Between ‘Concern’ and ‘Opportunity’: US Pivot to Asia and Foreign Policy Debate in India

Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Between ‘Concern’ and
‘Opportunity’: US Pivot
to Asia and Foreign Policy
Debate in India
Yogesh Joshi1
Underlined by China’s growth and the relative decline of the US, a transition
of power is taking place in Asia-Pacific. To arrest its declining influence, the
US has initiated a pivot to the region. India, being a regional rising power, has
received special attention from the US as part of its strategy to manage Asia’s
changing balance of power. On pivot, domestic foreign policy debate in India
is highly fractured, however. Perceptions of the pivot in India range between
viewing it as a ‘strategic concern’, on the one hand, and a ‘strategic opportunity’,
on the other. This debate reflects the divide between two major schools in
Indian foreign policy: Traditional Nationalists versus the Great Power Realists.
Under Manmohan Singh, India foreign policy practice indicated a preference for
‘strategic autonomy’ as suggested by the Traditional Nationalists. However, Prime
Minister Narendra Modi’s ascension to power suggests that India is now ready
for greater engagement with the US on balancing China’s growing power in Asia,
a position espoused by the Great Power Realists.
US decline, pivot, balance of power, Indian Foreign Policy, Asia-Pacific
The perception that America is in decline appears to be commonly held by its allies and
adversaries (Cohen 2011; Pew Research Survey, 2013; Stokes, 2013). Overwhelmed
by financial crises, military overstretch and the rapid rise of China, two decades
after the end of the Cold War, the primacy of the US globally is being challenged.
1 Doctoral Candidate, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Corresponding author:
Yogesh Joshi, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
2(3) 314–337
2015 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015601917
Joshi 315
To counter an increasingly assertive China and perceptions of its decline, the US
announced a pivot towards Asia in late 2011. In January 2012, the term ‘pivot’
was renamed ‘strategic rebalancing’ by the Pentagon. Both terms, however, indicate
America’s desire to balance China’s growing economic and military influence in Asia.
The pivot emphasizes strengthening of America’s existing alliances as well
as building partnerships with like-minded states in the region. From the very
beginning, India was viewed as an important element of America’s pivot
strategy. From Hillary Clinton to Chuck Hagel, the Obama administration has
insisted that India has a large role in Asia’s new balance of power politics. In
fact, the erstwhile Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, called India one of the
‘lynchpins’ of America’s pivot strategy (Panetta, 2012). American expectations
notwith standing, it is also important to understand how India has reacted to these
overtures. This article attempts to answer this question by examining the various
debates on the issue within India’s strategic community.
India’s strategic elite are divided into four major streams in their perceptions of
the pivot: ‘strategic autonomy’, ‘strategic engagement’, ‘strategic independence’ and
‘strategic bandwagoning’. These foreign policy themes derive from four conceptual
schools in Indian foreign policy: the Traditional Nationalists, the Great Power
Realists, the Hard Nationalists and the Bandwagoners.1 The article argues that given
the current uncertainty enveloping the pivot, the theme of ‘strategic autonomy’ advo-
cated by Traditional Nationalists dominates Indian foreign policy discourse, though
constantly challenged by Great Power Realists who stand for greater engagement
with the US. This was most evident during the term of the Manmohan Singh govern-
ment. The foreign policy of the Modi government, however, seems to be shifting
towards greater engagement with the US, as prescribed by Great Power Realists.
The article undertakes the following path. First, it provides a historical back-
ground to the emergence of the pivot in US foreign policy. Second, it delineates on
the importance of India in the new US strategy for the Asia-Pacific. Third, it maps the
domestic foreign policy debate in India on US pivot to the Asia-Pacific. Borrowing
from Deepa Ollapally and Rajesh Rajagopalan’s work (2012) on conceptual impulses
prevalent in Indian foreign policy, it creates an analytical map of how the foreign
policy elites have positioned themselves on the issue of the pivot and delineates on
their policy prescriptions. Even though the article borrows from the existing literature
on conceptual impulses prevalent in Indian foreign policy, its novelty lies in the fact
that such conceptual classifications have not yet been applied to understand India’s
responses to specific foreign policy issues. The last section therefore attempts to
correlate the domestic foreign policy debate with Indian foreign policy practice on
US pivot under the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and
the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments. A short
conclusion follows summarizing some of the major findings of the article.
The Pivot: A Historical Overview
In November 2011, President Obama announced his pivot strategy while address-
ing the Australian Parliament. Calling America a ‘Pacific Power’, Obama declared

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT