Indo-Pacific, a sea between Delhi and Washington

(To Gino Lanzara)

India is growing: even the most conservative forecasts are seeing it Bharat expanding over the next few years. Demographically overtaking an increasingly older China, technology is also showing off its potential while the economy is ascending with a growing GDP.

The decline of the Dragon is opening up increasingly significant openings for New Delhi, which is careful not to allow dangerous passages for its security. It is no coincidence that the defense budget sees India in first place with the Sino-Pakistani nuclear axis on the borders: the security need forces Delhi to strengthen and modernize its defense forces; we need to verify how risky it can be to challenge countries now in critical economic-political situations and how feasible alliances with the West are while part of the armaments and crude oil continue to arrive from Moscow; instead of the traditional non-alignment, Delhi has opted for a variable deployment that allows freedom of maneuver aimed at conferring a dangerous and exposed role as a balance-breaker.

India must prevent the Dragon from forming a network of alliances surrounding it on land and sea, given that all countries in the region, except Bhutan, have committed themselves to the BRI and that Beijing has won key ports along the Indian Ocean.

While Delhi has resumed the policy of Neighborhood First, remains looming Pakistani risk. The target therefore remains to prevent Chinese expansion, so that the US Indo-Pacific strategy can also consolidate.

There is no doubt that the latent Sino-Indian rivalry can hinder the cohesion of both the Global South and the Brics, in which Beijing's weighty relevance is too pervasive.

There are not only exogenous threats to India; risks also come from within, where Modi it will have to be able to guarantee profound modernizations by investing in human capital.

It is clear that New Delhi intends to present itself as a global hub, also in light of the fact that the competition between major hegemons is generating opportunities for the control of the Global South; the enlargement of the Brics, assuming that it resists in an economic forum of differently endowed people, can be seen as a Chinese attempt to take over global leadership, however unattainable where intentions remain fragmented, and where Bharat continues to clash with Beijing's assertiveness which does not tolerate Western liaisons and is in the throes of an economic crisis, flight of investors and purges among the high ranks of the FA.  

In this context, theIndus-X, the India-US Defense Acceleration Ecosystem, a project preceded already in 2021 by the program design and then followed by a visit diplomatically discreet in Delhi by the US Secretary of State for Defense Austin; a project developed without fanfare in June 2023 thanks toInnovations for Defense Excellence and the Indian Ministry of Defense, the Office of the US Secretary of Defense and the Defense Innovation Unit American, then hosted by the US-India Business Council, and which underlined the importance of the potential expressed and still to be expressed by startups from both countries in the sector of high tech industrial cooperation1. In light of India's need for security, it would be a crime not to access advanced technologies, especially in light of the fact that Russian participation in the Indian arms market has fallen from 2022 to 62% already in 45.2.

Indus-X, as an economic catalyst, will help the Indian premiership to revive the manufacturing sector which has already seen an increase in exports in 20233. This will open up US investments in India aimed at creating a defense ecosystem that will involve private entrepreneurship by creating connections between innovators e stakeholders, starting with the sharing of data relating to the spatial domain; it is no coincidence that the cooperative animus has identified five priorities destined to transform India into the Indo Pacific logistics hub: air superiority, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, logistics, underwater, ammunition. Indus-X explores the possibility of advanced military co-production, creating supply chain leaders effective and capable of guaranteeing interoperability, privileging academic and university workshops and partnerships and industrial partnerships4. Although Indo-American import-export is declining due to the slowdown in global demand, the growth rate will return to a positive phase; given that the USA is one of the few countries with which Delhi has a trade surplus, the trend of increasing bilateral trade will continue in the coming years.

As evidence of the liveliness and breadth of strategic views, a panel was also held Raisina Dialogue5 of New Delhi, addressed to demonstration of how pressing the relationship is between an increasingly central, enlarged Mediterranean and the Indo Pacific, a connection put at risk by the Houthi threat between Suez and Bab el Mandeb6, and which cannot fail to consider broader political-economic integrations; while projects cannot be slowed down by war events, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have shown interest in sharing projects such as the Imec with Delhi7 and intermodal connections between the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. It is no coincidence that US Admiral John C. Aquilino, commander of Indopacom, spoke both at Raisina Dialogue and at the meetings relating to Indus-X where the political lines of Bharat were highlighted which, thanks to its foreign minister S. Jaishankar, stigmatized the diplomatic game Chinese focused on bilateral dynamics.

It seems evident that India will not give up any of its opportunities, aiming both at surf the roaring wave of the economic cycle that should lead Delhi to support a declining Beijing, by 2075, with a budget availability of 50 trillion dollars, and to set limits on the age-old question of the Sino-Indian borders.

Il QUAD8 testifies to India's proactivity, capable of challenging China's self-interested pessimism by strengthening partnerships for health security, infrastructure, the preparation of submarine cables, cyber and space9. While not transforming the conditions of stability in the Indo-Pacific in the short term, the QUAD10 will remain central, allowing India to rise to important strategic positions. Sharing concerns about the renewed Chinese imperial sense has determined the Indian leadership to aim for rapid successes by showing a growing interest in the USA also from a military and maritime point of view, all initiatives similar to those adopted by Washington which it has not ruled out in the future civil nuclear cooperation11.

