In recent years the United States has been pursuing stronger relations with India, and for good reason. Setting aside that India is important in its own right—with more than 18 percent of the world’s population and with the sixth largest economy in the world—policymakers and strategists are also recognizing India’s power in regional and global affairs. Consider some of the most important international events over the past decade. The US has turned to India for support in sanctioning Iran, for rebuilding Afghanistan, for jointly working against terrorism in the region, and more recently, for coordinating on China and the Indo-Pacific. Developing a strong relationship with India is clearly in line with US interests.
The quadrilateral meeting that brought India together with the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates in October 2021 has raised hopes that the US-India partnership in the Indo-Pacific could extend to the Middle East. As Washington diverts its attention and resources to the competition with China and Russia, American strategists hope that US partners could be counted on to carry a larger share of the regional security burden. India, in particular, has considerable economic and security interests in the Middle East; it sources over 58% of its crude petroleum imports from the region which is also home to about 9 million Indians, accounting for over 50% of India’s inward remittances.
The Hoover Institution's Working Group on the Middle East has initiated an important discussion that is particularly significant to me, a Hoover scholar of Middle Eastern Jewish origin, born and raised in India, who has had the privilege of representing the U.S. in negotiations with Egypt, Iran, and Israel.
It was not a foregone conclusion that normalization between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain (and later Sudan and Morocco) would stick when the Abraham Accords were announced amid our collective pandemic fog in August 2020. Nonetheless, looking back it is possible to place the move within broader regional trends. Going forward, bilateral trade and investment are likely to underpin cooperation in other areas. However, it may be joint investments in third countries and other multilateral economic arrangements that will do the most to advance shared strategic objectives.
In 1973, six months after the Yom Kippur war, Saudi Arabia announced on behalf of the OPEC oil producers‘ cartel a four-fold increase in the world price of oil. The announcement was a major shock to the world economy at the time and since has had lasting effects both on the global economy and foreign policy developments of major nations.
During the Obama administration, the United States began deprioritizing the Middle East, turning its attention increasingly to the Indo-Pacific and the challenge of rising Chinese power. Biden administration officials have stated that they intend to continue the process. As a result, the United States could find itself drawing down its Middle East presence even as an increasingly ambitious China makes strategic inroads in the region through such measures as its Belt-and-Road Initiative.
In India’s regional strategy, the countries in the Middle East, particularly the Gulf states, Israel and Iran hold a pivotal place. India has tried to balance its policy in the region to prioritize energy security and accelerate economic ties. However, India will continue to be susceptible to the range of intra-regional conflicts that will test its ability to protect its interests.
Crafting security and defense strategies is hard. Doing so in a time of significant geopolitical, economic, and technical change is harder, and implementing new and more relevant strategies with dated security organizational structures is harder still. Add to that a biased calculus of power and any resulting strategy is sure to miss the mark. All these cautions should be top of mind in a changing Eurasia.
It is bitterly ironic that just as world leaders and diplomats were gathering in Munich to participate in the annual Security Conference, the threat of enormous insecurity loomed menacingly over Ukraine. Meanwhile Russia, in collaboration with Belarus, tested ballistic and cruise missiles, clearly intended as a reminder that Russia is prepared to escalate the conflict.