With all due respect to this influential columnist, he’s totally wrong about the reasons why Indians regard the US as their second “greatest military threat” behind China as well as the solutions that he proposes for changing this perception.
Bloomberg foreign affairs columnist Bobby Ghosh published an opinion piece Monday morning declaring that “US-India Relations Aren’t Playing Out Like a Bollywood Movie”. He’s extremely concerned that a recent survey of Indians’ attitudes towards foreign affairs revealed that the world’s most populous country considers the US to be their “greatest military threat” behind China. In his view, this is due to two interconnected strategic communications challenges.
As Ghosh phrased it, “Part of the problem is that the Indian government, unchallenged by a docile media, has been spinning its naked opportunism as a form of noble, nationalistic resistance to pressure from the West.” The second, as he sees it, is that “just as important, neither Ukraine nor the US has told their side of the story to an Indian audience with much vigor. The government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy may have its hands full with the war, but the Biden administration should do better.”
In response, he suggests that the Biden Administration prioritize placing an Ambassador in India after thus far leaving that crucial position vacant all throughout the incumbent’s first two years in office. Ghosh also believes that former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti isn’t up to par for this role and should be replaced by an actual expert on India. He also suggests that “Putting the vice president front and center of India policy would be a good place to start undoing the damage of long American neglect.”
With all due respect to this influential columnist, he’s totally wrong about the reasons why Indians regard the US as their second “greatest military threat” behind China as well as the solutions that he proposes for changing this perception. Indians are incensed that the US defied the spirit of friendship between their countries by so aggressively pressuring them over the past year into unilaterally conceding on their objective national interests by going along with the anti-Russian sanctions.
As a self-respecting and truly sovereign state, India proudly refused to subordinate itself to the US’ political will at the expense of its hard-earned strategic autonomy in the New Cold War. By masterfully balancing between the US-led West’s Golden Billion and the jointly BRICS– & SCO-led Global South of which it’s part through its pragmatic policy of principled neutrality to the Ukrainian Conflict, India successfully emerged as a globally significant Great Power over the past year.
Its multipolar leadership envisages entrenching this newfound role by de facto leading the Global South’s collective rise as a third pole of influence in order to break the Sino-American bi-multipolar superpower duopoly that characterized International Relations up until last year. As a major means to that end, it just virtually hosted the first-ever Global South Summit for brainstorming ways in which it can advance their shared interests during India’s chairmanship of the G20 this year.
None of this is “naked opportunism” like Ghosh inaccurately described it as, but a textbook example of a state perfectly implementing Neo-Realist policies. Most Indian intellectuals, both those within the country and its diaspora, are liberal-globalists though. This observation explains why they either can’t or won’t acknowledge that their country’s leadership nowadays formulates its foreign policy according to that competing school of International Relations thought.
Accordingly, those experts that the US relies upon for formulating its own approach towards India therefore share a fundamentally flawed assessment of the drivers behind that civilization-state’s grand strategy that in turn contributed to American policy recently being so counterproductive. After all, liberal-globalists believe that “publicly shaming” targeted states through information warfare is enough to successfully coerce their leadership into capitulating on their objective national interests.
It therefore follows, from the perspective of their ideological-theoretical paradigm at least, that the solution to overcoming their target’s resistance to prior information warfare campaigns aimed towards this end is simply to double down until they inevitably do what’s being demanded. That, however, resulted in India redoubling the Russian dimension of its dual-tripolarity grand strategy aimed at accelerating the global systemic transition and thus working further against the US’ interests.
There was never any realistic chance that the US could successfully coerce India’s multipolar leadership into unilaterally conceding on its objective national interests vis-à-vis Russia, but had it respected these same aforesaid interests after realizing the futility of its hegemonic pressure campaign, then it’s unlikely that 22% of Indians would regard it as their country’s second “greatest military threat” behind China. Instead, they rightly assessed that the US wants to subjugate India as its largest-ever vassal state.
This outcome is entirely the fault of the US’ fundamentally flawed policy towards India that’s fueled by equally flawed assessments from Indian intellectuals about what’s supposedly driving that multipolar Great Power’s grand strategy nowadays. Finally dispatching an Ambassador there isn’t going to make any difference when the entire conceptual basis upon which the US’ formulates its policy towards India is so fundamentally flawed, nor will doubling down on information warfare against it help either.
What must urgently happen is for the US to soberly realize that those upon whom it’s thus far relied for helping to formulate these selfsame policies are completely wrong and should therefore be ignored. Instead of extending any credence to these soothsayers who told American strategists that just a little bit more information warfare pressure is all that’s needed to get India to finally do their bidding, they should listen to India’s official representatives and take seriously those interests that they articulate.
It’s “politically inconvenient” to tacitly admit that the US got it all wrong about India for so long, and even worse, doubled down on such a counterproductive policy that resulted in folks from the world’s most populous county regarding theirs as its second “greatest military threat” behind China. That, however, is precisely what the US must do though if it truly wants to get its relations with India back on track. This multipolar Great Power’s objective national interests must immediately be respected.
Ghosh and most of his fellow Indian intellectuals either remain misguided due to the influence that their liberal-globalist ideology exerts over their worldview or they’re uncomfortable publicly admitting that they got it wrong after realizing this some time ago. In the case of that influential columnist, it should be assumed that he sincerely believes what he wrote unless proven otherwise, thus meaning that his attempt to improve Indian-American relations is well-intended but nevertheless still doomed to fail.
The way forward for bilateral ties isn’t in clinging to discredited and veritably counterproductive policies, but in finally recalibrating America’s approach to India by eschewing information warfare against it in parallel with recognizing this globally significant Great Power’s objective national interests. Anything less than that will ensure that their relations unnecessarily remain complicated to the detriment of both, which is why it’s mutually beneficial for the US to change its ways sooner than later.