It will be interesting to see if between the world high tech and the countries close to the USA it will be possible to find meeting points on American export control measures, once regulated by the Cocom system12 which could be calibrated to the new Sino-American needs closely linked to value chains, and now oriented towards preserving national security13; the US is taking advantage of Indian support14 to ensure that sanctioned countries such as Russia cannot obtain valuable components through other channels. Access to data processing lays the foundation for technological progress, a geopolitical asset on which the Indian government is banking for its AI strategy with the potential to ensure technological self-sufficiency15.

Conclusions: who thought he was dealing with a country cowardly humiliated by follower Chinese in the time of Covid like any other Hollywood, will have to think again. The nationalist Modi has proposed an image that wants to be different and far from holographic stereotypes, focusing on financial investments, on immense human capital, on horizontal collaborations between governments and vertical collaborations between companies.

The Indus-X agreement has the advantage of relaunching a liaison that has been tarnished over time and which now only has to fear the possible changes of direction of a new American presidency; The Raisina Dialogue and the evaluations of the past presidency of the G20 are also linked to Indus. It is not easy to conduct such a composite orchestra, yet Modi seems to have succeeded, attracting geostrategic, geopolitical and geoeconomic elements capable of catalyzing Indo-Pacific politics for the coming years to the light of the most precious gem of the former British Empire: there are startups which many hope can transform into prized unicorns there is, a neglected aspect for us, the awareness of the need to encourage higher level education, something that Modi has understood perfectly.

The Indo Pacific has become the geopolitical context in which Italy has opted to withdraw from the BRI to comply with community policies by diversifying its supply chain leaders, exalting Imec, which bypasses the Sino-Pakistani ring, and returning to the game with Leonardo and Fincantieri, once it is certified that economic security goes hand in hand with national security.

The Indus-X went unnoticed, although in a short time it has produced appreciable results, an aspect that leads us to believe that, with an adequate posture and a clear strategic plan, it is possible to relate productively; there is no doubt that the agreement can rise to the role of a reference Indo-Pacific partnership for the USA, while satisfying India's demand for technological cooperation by implementing the concept of integrated deterrence, awakened by Chinese expansionism.

1 The Indian industrial base can provide support to the Western one such as with the production lines of Javelin anti-tank missiles, competing with China and Russia for markets in the Global South.

2 According to Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, Russia it is a power with an enormous tradition of government; Also noteworthy is the reaffirmation of stable and friendly Indo-Russian ties. 

3 The Indian government intends to achieve the export target of 5 billion dollars by 2025; in the 2+2 ministerial of November 2023, the INDUS-X Gurukul-Education Series was announced, hybrid information for US and Indian defense start-ups; on the same occasion a strategic session for investors was hosted. Additionally, it was announced that India will become a full member of the Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain.

4 Trends 2023; if it is true that the USA has confirmed itself as the largest trading partner, between April and September 2023 Indo-American bilateral trade was affected by fluctuations; Two-way trade between India and China also fell 3,56% to $58,11 billion.

5 “From the Aegean Sea to the South China Sea: Response to Maritime Sieges”; in addition to the participating USA, the Chiefs of the Navy of India, France, UK, and Air Marshal Chipman for Australia. The Raisina Dialogue is organized annually by the Observer Research Foundation in collaboration with the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

6 India organized the Milan 2024 exercise in which military units from 50 countries including Iran, Russia and the USA participated. The exercise reflects Indian concerns about the situation in the Red Sea, where 95% of Indian ships had to reorganize their routes rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Milan 2024 serves to demonstrate that India is a power capable of moving strategically in multipolar environments.

7 Corridor India, MO, Europe

8 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Australia, India, Japan, USA)

9 India's Chandrayaan-3 mission landed on the moon in 2023. India was the first country to land on the lunar south pole, managing to expand its space program while keeping costs down. The moon landing also has political significance coming shortly after the failed Russian attempt.

10 Regulatory export controls remain essential to protect US technological advantages, but protect and share information with other technology coalitions such as AUKUS and the NATO program DIANA (North Atlantic Defense Innovation Accelerator) can inform INDUS-X.

11 Electricity production is based on coal with 70% of production growing

12 Multilateral Export Coordination Committee

13 All this is to be seen in the context of export control which targets the Chinese semiconductor and artificial intelligence industries for the country's military-civilian fusion program.

14 In March 2023, the USA and India signed an MoU linking production chains in the semiconductor sector; the MoU would facilitate diversification policies that favor the creation of new production chains. Washington thus intends to continue the economic and productive decoupling from China. India developed the project in 2019 India Semiconductor Mission with the long-term goal of entering the global semiconductor market.

15 Regarding artificial intelligence, Indian policy remains faithful to the line that innovation cannot get ahead of the rules and is based on the Bletchley Declaration which establishes the risks to the security of frontier models; software supremacy will determine the military decision-making speed advantage; India is home to 20% of the world's chip designers.