affect 

The allegations of the involvement of Indian government officials in incidents outside of India, such as the killing of Najjar in Canada and the plot to kill Panun in the United States, are indeed sensitive matters that require careful diplomatic handling. 

Legal and Diplomatic Protocols

Adherence to International Law. India respects other nations’ sovereignty and legal frameworks and is conscientious of extraterritorial action. Violating international norms can lead to serious diplomatic repercussions.

Cooperation in Investigations. The Government of India is carrying out its investigations into such allegations. Canada has yet to provide evidence of its claims.

Diplomatic Engagement. Maintaining open and transparent communication channels between countries is essential. Diplomatic discussions can clarify positions, share concerns, and prevent misunderstandings.

Public Messaging and Perception

Balanced Public Statements. Public statements by government officials should be measured carefully so as not to inflame tensions or prejudice legal proceedings.

Addressing Media Narratives. In an era where media narratives can quickly influence public opinion and bilateral relations, it is essential to manage these narratives effectively, providing clear and factual information.

Broader Implications for Bilateral Relations

Impact on Bilateral Ties. Such incidents can strain relations with key partners like the US. India must work proactively to mitigate any negative impact on its strategic and economic interests.

Collaborative Approach to Security Concerns. India can seek collaborative approaches to address security concerns, such as terrorism or extremism, working with international partners rather than unilateral actions.

Differences between the US and India?

The relationship between the United States and India, while largely collaborative and positive, does have areas of difference and occasional friction. These issues stem from divergent strategic priorities, historical contexts, and domestic political considerations. 

Trade and Economic Policies. The US and India have disagreed on trade practices. Issues like market access, tariffs (particularly on agricultural and manufactured goods), intellectual property rights, and data localisation have been contentious. The US often presses for more market liberalisation and stronger IP protections, while India advocates for protecting its domestic industries and data sovereignty.

Russia Relations. India’s strategic and historical links to Russia, especially in the area of defence acquisition (such as the purchase of the S-400 missile defence system), conflict with US policies aimed at isolating Russia, particularly in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine. The US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) presents a possible obstacle; given its more substantial interests in the region, the US has not implemented CAATSA on India.

Iran and Middle East Policy. India’s strategy is at odds with the US’s departure from the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) and its tough posture towards Iran. India and Iran have long had cordial ties because India views Iran as a vital energy supplier and a gateway to Central Asia via the Chabahar port.

Climate Change and Environmental Policies. While both countries acknowledge the importance of tackling climate change, their approaches differ. The US has historically pushed for more significant emissions reductions from emerging economies, including India. Conversely, India emphasises common but differentiated responsibilities, arguing for more leeway as a developing nation.

Human Rights and Democratic Values. The US has occasionally expressed concerns over human rights issues in India, including the situation in Kashmir and the treatment of religious minorities. India views these as internal matters and is sensitive to perceived external interference in its domestic affairs.

Regional Security Interests. Divergences also emerge in regional security matters, particularly concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US’s past support to Pakistan, seen by India as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the handling of the Afghanistan situation post-Taliban takeover are points of contention.

Immigration Policies. The US immigration and visa policies, especially concerning the H-1B visa program, significantly affect India. The tightening of these policies impacts Indian professionals and has been a concern for the Indian government.

Defence Cooperation

A substantial change in the bilateral relationship can be seen in strengthening defence cooperation between the US and India, especially in logistics support, repair, and maintenance, as well as the Communications, Interoperability, and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). This shift is indicative of deeper strategic alignment and mutual trust. Let us elaborate on these aspects:

Communications, Interoperability, and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). CISMOA, now called COMCASA, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), is a version of the CISMOA tailored to Indian requirements. It allows the US to provide India with encrypted communications equipment and systems, enabling military commanders to communicate through secure networks.

Strategic Significance. COMCASA enhances the interoperability of Indian and US forces. It is vital for India to access advanced defence systems and for real-time sharing of high-quality encrypted information in bilateral and multilateral exercises.

Logistics Support and Maintenance 

Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). A foundational agreement known as LEMOA permits the armed forces of both nations to utilise one another’s bases for supply and maintenance. It is a sign of growing strategic trust and a logistical accord.

Enhanced Operational Capability. This agreement enhances the operational reach of both forces. For India, it means access to US facilities globally, which is crucial for its expanding naval footprint, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

Major Shift in the Relationship

From Distant to Strategic Partners. Traditionally, India was non-aligned, maintaining distance from significant power blocs during the Cold War. This new level of defence cooperation indicates a substantial shift towards a more strategic alignment with the US, particularly in a rising China.

