Misha talks to AEI senior fellow and WSJ columnist Sadanand Dhume about Indian foreign policy, New Delhi’s support for Russia, what India gets out of the Quad, tensions with China, and ties with America and Japan.
To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:
Misha Auslin: Welcome back to the Pacific Century, a Hoover Institution podcast on China, America, the Indo-Pacific, and the fate of the 21st century. I'm your host, Misha Auslin, and today I am very happy to be joined by a former colleague, an old friend of mine, Sadanand Dhume, who is a senior fellow at the American enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Sad, to his friends, of which I count myself as one, is an expert on India and South Asia. He writes about South Asian political economy, foreign policy, business, society, focusing primarily on India, but also Pakistan. He is, for many of you who read the Wall Street Journal, you already know this, he is a South Asia columnist for the Wall Street Journal. His prior life, he was a correspondent, a foreign correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review in India and Indonesia, and his book, My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist, was published in four languages, a study of radical Islam in Indonesia. So, Sad Dhume, my old friend, welcome to the Pacific Century.
Sadanand Dhume: Thanks, Misha. Good to be here.
Misha Auslin: So, we don't do as much as I'd like to on the podcast about India, and so this is one attempt, one of many that will be coming up to correct that and talk about the world's largest democracy. The world's second or soon-to-be largest populated country, a critical part of American foreign policy increasingly of Japanese foreign policy, of course, within the ambit of South Asia, the 800 pound elephant, if we can use that term, but for a lot of people who may not have paid that much attention to India until recently, it is becoming known because of the crisis in Ukraine, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly. And it's becoming known because unlike the United States, most of Europe, Japan, and other countries with whom India has had increasingly closer relations over the past decade or so, India seems to be straddling the fence on Ukraine, if not actively supporting Russia. Is that a fair assessment? And if it is, why?
Sadanand Dhume: That's a great question. And I think that the Indian response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which I would describe as studied neutrality, has come as a surprise to one set of observers and has been no surprise at all to another set of observers. I think people who are not really experts on India and who have viewed India and the U.S. coming closer together over the past 20 years, and particularly over the last 10 years, in many, many ways, if you've seen the trade relationship boom, you see the defense relationship growing deeper, you've seen The Quad revived since 2017, and so on. They sort of had begun to slot India in a place that is similar to the way they slot say South Korea, or Japan, or traditional American treaty allies in Asia. And so when they found that New Delhi was unwilling to condemn the Russian invasion, was neutral at the United nations, abstained in the general assembly, along with China and about 35 other countries.
And this came as a surprise because it seemed to cut against the dominant view of India and India's place in the Indian Pacific. But if you talk to people who have followed Indian foreign policy closely over the years, this was much less a surprise. India has what it calls a special and privileged partnership with Russia. India was of course, an ally of the Soviet union during the cold war. And even though India-Russia relations have weakened considerably compared to then and India in my view, tilts much more firmly towards the U.S. than it does toward any other country, for various reasons, India is unwilling to let go of the relationship with Russia. And in fact, to summarize this very quickly for your listeners, I would say that the most important reason is that India remains...
We can sort of unpack all of these at length later, but let me just quickly summarize. The most important would be that India remains dependent to a large degree on Russian arms, both in terms of volume. And in terms of certain particular high technology purchases, there is a fear in India that in fact the same reason that India has been driven towards a close relationship with the U.S., fear of arising and revenge is China, also keeps India tethered to the Russians because India doesn't would not like to see Russia become even closer to Beijing than it has been. There is a certain amount of nostalgia, particularly I think among older foreign policy thinkers, sort of for the old days when Moscow's veto was always there to bail India out every time there was an awkward discussion about Kashmir at the UN and so on.
And then there is the ideological element, which is that India wants to see a multipolar world in which it is one of the poles. And so to that extent, it is not a natural partner when it comes to upholding the existing liberal international order, at least when it comes to a challenge from Russia. It is much more of a partner when that challenge comes from China, but that's because India itself has its very deep, profound problem with China. So I've had to sort of summarize that that's why India has not come out against Russia. In reality, though, I think India is... I don't think India is going to affect the outcome of this conflict in any significant way, so we can get into more of that as we speak.
