In my latest essay in EconomicTimes (see also my previous post), I argued that the US and India need to develop a ‘soft alliance’ in order to have a steady relationship that is not bogged down every time there is an election campaign in either country or whenever political attention flags and the bureaucrats take over. Since I could not define the concept in an opinion piece, I am outlining my view of the concept here. By ‘soft alliance’, I mean a partnership short of a formal military alliance but one of long-term strategic empathy in which the partners act to support each other other militarily, diplomatically and politically, both in direct confrontations with other states as well as in other circumstances.
There are a number of examples of such soft alliances. Because most people in Delhi would be most familiar with it, I cited the Indo-Soviet/Russian partnership as an example. Going back to the early 1960s, and continuing in a thinner form even today, Moscow and New Delhi have supported each other almost instinctively. And they supported each other even when they disagreed with each other, keeping their disagreements to their private dialogue rather than outlining it in public. For example, the Soviet Union was embarrassed about having to repeatedly cast vetoes on behalf of India during the 1971 India-Pakistan war because much of the rest of the world wanted a ceasefire, but they did it. Similarly, the Soviets were strong supporters of nuclear non-proliferation but they muted their criticism (at least in public) when it came to India’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India returned the favour, repeatedly supporting Moscow on issues such as its invasion of Afghanistan even while New Delhi expressed its displeasure privately. We did have a ‘Friendship Treaty’, of course, but most of the support they gave each other was almost instinctive rather than contractual, which is what I mean by strategic empathy. And this relationship remains one of India’s most valuable even today, though Russia’s dalliance with Beijing (being driven by foolish American policies – but more on this later) might unfortunately end this in the coming decade.