Stephen Cohen joined Pragati to discuss the evolving U.S.-India relationship. Cohen commented on India as an emerging power, India’s role in Asia, and military cooperation with the United States among other issues.
You wrote your book about India being an emerging power in 2001, seven years ago. Do you have a different view today?
Yes, I’d say that the military side of that emergence is less likely than I thought it was then. I think that the Indian strategic community is hopelessly unstrategic. As long as Pakistan was the only threat it was easy, policy was on auto-pilot. When you have multiple threats (China, Pakistan), when you have opportunities, when you have America as a potential partner, potential rival, when you have a domestic security problem much larger than Pakistan or China, then it requires more careful thinking. I don’t see that emerging.
The Indian political community is too domestically focused and I can see it becoming more so. When coalition governments come to power they can’t care about strategic and military policy.
So India is going to continue to expand much faster economically than I thought it would, but it will be a limited military partner for the United States.
It will be even more crippled by the selfinflicted wound of its dysfunctional educational system. That’s something that nobody imposed on India, that’s India’s choice.
India’s cultural power is going to grow. India has always been a cultural superpower. The bhangra is now in American high schools. And there’s Indian films. That aspect of India’s influence is going to continue to grow. And its very impressive.
How do you see the geopolitical structure of the world shaping up in the next 15 years and the next 30 years?
I’m not sure if I’d be willing to guess at that kind of future. You may have periods when some countries are very influential and some when they are not. The US would be powerful across the board, but in terms of cultural power, other countries could gain influence. Now China not going to become a cultural superpower the way India is, especially in the non-Western world, but China will certainly be an economic superpower. Japan could have a revival. It’s a world in which you are going to have one larger power, several medium powers, India will be among the medium powers. Maybe India’s net influence will be equivalent to that of Japan. Japan is a country of great economic capabilities but limited cultural and military influence.
The Chinese leadership has promised for years that reform was around the bend and then you see things like President Xi’s speech where he emphasized the central role of the party... Members of the business community see the Trump administration as an opportunity for the U.S. to rattle the cage in Beijing.