Misha Auslin: Well, that's a great summary. I mean, extremely concise and incisive. And before we start to unpack some of it, I'd like to talk a little bit about the India-Russia relationship, which does go back, to talk a little bit about the history. There is, I would say some perspective again, rightly or wrongly, that particularly right now at this moment of supporting or, or at least as you put it studied neutrality towards Russia, is really a preference of Narendra Modi, the prime minister who's been in power since 2014. He's known for having had of course a strong relationship with former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, we'll talk about Japan a little bit later. It had a strong relationship with President Trump, former President Trump. And this is often portrayed in the press as "These are just strong men who like each other." And so the current view is, "Well, this is a strong man who likes Putin." Is there any weight to be given to that interpretation? Or is it as you laid out it's really... This is much more traditional Indian foreign policy.
Sadanand Dhume: So I disagree with that interpretation. I think it's certainly true that in many ways, Modi does resemble other populous strong men. There are very striking similarities between Modi, both in terms of his politics and his background. If you sort of compare him with say someone like Victor Orban in Hungary or Erdogan in Turkey and many other strong men figures. I think the comparisons with Trump is sort of overdrawn, but there are many similarities. And it's also certainly true that there's a subsection of Modi supporters, and some of them are very vocal on social media, who are in fact great admirers of Putin. When the conflict started for a while, "I stand with Putin" was trending on Twitter in India, and they are fans Putin for similar reasons. I mean, you see these reasons and elements of the American conservative movement too, right. That Putin is seen as this tough guy. And he has no time for the excesses of Western liberalism. And he is the person who can show people their place and all of that. But I don't think that this is what drives Modi's policy. This is something that is a constant, this is something I can't imagine that a Congress-party led government, which would be different from the Modi government in many ways. I don't think that policy towards Russia would be different.
Misha Auslin: So. So. Okay. Go ahead please.
Sadanand Dhume: So, and I think... And the most important element of it, the things I outlined is that India is in a very tough situation with China. The bit of border conflict, which erupted in violence two years ago, the Chinese seem unwilling to give up some of the gains that they have made in fact, on the ground, on their undemarcated boundary line. And the simple fact is that the Indian army relies to a very large extent on Russian arms and spare parts. And there is a fear that if the Russians were to squeeze India, it would really make India's situation on that boundary, which is a live boundary, with China untenable. And this is a reality that any government would have to face. Beyond that, you've got the fact that there's real consensus in India that seeking a multipolar world and so on.
And one of the things that's quite interesting about India and which is where I'd say different from the U.S. and the West, is that in the Indian imagination, Russia remains a great power and that just is fixed. And it's very hard to get people to even imagine the idea that there could be a world where Russia is not just not a great power, but is utter diminished, and does not have the wherewithal to really affect global events in an important way. So that's almost unthinkable thought from any people in India. And this idea that Russia is a great power is widely shared.
And so is the idea that sort of follows from that, which is that because Russia is a great power, it will never truly be subservient to Russia. And if only the West were a little bit more reasonable towards the Russians, it could peel the Russians away from the Chinese, which would be the ideal situation for India. And this is something that it's obvious there are some people who don't agree with this, but I'd say that there is a large degree of consensus on this question in Indian foreign policy circles.
Misha Auslin: So this is fascinating, so is this now, is this shared as well by younger Indian policy, foreign policy analysts and policy makers as well as those who were around during the Cold War and active? Do you see it shifting in any way... Obviously for the West, in many ways the attack on Ukraine has been a totally unexpected wake up to let's say the nature of Russia, but also that Russia continues within the European Sphere to be a significant, I don't know if we want to call it a great power, but a significant power. But for 30 years before that we had dismissed Russia as a great power. We had ignored it. So is this shared widely, this view of Russia across both the political spectrum and the age spectrum in India? And if so, I mean, you've said it, I'm just wondering if you can tell us more, why would the Indians, as they've seen a world in which China has risen, and most of Asia has risen, they've seen an EU that has obviously come together in many ways over the past, since Maastricht in 1992, why would they still be focused on Russia when that seems to be of a prior era?
