Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

India’s rise and global order

The decade to come will demonstrate whether the shared strategic bet made in Washington and New Delhi will yield joint benefits

The foundations of global order seem increasingly unsteady. The intensity of upheavals in the Middle East, Europe’s ongoing crisis and great power competition in the Asia-Pacific is matched only by the transformational forces rocking the global economy, climate, cyberspace and other transnational domains.

Tempting though it may be, we don’t have the luxury of holding our breath and waiting for this moment of disorder to pass. The principal strategic task for the US—and its partners—is to channel these forces and help shape international circumstances before other forces and events shape them for us.

This should be the animating purpose of the strategic partnership between the US and India. India’s rise is as significant a feature of today’s international landscape as any other. The same is true of its partnership with the US—between two of the world’s largest democracies, two of the world’s largest economies and two countries that for the first time have a deep stake in each other’s success.

Thanks to sustained—and these days tragically rare—bipartisan consensus in both countries, and sustained efforts by both leaderships, the depth and breadth of today’s partnership would have been unthinkable two decades ago.

In the security realm, after years of “non-alignment", India looks to the US as its largest defence supplier and both engage in more bilateral military exercises than either does with any other country. In the economic realm, bilateral and people-to-people ties are growing tighter by the day. Two decades ago, two-way trade was at $8 billion a year. Today, it is on the verge of $100 billion. From Silicon Valley to Bengaluru and Wall Street to Mumbai, Indians and Americans are making a profound impact on one another and in the world.

For all the good news stories, both leaderships recognize that much work remains if we are to realize the full promise of this partnership. Ambitious bilateral goals—whether it is reaching $500 billion annually in two-way trade, working towards a free trade agreement, or fully integrating India into the broader Asian economic architecture—are necessary, but not sufficient.

The real value of the partnership will come when both nations begin to view the other as indispensable for resolving the challenges at the core of today’s global disorder.

The essential prerequisite to taking this leap is India’s own economic revitalization. Washington can contribute towards this outcome by providing capital, technology and expertise, but what New Delhi does for itself will matter far more in comparison.

If India’s economic success is substantial and sustainable, much is possible. This begins with the Indo-Pacific, where together the US and India can help build a regional order that protects convergent values and interests, starting with stronger engagement with Japan, Australia and the smaller South-East Asian states. Beyond the Indo-Pacific, India plays a critical role in nearly every region and issue of consequence—from the future of democracy to nuclear non-proliferation, great power politics to climate, and the impact of technological innovation on international affairs. In each of these areas and others, a common approach will be critical to enhancing the value of the strategic partnership.

For all the historic achievements of the past decade, it is the decade to come that will demonstrate whether the shared strategic bet made in Washington and New Delhi will yield joint benefits and deliver on the two countries’ shared vision for the Pacific Century.

William J. Burns is a former US deputy secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

This column is published as a part of an association between Mint and Carnegie India.

Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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