You might think that the Chinese threat — and in particular the so-called string of pearls, the naval bases that China is building in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma — would push India into America’s arms. But if you read Indian discussion of the country’s naval and nuclear doctrine, much of it is about deterring the U.S.; and when Indian generals and admirals use the word “encirclement,” they tend to be referring to America, not to China. Puffed up with talk of India’s becoming a “superpower,” many senior Indian military officers see the Gulf and Central Asia as India’s sphere of influence and America’s presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence of a jealous plan to cramp India’s rise. They particularly resent our presence in Afghanistan, even though that very presence is taken by elements in Pakistan as proof that America is treacherously furthering India’s interests in Kabul.
This does not mean that India and America might not become close allies; it does mean that America faces enormously complicated challenges in the region, and that it will need to retain or even bolster its military and naval power if it is to retain respect and influence there. Moreover, to use that power effectively, U.S. officials will also have to develop a far better understanding of the subcontinent.