Sadanand Dhume: I think everyone is focused on Russia right now cause of the war. And I don't think that the Indians before this were particularly focused on Russia, it's just that they have a view of Russia that is, I think, different from the view that we have over here. To answer the age question, I'd say the biggest difference is that the younger people have less of a sense of nostalgia, right? They're sort of... But I think Indian's view are very sort of... They are... If you look into the public discourse, right? How people discuss these things on television, and on podcasts, and on social media, and so on. Indians talk all the time about the Russian support for India in 1971 in the war with Pakistan that left to the creation of Bangladesh. They speak all the time about U.S. privity in 1971, right?
The U.S. being on the side of Pakistan. Now this sort of, to us, when we're having this discussion, this seems like almost ancient history. Why would anyone talk about 1971? But that's just not how they think of history. That's not how they think of these things. I also think that what you have in India, particularly with the rise of the BJP is a... And this is often not unpacked, but it seems to be there as an undercurrent, which is a great degree of sympathy of this with this idea of a civilizational state. I was just reading some of the Russian thinker, Aleksandr Dugin. And he had a piece a few years ago that was published in an Indian... One of these Think magazines. And I was struck by how he was packaging his philosophy in a way that would be appealing to Indians. So I don't think a lot of people spend... I mean, don't get me wrong. It's not as though your ordinary regular person spends a lot of time thinking about what Aleksandr Dugin thinks, but I do think that there is a... Let me put it this way, the way that many Indians view India as a civilizational state that is destined to be an important pole in global politics, is strikingly similar to how I think some of the Russians view Russia.
Misha Auslin: That is great. We should note for listeners who may not be as conversant in Indian politics, the BJP is Norendra Modi's party, the Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata party, and the opposition party, the long ruling Congress party, which is the party of the Gandhi, of India Gandhi and Raji Gandhi. So actually, let's talk, if we can, a little bit about this fascinating idea of the poles and that you've brought up sort of the geopolitics here of what India sees as poles in a civilizational state. Can you unpack that a little bit? What, is a civilizational state? Why does it matter and who are the other civilizational states that India is seeing around it? And what is its view? What are the poles? What is the view, ultimately, of this desired geopolitical equilibrium that India would like to see?
Sadanand Dhume: So they're two separate things, right? There's a consensus view across the political divide that India...That should be an important player, a leading power in the world. That's the term they use. And this is true, regardless... I mean, Manmoham Singh has made this point, the previous prime minister, who was the Congress prime minister, and Modi has made this point. This is not something that is... This is not ideological. And if you look at what the... And the poles would be, the U.S. would obviously be one of them. And China was emerging as another pole. Russia would be another one, maybe the EU, India, possibly Japan. That would perhaps sort of sum it up, right? Who are the major centers of power in the world and India because of its size, because it's the second most populous nation in the world, because it's got a young population, the economy has been growing reasonably well for the last 30 years, and so on, certainly sees itself as aspiring to that position.
Now we can have a separate debate about whether the... How realistic that aspiration is given current realities, but that is a widely shared aspiration. And the fear that India has is, the fear of China's rise is that we could end up in fact with a bipolar world, a G2, and that India would be stuck and would be forced to choose. India doesn't like choosing and so on. So that's the question of multipolarity. The question of a civilizational state is much more fraught. Over there, there is not that much consensus in India. It's the Hindu nationalists who tend to view India in those terms. And so they would take the... They would say that, "Yes, of course, there should be a multipolar world and India should be one of the poles," but then they would add the idea that India should be one of those poles because it represents one of the world's major religions and ancient Hindu civilization that has much wisdom to offer the world.
Misha Auslin: So Sad, can you tell me a little bit more about how Indian foreign policy thinkers and policy makers view this multipolar world? Do they see all the poles as equal, equally powerful and equidistant so that there's a balance. Do they see an alignment amongst the poles or parts of the poles? Obviously during the Cold War, the non-alignment foreign policy started by prime minister Nehru, the founder of the Congress party and first prime minister of the Congress party, was sort of what marked Indian foreign policy, the Americans thought during the Cold War. And that's changed. So I'm just wondering as they talk about the poles, how do they view them sort of operationalized? And then what does that mean for the foreign policy that they're following?
