This could be India’s decade if it plays its cards right. The subcontinental state is poised to be the next China, even if its path will likely be less straightforward than that of China and more of a Leninist two steps forward, one step backward. Leaving aside the multiple domestic issues India will have to address to realise its full potential, it is already, in the words of an Indian analyst, in a “geopolitical sweet spot”. Recently concluded defense and technology agreements with the United States constitute a milestone. The agreements acknowledge reality, including that one underestimates the United States at one’s peril and that, despite their domestic travails, the US and Britain still produce 50 percent of the global wealth as opposed to China and Russia’s combined 20 percent. “For India, the West is the most important trading partner, the dominant source of capital and technology, and the major destination for the Indian diaspora,” said columnist and former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board C. Mohan Raja in a Foreign Policy article, entitled ‘It’s Time to Tie India to the West.’
With India set to become the world’s third largest economy, Raja advocated turning the Group of 7 (G-7), which groups the world’s foremost democratic economies, into a G-8 with India as its newest member. The agreements reinforce the notion that supply chain security and geopolitics have become as important as economics and pricing in creating and/or managing global value chains. Furthermore, they are a step towards enabling India to redress its trade imbalances skewed in China’s favour. Finally, the agreements constitute a building block for a potential future multilateral security arrangement in the Gulf in which India would be a key player. The United States is not yet at a point where it is willing to share control of Gulf security commitments with other external powers. Still, it is something that policymakers in both the Trump and Biden administrations have at various times considered. It’s an option that the US has not pursued, but neither has either administration rejected it out of hand. Gulf states continue to look to the United States to guarantee their security interests. But over time, and as US thinking evolves, Gulf states, like in other aspects, are likely to want to hedge their bets and diversify their relationships assertively.
India’s regional relationships, ability to get its domestic house in order, and grow its economy will likely shape its place in a new 21st-century world order. This year’s Indian chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies, is an opportunity for Narendra Modi to showcase where India is heading. One focus will be the impact of the rise of Hindu nationalism, the country’s increasingly strained inter-communal relations, and India’s motto for its chairmanship, ‘One Earth. One Family. One Future’ means in practice. The United States may have suffered the least, given its ability to marshal its allies in Europe and some in Asia to forcefully support Ukraine while remaining focused on its rivalry with China in Asia. Those worries are compounded by the bungled US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and concern about the impact of deep polarisation in the US that is likely to be reflected in the campaign for the 2024 presidential election.