Jonathan Hillman believes that U.S. interest in a closer relationship with India remains “unrequited”:
India has also made a habit of abandoning the United States at the international altar. In 2011, the year after President Obama announced support for giving India a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, India voted with the U.S. only about 33% of the time in the United Nations General Assembly. In its temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council, India often sides with Russia and China, who dismiss international efforts to protect human rights as meddling in other nations’ domestic affairs.
Hillman’s op-ed is a classic example of American obliviousness to the real and perceived interests of other states. His account of the U.S.-Indian relationship is accordingly one-sided. He also falls into the bad habit of treating the Indian government as unreliable because it doesn’t fall in line behind the U.S. on virtually everything. Forging a closer relationship with India isn’t going to succeed if India perceives that it is the one that has to make most of the concessions. Notably, Hillman omits any mention of U.S. pressure on India to support the embargo of Iranian oil, and he ignores Indian support for pressuring Iran through the U.N. On the whole, India receives little credit from Hillman for the cooperation it has been providing, nor does Hillman acknowledge the forbearance New Delhi showed in response to the Mumbai attacks. Suffice it to say that the U.S. approach to South Asia over the last decade has not been perceived as a “carrot buffet of diplomacy” in India.
It would be more accurate to say that India has sometimes sided with Russia and China (and Brazil and Germany) on certain issues when the U.S. and western European position was at odds with the Indian government’s judgment of how the U.N. ought to act. Hillman treats India’s concerns about sovereignty and non-interference dismissively, as if it were possible for a country with India’s history to have the same enthusiasm for military action carried out in the name of liberal interventionism. If a closer U.S.-Indian relationship means that India must reflexively support whatever course of action the U.S. favors, it is no wonder that India is wary of becoming too closely identified with the U.S. in Asia.
Along the way, Hillman somewhat misrepresents India’s position in recent months. On Syria, India has voted with the U.S. and European governments on the Security Council, albeit only after making sure that the resolution in question was changed to address India’s concerns about the potential for another military intervention. Put another way, India remains unwilling to echo Western governments’ views on some issues, which doesn’t tell us very much about the prospects for U.S.-Indian cooperation. A healthy and constructive relationship between the two governments requires that both recognize and accept that their interests will diverge on occasion. Overreacting to every instance when India and the U.S. don’t agree helps ensure that India’s leaders will have fewer incentives to build a closer relationship with America.