Sadanand Dhume: So there's divergence on this. Like a few years ago, a prominent journalist wrote a book where he sort of argued that there would be three major powers, which would be the U.S., China, and India. Some people view this... And like I said earlier, many in terms of more poles, I think the dominant view is that China should not be allowed to be a hegemonic power in Asia. And this is really also what's been, as you know so well, Misha, driving so much cooperation between the U.S. and India. So there is a sense definitely that the Chinese pole would be antagonistic towards India for various reasons. I mean, the most obvious reason of course, is that there's a territorial dispute, but beyond-
Misha Auslin: Can you talk a little bit about that actually? Do you mind sort of inserting, so people who may not have followed what the territorial dispute is, we should note, of course, there was a major war between India and China in 1962 up in the Himalayas. So what is the border dispute? And I don't want to knock you off of this pole thing, but maybe just to get people caught up with you here.
Sadanand Dhume: Only major undemarcated land boundary that China has is with India. And this of course goes back to the Colonial Era where the lines of the map that were drawn by the British, when India was part of the British Raj, are disputed by the Chinese. And the Indians in the Chinese have, despite dozens of rounds of talks, not been able to come up with an agreement on where exactly the boundary lies.
Misha Auslin: And where roughly is this?
Sadanand Dhume: This is in the Himalayas. And so this is across... all the way across. So for example, Chinese occupy an area called Aksai Chin, which they've seized by force, which is depicted in all Indian matters that that part of India has in fact... It is in fact with China. China occupies about 20% of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the former Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir. Some of this was ceded to it by Pakistan. The Chinese claim the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is in India's Northeast, they call that South Tibet. So there are territorial claims that the Chinese make on territory that India says is Indian territory, and the Chinese claim that this was never Indian territory, and this was a land grab essentially by the [inaudible 00:22:18].
So that's the territorial part of it, but some Indian thinkers... In fact, there's a new book by a former Indian foreign secretary, and very perceptive foreign policy thinker who sort of talks about something deeper, which is that Chinese do not really respect the Indians. And this is something that you do have more Indian foreign policy thinkers talking about, that the antagonism goes beyond the boundary issue. The boundary question is one large element. The fact that the two countries have not been able to get over this, but beyond that, what India would really like is for the Chinese to treat them, if not as a peer, at least as a near peer, and the Indians would not have no problem acknowledging that China is a [inaudible 00:23:14] nation and a muscular power, but they want the Chinese to acknowledge some of that in return.
And the Chinese really don't seem to have any interest in that. So out of these poles, bringing it back to the poles, there is clear antagonism, if not hostility, that the Indians see the Chinese expressing towards them. And so that naturally places, India... It creates a convergence between India and the West. But even with the West, particularly with the rise of Hindu internationalism in India, there are constraints and challenges because the Hindu nationalists are not really very comfortable with many elements of liberalism. And so you've seen an erosion in many of many basic rights in India, particularly minority rights. So that's a sort of longer conversation perhaps for another time, but by and large, if you had to quickly sort of summarize it, you would just sort of... The view from New Delhi is that the future is going to be multipolar. India is going to be one of the important poles alongside the U.S. and China, and India's interests are not aligned with China's interest. They're not perfectly aligned with America's interest, but India and the U.S. share an interest in ensuring that China does not become hegemon in Asia.
Misha Auslin: So one of the concerns that I've heard expressed by Indians over... Or Indian thinkers over China's rise and China's expansion, to use an old American phrase, "One is by land and two is by sea." The first one being the One Belt One Road initiative that crosses Eurasia, actually reaches all the way into Europe, but which India, as I understood sees as coming into areas where it has preferred to have influence. And also just simply, it worries about being locked out of some of these trade and development agreements. And the second is by seed, as the Chinese Navy in particular expands its reach throughout the Indian ocean, obviously has a base in Djibouti now, and uses that to extend influence actually all the way into the Atlantic, that India, which has seen the Indian sea, the Indian ocean really is its own, now feels challenged. Are these accurate assessments or are these areas of contention between Beijing and New Delhi?
