The US and South Asia

Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen Former Brookings Expert

January 1, 2005

Reproduced by permission of
Seminar (No. 545, January 2005).

The United States has an opportunity to have a decisive and positive impact on South Asia over the next four years.1 Washington is in a position to solidify a long-term relationship with India, edge Pakistan away from chaos, prevent another regional war, and address such important issues as the spread of nuclear weapons, terrorism and China’s regional role.

India’s stunning economic performance, its considerable ‘soft’ or cultural power, its skilled leadership, and its ability to function as a democracy while undertaking a myriad of internal economic, cultural, social and political reforms have made it Asia’s third great power. India is also set apart by its professional military, which remains under firm civilian control, and by its new nuclear programme, which made India more important even as it made it less secure.

India’s rise has implications for American policy. Some have argued that India is potential rival to China and could be part of a balance of power strategy that the United States might want to pursue vis-a-vis Beijing. However, the Bush administration should not expect India to do more than hedge its policies towards China. New Delhi will not place its armed forces at the service of American policies unless vital Indian interests are also served. The recently concluded ‘Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership’ initiative puts the relationship on the right path—a slow, but steady expansion of military and strategic cooperation between the two countries, with each making certain adjustments that allows the relationship to move forward.