Balancing China’s Influence. The enhanced defence cooperation is partly driven by the mutual goal of balancing China’s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

Technology and Defense Trade. The U.S. has become a key defence supplier to India, a shift from India’s earlier reliance on Russian military hardware. This includes high-end technology transfers and co-development initiatives under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

Challenges and Considerations

Policy Alignment. While cooperation is growing, policy alignment is crucial, especially regarding US policies towards countries like Russia and Iran, with which India has historically had significant relations.

Strategic Autonomy. India maintains its strategic autonomy, balancing its relations with other major powers. This autonomy is a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy and is carefully managed even as defence ties with the US deepen.

Broader Implications

Regional Stability and Security. Enhanced U.S.-India defence cooperation stabilises the Indo-Pacific, contributing to the region’s security architecture.

Global Leadership Roles. Both countries, as democracies, increasingly see themselves as leaders on global issues, from maritime security to climate change, and this defence partnership strengthens their ability to influence international affairs.

POTUS – RD Parade Chief Guest

A strengthening of the strategic partnership between the United States and India is indicated by the invitation sent to US President Joe Biden to be the primary guest at India’s Republic Day Parade in 2024 and the anticipated negotiation of essential defence agreements, including the development of the GE 414 engine and the Stryker vehicle arrangement. 

Significance of the Invitation 

Diplomatic Honor. Inviting the US President as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day is a significant diplomatic gesture, symbolising the two countries’ close ties and mutual respect.

Historical Context. Such invitations are often extended to leaders of countries with whom India seeks to enhance strategic and diplomatic relations. The presence of the US President would underscore the importance of the U.S.-India relationship on the global stage.

Technology Transfer and Co-production

GE 414 Engine Development This deal will involve technology transfer and possibly co-production, aligning with India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. It represents a buyer-seller relationship and a deeper partnership in defence technology.

The GE 414 engine is crucial for India’s indigenous Tejas Mk II fighter jet program. Collaboration with the US in developing this engine marks a significant step in India’s pursuit of self-reliance in defence technology.

Stryker Vehicle Deal

Strengthening Land Forces. The agreement related to the Stryker armoured vehicles would significantly bolster the capabilities of India’s land forces. The Stryker vehicles are known for their versatility and can substantially enhance the mobility and protection of Indian Army units.

Interoperability and Training. Acquiring such U.S.-made equipment enhances interoperability between the US and Indian armed forces, which is crucial for joint exercises and potential strategic cooperation.

Broader Implications of the Visit 

Bilateral Talks and Agreements. The visit will likely include wide-ranging discussions on defence, trade, climate change, counter-terrorism, and the Indo-Pacific region. It may lead to further agreements and initiatives.

Global and Regional Issues. The meeting between the leaders will also be a platform to discuss and coordinate positions on global and regional challenges, including the situation in Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific security landscape, and the response to global health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Symbolism and Messaging. The visit, particularly on a symbolic occasion like Republic Day, sends a strong message about the strategic alignment and shared democratic values between the US and India.

Challenges and Considerations 

Balancing Relations with Other Powers. India will continue to balance its relations with other key countries like Russia and China. The US’s stance on these relationships will be an essential consideration.

Domestic and Political Factors. Domestic politics and public opinion can influence the results of high-level visits in both countries.

US Perspective on Bangladesh

Human Rights and Governance Concerns. The US may have reservations regarding the Awami League government, possibly related to human rights issues, governance, and democratic processes. The US often emphasises these aspects in its foreign policy, which can affect its relations with countries with these values at risk.

Geopolitical Considerations. Broader geopolitical considerations, including the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region and the role of China might also influence the US’s approach towards Bangladesh.

Impact on India-Bangladesh Relations

Economic Growth and Stability. Bangladesh’s economic growth and stability are in India’s interest. A stable and prosperous Bangladesh can contribute to a more secure and economically integrated South Asian region. If US policies are perceived as destabilising, it could indirectly affect India’s interests.

Regional Geopolitics. India would watch changes in Bangladesh’s foreign policy that might emerge from shifts in U.S.-Bangladesh relations. For instance, if US policies inadvertently push Bangladesh closer to China, this could concern India, given the strategic rivalry between India and China.

Trade and Connectivity. India’s connectivity and trade ambitions, part of its “Neighborhood First” policy, involve Bangladesh as a critical partner. Any significant political changes in Bangladesh influenced by US relations could affect these initiatives.

Navigating the Complexities

Diplomatic Engagement. India would need to engage diplomatically with both the US and Bangladesh to understand and navigate the implications of US policies.