Sadanand Dhume: Well, for sure. Now, I mean, do you know we were talking about Russia again a little bit earlier, but to use a Russian term, India views much of South Asia as it's near abroad, and India has traditionally had great sway and continues to have great sway in places like Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, and in all of these countries, you have seen the Chinese make enormous inroads. And the fact is that India and China are not sort of comparable economically at this moment. You know, as recently as 1990, per capita income in India and China was roughly the same. Right now, it is more than five and a half times greater in China than in India. So the Chinese economy has grown much, much more rapidly. And so the Indians find themselves really playing defense. And in an ideal world, from an Indian perspective, they'd be able to stabilize the situation, focus on their own economy, and close the gap with China, but in today's world, what they see happening every single day is the Chinese reaching into areas that India has long viewed as its own sphere of influence. Belt and Road is part of it.
The formal Indian objection was to the fact that part of it passed through part of Kashmir, which is controlled by Pakistan, but claimed by India. So it's sort of directly violates India's territorial integrity, but the larger underlying concern, and the reason why India did not participate in the Belt and Road initiative, and in fact was the first major country to call it out publicly, was because it has been increasing Chinese influence in many of these areas, including I think the most prominently in Sri Lanka.
Misha Auslin: So that brings me to a question about the Indian reaction to what China is doing and The Quad. Obviously, we've talked, I think [inaudible 00:28:09], fascinating explanation of how India thinks about poles and the poles that it sees the world breaking into, but it has joined at least one of those poles and possibly a second pole in The Quad, meaning the United States, of course, as well as Japan, Australia, a wonderful country, I don't think would be necessarily considered a pole, but where does The Quad fit into Indian foreign policy? How important is it to New Delhi, to Americans who are sympathetic to the idea of a new grouping of significant liberal powers? You know, The Quad is sort of a great hope for counterbalancing China, but also promoting a more liberal Asia. Is that the same view in New Delhi? Do they see it more transactionally? Do they see it more narrowly? What is the Indian view of The Quad? Why are they in it? What do they want to get out of it?
Sadanand Dhume: I think they would agree with the first half and not with the second half. I think that they would agree that China needs to be balanced. And particularly in recent years as seeing Chinese aggression from an Indian perspective, and in many ways what the Chinese have been doing at the Himalayas is quite similar to what they've been doing at the South China Sea. And so there's definitely a very strongly shared concern over there.
Misha Auslin: Salami slicing over territory, basically.
Sadanand Dhume: Exactly. So the way it's sort of the same way they've been building these islands and so on, they've just been salami slicing along the boundary with India quite successfully. They're just changing facts on the ground. And they're saying, "Well, your troops used to patrol over here, guess what? Until two years ago, and well, now they can't, just too bad." And that's what the Chinese have been doing. And the Indians are very cleanly aware of how China has been behaving. I don't think that they view... And if you sort of look at the kinds of things that The Quad has been doing, they've been doing things like vaccines. They've been doing things like trying to reach out together to the Asian countries by playing to the sort of strengths of the four members.
There really isn't much of a values component to it. And in fairness, this is something... The Indians have always been a little bit shy about exporting liberal values, even when arguably India was doing a better job of adhering to these values itself. But now in many ways, I think the values part is the part that we in The Quad is... It's papered over somewhat, right? And the way it's papered over is to sort of just declare, well, these are four liberal democracies, but if you literally look at sort of talk to the people who look at democracy very closely, including your colleague Larry Diamond, I think it's quite questionable about whether India is in fact, a liberal democracy, at this point. It is definitely a robust electoral democracy. People vote in large numbers. Modi is a popular prime minister.
Let's not get this wrong. But if by liberal democracy, we mean a commitment to checks and balances on power, a commitment to minority rights, commitment to religious freedom, a commitment to the idea of equality before the law, a commitment to the idea of free media, then it becomes much more questionable. But I think in this case, the U.S. has shown, as have the Japanese and the Australians, that the geopolitics comes first and that India is too large and too important a power for us to allow some of the disagreements or some of the concerns we may have about the drift towards a more illiberal direction, to overcome what are the sort of the geopolitical gains of having India in the tent?
Misha Auslin: So it brings me to Japan then, a country that India has developed a relationship with, especially over the past decade or so, much more than it ever had. And Japan that... Interestingly at the same time has actually become much more forthright about talking about liberal values, precisely because it's counter posing itself to China in Asia. It talks about the promotion of liberal values and obviously respect for sovereignty and respect for international law and norms and the like. How close are India, Japan, how significant... From the Indian perspective, and how significant is this relationship? And again, what does India hope to get out of it? Is it balancing China? Is it trade? What is it?
Sadanand Dhume: It's very close. And I think that the India-Japan relationship is really one of those understudied relationships. And there are very few countries in the world that have as much influence on India as the Japanese do. And some of this is economic. Obviously the Japanese are in a position to invest in India. They are in a position to supply India with some of the technology that it needs, but it also meshes very well with this rise of civilizational consciousness in India. The Indians view the Japanese as the kind of kindred. They view the... They think of [inaudible 00:33:41] Buddhism and so on. They-
Misha Auslin: Which is interesting, because one's a subcontinent with a billion people and one's islands with shrinking 120 million.
Sadanand Dhume: Yeah. But they view them as... And they view the sort of the... They like the sort of low key Japanese style of diplomacy. Japanese are never going to publish some report criticizing India about how it's treating its Muslim minority. It's just sort of... So even though the Japanese may be framing this more as a contest between an autocracy and a liberal democracy, when if you look at how they engage with India, they really aren't putting the values piece of it front and center, at least to the extent of it's not as though they're being critical [inaudible 00:34:28] I'm not sure... You'd be better positioned to tell me whether they have private concerns, but they certainly don't have any public concerns on this score. So in many ways, Japan is... It's very influential in India and there is a kind of strong sense that India and Japan are on the same page.
In fairness, again, this is something that predates the rise of Modi, the previous government also. And then a lot of the initiative has in fact, come from [inaudible 00:35:04] . I think [inaudible 00:35:05] was better than me in the many ways in which you could argue that he's a transformational figure, but I would say that in terms of the India-Japan relationship, he really did increase the importance of India and Japanese thinking. And the Indians of course, have been very, very receptive to this.
Misha Auslin: Has there been any... One last question on the India-Japan side of it, has there been any tension that you've picked up because of the two having rather different, again, approaches to Ukraine? The Japanese have been fully in the U.S. camp, levied sanctions, condemn the invasion, they're, again, the days of sort of waffling on these questions in Japan appears to be over versus where the Indians are. Has that driven any daylight between them or is it... It's just not that important in terms of the Indo-Japanese relationship. Ukraine?
Sadanand Dhume: I think the Indians have calculated and calculated correctly that as long as they are on board in the Indo-Pacific, and as long as they are on board with larger concerns that they share with the other Quad countries on China, they are effectively going to be given a free pass on Russia. That in a nutshell is their calculation. Some people would argue that they've miscalculated. There was an interesting piece by Lisa Curtis in foreign affairs the other day, where she sort of argued that the longer India sits on the fence on this question, the harder it'll be for it to sort of maintain this balancing act. But that certainly does not seem to be the view in India. I think they feel that they have pulled this off. They are able to continue to not condemn Russia by increasing amounts of oil from Russia, not sever the arms relationship though. That has in fact, in any case been declining over years, and it will probably continue to decline.
But essentially that they can continue to maintain a close relationship with Moscow while at the same time deepening their relationship with the U.S. And The Quad countries. And in that way, I think India sort of sees itself as a pretty unique, and my own sense is that their calculation has been correctly so far.
Misha Auslin: So that's a great segue to talk about the U.S. Where does the relationship with the U.S. stand. During the George W. Bush years, there was a sort of ethical change, I think, it's fair to say in U.S.-India relations. The civil nuclear agreement just expanded ties, expanded military discussions, and different types of cooperation, Naval exercises, such as Malabar. My sense, I don't know if it's accurate. My sense from being in Washington is that the Obama years sort of saw a cooling off of that. I won't say a cooling, but it sort of seems like a bit of a slow down. Trump obviously had a close relationship with Modi, so India sort of came back and then you had The Quad revived. And now Biden's taken The Quad even to a higher level with the leaders meeting. So where does it stand between the Indians and the Americans? Are we allies not, not treaty allies, but are we allies? Are we partners? Do we have a strategic... How would you classify it?
Sadanand Dhume: I think we're officially strategic partners.
Misha Auslin: Strategic. Everyone's a strategic partner. `
Sadanand Dhume: Then people love the word strategic. Everyone's a strategic partner, right? I'd love to sort of see a relationship between two countries when they say we're partners, but not strategic.
