As effective as the relationship with Britain was for the 20th century, it is insufficient to meet the security challenges that the US is likely to face in the remainder of the 21st century. The US must develop a new special relationship with a superpower of tomorrow that shares its values and security concerns. India must become Americas new Britain.
The US-British relationship, formed quickly and out of necessity in the crucible of the Second World War, has strengthened further in the years since. Now the two nations military, diplomatic and intelligence structures are so well coordinated that cooperation on matters large and small is the default mode.
It will take years, decades perhaps, for the US and India to elevate their relationship to this level. It is in the strategic interests of both India and the US to begin the process now. They must not wait for World War III. For India, the strategic considerations are clear. It is surrounded by two types of neighbours: trouble and potential trouble. The best of the lot (Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) are barely capable of governing themselves, with internal problems that threaten to spill into India. And we know what the worst of the lot is capable of.
Thus far, India has been able to keep its enemies and potential enemies at bay by fighting border skirmishes and building a credible nuclear deterrent. It has not yet faced threats to its very existence. One day it might. To prevent this day from coming, and be ready in case it does, India must start behaving like the world power it so desperately wants to be. Superpowers earn their status by building military power and projecting it far and wide. India should stop asking for a seat on the UN Security Council and start building a world-class navy.
India will not become a superpower overnight. In the meantime, it needs to take out insurance against the threats it faces today. It should align itself as closely as possible with the US, the only global power that shares its core values. This alliance will give India the time it needs to develop the military strength to defend against a threat to its very existence.
If India needs the US, why does the US need India Three strategic realities argue for the US putting India on the fast-track to a special relationship. First, Britain is a declining power, and in the coming century will be ill-suited to enhance US security. Britain is too small, too economically weak and in the wrong part of the world. While Britain will be a close US ally for the foreseeable future, the partnership will increasingly become no more than symbolic as the gulf between US and British strength continues to widen. Britains decline leaves a void that the US must fill.
Second, the global centre of gravityeconomically and militarilyis shifting from the transatlantic region to Asia. The odds of a major war in
Europe this century are low. One cannot say the same for Asia. The US needs an ally in Asia it can rely on tomorrow as much it relies on Britain today.
Third, India is uniquely capable of taking on Britains role. It shares US security concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has a strategic location nearby these and other potential trouble spots. It has a thriving free market economy and technological base that together can fuel enough military might to compensate for Britains decline. Finally, both India and the US share core values with Britain: democracy, human rights, the rule of law and free market. These values will underpin the US-Indian relationship, just as they have underpinned the US-British relationship.
Yet, even as Singh and Obama look towards a future together, Britain need not despair. The Goths sacked Rome in 410 AD, but 80 years earlier Emperor Constantine had shifted the capital of the Empire east to Byzantium. Thanks to his foresight, the Empire lived on for another 1,000 years. The British Empire is history, and the sun may be setting on Britain as a world power, but its influence will live on. Two of its former colonies are now coming together to protect its values in the 21st century, and beyond.
The author is a former US diplomat