By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
A number of you have asked me on Facebook and Twitter what I think of India’s recent decision not to buy $10 billion worth of American warplanes.
I think it was a big mistake on India’s part. Despite what India says, defense purchases like this are about more than just planes. The Indian press has portrayed the country’s decision to buy European jets instead as a very clever strategy of hedging its bets. That’s nonsense.
First of all, the idea that India’s foreign policy elite are able to think in a strategic and wise way on behalf of the country is highly questionable. These are the people who allied India steadfastly with the Soviet Union and Communist China up until the point that Chairman Mao decided to invade India.
Then, they doubled down on the bet and backed the Soviet Union, including endorsing the invasions of Cambodia and then Afghanistan. They stood with the Soviet Union right up to the point that the Soviet Union collapsed and it became clear that New Delhi had gotten behind the wrong side in the Cold War.
This same establishment is now telling us how clever they are being.
The fundamental fact is India needs the United States more than the United States needs India. The U.S. economy is $15 trillion; I think it will survive the loss of this $10 billion deal!
For the Indians, they lost a lot of goodwill at a crucial time. The Americans felt they had bent over backwards to do favors for India. The U.S. was the indispensable force in ending India’s nuclear apartheid, for example. Then India blew an opportunity to cement that positive relationship.
India needs America. First of all, this is because India’s immediate security is entirely dependent on maintaining a stable relationship with Pakistan. India is unable to forge a stable relationship itself for all kinds of historical reasons. The Pakistan-Indian relationship is just so fraught.
America is a very useful interlocutor because India’s and America’s interests in a place like Afghanistan are identical: stability and the absence of terror groups. India could gain a very powerful ally in America who also has enormous influence over Pakistan.
Secondly, the rise of China is the big strategic problem for India over the next 25 years and once again the single most important outside power in the context of the rise of China is the United States. This is true from an economic, political and military point of view.
So looking at that strategic landscape, you have to ask yourself, “What are Indian strategic planners thinking?” My guess is they’re not thinking. This is the scratching of old, non-aligned itches. Left wing ideology, which has been beaten back and exposed as bankrupt in the economic realm, has found some place in the political realm.
Maybe it will take 20 years, but just as surely as India’s very clever strategy during the Cold War proved to be a profound mistake, people will look back on what India is doing right now and say that it had a chance to build an extraordinary and close relationship with the United States and it blew it.
I hope that’s not what happens but the Indians certainly seem on course to do just that.