Misha Auslin: I'm totally with you.
Sadanand Dhume: Unstrategic. We, are tactical partners, but unfortunately-
Misha Auslin: We're ad hoc. On Tuesdays, we think a little bit more, and I know, it's crazy, everyone's a strategic partner.
Sadanand Dhume: So the relationship, I sort of divide that into two parts. If you look at the government-to-government relationship, it's strong, particularly in the realm of defense, and it has been getting stronger. You're absolutely right. It starts with George W. Bush, but I'd say subsequent administrations have built upon that momentum and India sort of has been... There's been a bipartisan consensus, if you talk to Republicans and you talk to Democrats, maybe not for entirely the same reasons, but they have both seen the logic of deepening relations with India. And that logic has not been debuted over time. Particularly as the consensus in Washington on China has emerged that there's just much less optimism. And there's just many, few people who argue that China is about to become democratic as it becomes more prosperous and so on. And so the U.S.-India relationship, government-to-government ties is strong. Where there are frictions is more in terms of civil society, media, and so on. And the Indians don't always, I mean, I think the diplomats professionals understand that these are not the same thing, but there's an element of public opinion, which is sort of... Tends to sort of confuse these things. So every time the New York Times writes a scatching editorial about Modi, they're like, "Well, the Americans hate us." And they don't sort of make that distinction. So on that front, I think that there are definitely concerns. Secretary of State Lincoln just released a religious freedom report, which was quite scathing in terms of what's happening in India. And so I think that the challenge has been for the Biden Administration in particular has been to balance these two things. The Trump Administration were very clear. They were only interested in the geopolitics. They were very strong on deepening the defense relationship. They did not really criticize India in public. They left some of the issues of illiberalism away. But for the Biden Administration, this has become difficult because of their own domestic agenda and the way they have framed their own place in the world. For example, you have this Democracy Summit and they have... To which India was invited, by the way. So that's where the tensions lie, but on the government-to-government side, it's been quite strong. The economic relationship is much stronger than it was. Bilateral trade is about 150 billion. It used to be a fraction of that 20 years ago. Defense sales have gone from, they were basically non-existent during the Cold War. Now, I think cumulatively Indians have purchased more than $20 billion worth of U.S. defense equipment, sort of significant Indian capacity. For example, the heavy lift capacity of the Indian air force is now American. And even though some Indians have this sort of nostalgia for the Russians and so on, I would say that the most reliable India vote for India in the United Nation Security Council on questions like Kashmir would in fact be Washington and maybe followed by Paris. So in many ways... So the relationship has been strong. And I think the biggest proof of this, bringing it back to where we began, is the fact that India has managed to weather the criticism of its position on Russia and Ukraine quite well so far. Can you think of another country that would would've done what India has done, right? Not condemn Russia, up its oil purchases from Russia, continue to maintain high level contact, and all the while, while being part of The Quad, Modi meeting with Biden and so on. And the reason they've been able to do that in my view is that because they've managed to convince of successive administrations in the U.S., but including the Biden administration, that the strategic relationship is really the most important part, and that boat should not be rocked, because once you rock that boat, the stakes are so high in the Indian Pacific, that it's not worth it.
Misha Auslin: You brought us back to the beginning. So I think it's a great place to end, but before I'll let you go, let me ask you what you're working on. You're working on a book.
Sadanand Dhume: Yes. I'm working on a book on the rise of internationalism and India in the Modi years. And so it looks... It obviously has implications for how the U.S. views India and the U.S.-India relations. But a lot of it is to do with... Is sort of looking at how India itself is changing internally, and then what that means.
Misha Auslin: Well, that's great. I won't ask you when it's going to be out, because I know that's the... As an author, I know that's the worst question to ask an author of books, but I certainly look forward to it and when it's out, if not before then, I hope you'll come back to talk more about this, maybe more on the domestic side, but this has just been a wonderful and fascinating conversation with my friend, Sadanand Dhume, Sad Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute. Sad. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Sadanand Dhume: Thank you, Misha. It was a pleasure.
Misha Auslin: Well, I'm Misha Auslin. You've been listening to the Pacific Century and we will see you next time.
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