Balancing Act. India would continue balancing in the region, seeking to maintain good relations with the US and Bangladesh despite their differing perspectives.

Monitoring Internal Dynamics. India would closely monitor internal political dynamics in Bangladesh, as any significant shifts could directly affect its security and regional strategy.

Strategic Autonomy and Non-Alignment 

India’s approach to international diplomacy, particularly in response to US overtures for a more active role in regional conflicts and as a counterbalance to China, should be carefully considered and aligned with its long-standing policy of strategic autonomy. 

India has a history of non-alignment and maintaining strategic autonomy in its foreign policy. This principle has allowed India to navigate complex international relationships while avoiding entanglement in alliances that could compromise its sovereign decision-making.

While non-alignment was relevant during the Cold War, India’s modern foreign policy adapts this principle to the current global context, balancing relations with major powers like the US, Russia, and China.

Balancing US and China Relations

US Partnership. Engaging with the US in mutual interest, such as defence, trade, technology, and climate change, benefits India. However, this engagement should not be seen as aligning against China in a manner that provokes unnecessary hostility or undermines India’s interests.

China Dynamics. India shares a long border and a complex history with China, including border disputes. Maintaining a stable relationship with China is crucial, even as India addresses its security concerns and territorial integrity.

Regional Conflicts and Global Ambitions

Avoiding Entanglement. India should be cautious about involving itself in conflicts where its core interests are not directly at stake, such as putting boots on the ground.

Global Leadership Role. India can assert its role as a responsible global power by contributing to international peace and security through diplomacy, peacekeeping missions, and multilateral engagements rather than direct military involvement in conflicts.

Multilateralism and Diverse Partnerships

United Nations and Other Forums. India can leverage platforms like the United Nations to play a constructive role in international peace and security issues.

Diverse Partnerships. Building a network of partnerships beyond the US and China, including with the European Union, ASEAN countries, and Africa, can help India maintain a balanced foreign policy.

Domestic Considerations

Economic Growth and Development. India’s foreign policy should prioritise its domestic economic growth, development, and technological advancement objectives.

Public Opinion. Foreign policy decisions should also consider public opinion and national sentiment, especially regarding sensitive issues like national security and territorial integrity.

Russia-India Relationship

Russia and India have a long-standing partnership, especially in defence. Russia has been a significant supplier of defence equipment to India for decades.

Diversification of Defense Sources: India’s move towards acquiring defence equipment from Western countries, including the US and European nations, represents a diversification strategy. This is driven by India’s need for advanced technology and its desire to reduce over-dependence on any single country.

Regional Stability

Shifting Alliances. The realignment of regional relationships, with India moving closer to the West and Pakistan strengthening ties with Russia and China, reflects a multipolar world order. This realignment could lead to shifting power balances in the region.

Balancing Act for Russia. Russia may find itself balancing its historical relationship with India and its growing ties with Pakistan. This balancing act can be challenging, especially considering India’s strategic importance to Russia and Pakistan’s alignment with China.

India’s Strategic Autonomy. India’s move to diversify its defence procurement is part of its broader strategy of maintaining strategic autonomy. By engaging with multiple powers, India aims to avoid being overly reliant on any one country while enhancing its defence capabilities.

Potential for Increased Competition. Strengthening military capabilities on all sides could lead to increased competition and an arms race in the region, potentially escalating tensions.

Diplomatic Challenges. All of the participating nations face diplomatic hurdles as a result of the shifting dynamics. To maintain these partnerships without making things worse, careful diplomacy is required.

Opportunities for Cooperation. Despite these challenges, there are also opportunities for cooperation on issues like counter-terrorism, trade, and climate change. Multilateral forums can provide platforms for such engagement.


The intricate web of relationships among the United States, India, Russia, China, and Pakistan, set against the backdrop of the Indo-Pacific region’s evolving geopolitical landscape, presents a complex puzzle. 

Each country’s pursuit of national interests, historical ties, and strategic objectives contribute to a dynamic power play. The U.S.-India partnership, growing in its strategic and defence dimensions, must navigate divergences in global perspectives and regional security concerns while balancing the influence of China and accommodating India’s policy of strategic autonomy. 

Similarly, India’s relationships with Russia and China, and Pakistan’s ties with these major powers, reflect a continuous balancing act amidst shifting alliances. The overarching theme is the pursuit of stability, security, and prosperity in the region, which requires adept diplomacy, mutual respect, and an understanding of the intricate interplay of national interests and global power dynamics. As the world moves towards a multipolar order, the actions and decisions of these nations will significantly shape the future of regional and global geopolitics.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This