US State Department spokesman Ned Price signalled that his country finally respects India’s multi-alignment policy in the New Cold War. Asked on Thursday about India’s abstention from the UNSC’s vote on discussing recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine as well as whether his country’s tensions with Russia have impacted the US’ ties with India, he had this to say according to the official readout from his press conference:
“I will leave it to our Indian partners to discuss their stance in the UN Security – in the UN on this particular issue. I know that we have been in touch with literally dozens and dozens of countries around the world, including our Indian partners, on our concerns regarding Russia’s military buildup, its unprovoked potential aggression against Ukraine. These are conversations that we’ve had at many different levels…We have a relationship with India that stands on its own, that stands on its own merits.”
This is a very pragmatic stance and is arguably long overdue. The US’ CAATSA sanctions threats against India to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense systems have spoiled their fast-developing military-strategic relations. During its disastrous evacuation from Kabul, Washington also kept New Delhi out of the loop and didn’t inform it in advance of the secret AUKUS negotiations last year either. Furthermore, the US Navy violated India’s exclusive economic zone last spring.
These factors unexpectedly contributed to the complication of bilateral relations that, in turn, are considered to have played a major role in India’s recent recalibration of its multi-alignment policy away from its seemingly hitherto tilt towards the US and back towards its historic closeness with Russia. This was evidenced by President Putin’s trip to the country in early December and the whopping 99-paragraph strategic partnership reaffirmation document they agreed to during his visit.
That was a globally game-changing development since it signalled that those two Great Powers are unofficially seeking to jointly assemble a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”) for creating the third pole of influence in the increasingly bi-multipolar world order. From this observation, one can conclude that India certainly isn’t the so-called “American proxy” that some have earlier described it as but has proudly flexed its strategic autonomy in complete alignment with its traditional grand strategy.
The US can no longer pressure India like before nor mistreat it as a so-called “junior partner” if it wants to retain their hard-earned military-strategic relations of the past decade that were needlessly endangered as a result of its arrogant policies over the past 18 months. This growing awareness might not be “politically convenient” for the US to openly acknowledge since it confirms those policies’ counterproductivity, but it must nevertheless formulate its new policies according to this perspective.
Failing to do so will only accelerate India’s multi-alignment in its historical Russian-friendly direction, which would further erode America’s military-strategic gains with the South Asian state. Relations between those two are supposed to be mutually beneficial and conducted between equals, not unilaterally useful for only the American party who by default mistreats India as a “junior partner”. This traditional American policy towards others won’t succeed with India.
Had Price condemned India’s abstention from the UNSC vote and hinted that this Great Power’s historical relations with Russia were complicating ties with the US, then bilateral ties would have probably entered an unofficial crisis since India wouldn’t ever accept being talked down to in such a condescending way. Its newfound appreciation of Russia is due to Moscow’s continual concern for New Delhi’s sensitivities, which starkly contrasts with Washington’s recent disrespect.
The US must therefore tread extremely carefully in managing its relations with India. Under no circumstances must it publicly pressure its new military-strategic partner lest it only succeeds in driving it further into Russia’s arms. That, of course, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in terms of the bigger picture, but India sincerely wants to enjoy an equal, trust-based, and mutually respectful relationship with the US to maintain its balanced grand strategy amid the ongoing New Cold War.
America also arguably benefits from India playing this envisioned role, which is why it must urgently recalibrate its hitherto counterproductive policies towards that country. Price’s recent pragmatism suggests that this long-overdue change is presently underway or that the US at the very least knows that it can’t successfully pressure India in the current global geostrategic conditions. It’ll remain to be seen whether this trajectory continues, but the latest signals inspire cautious optimism.