In February, U.S. President Joe Biden declared, “diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy” and “we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Nine months into his presidency, the opposite has happened—and the United States’ adversaries are taking advantage of the situation.
Consider our allies: We witnessed ministers in the British Parliament publicly rebuke Biden in the aftermath of our disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. France recalled its ambassador in an extraordinary move. We’ve isolated our Eastern European allies by capitulating to Germany over the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Meanwhile, our adversaries are growing bolder, especially following the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. An axis of terror is forming from Hamas to Iran to the Taliban. Pakistan has stepped up its engagement with Iran. China has increased its incursions into Taiwan’s air identification zone to record levels. Russia is increasing its influence in Belarus and further threatening Ukraine.
Is this really the best “diplomacy” and “engagement” the United States can muster? Of course not. Instead of insulting our friends and ignoring our foes, the United States should prioritize relationships that strengthen our standing in the world.
The place to start is India. It’s time to form an alliance.
As a nuclear power with more than 1 million troops, a growing navy, a top-tier space program, and a proven history of economic and military cooperation with the United States, India would make a strong ally. An alliance with India would allow both countries to maintain and expand their global strength. And together with Japan and Australia, it would enable the United States to form a real deterrent to potential terrorist threats in Afghanistan as well as counter China.
When the Biden administration unconditionally withdrew our military from Afghanistan, the United States ceded tremendous power to our adversaries in Central Asia. Many Americans will find relief in the idea that the United States has ended its longest war, yet the war on terror has not left us. The terrorists who launched attacks on us 20 years ago fully intend to strike us again.
Prior to our withdrawal, the Biden administration failed to secure basing agreements from countries neighboring Afghanistan to the north. Logistically, we need these bases to conduct counterterrorism missions. The administration also abandoned Bagram Airfield—the only U.S. base in a country that borders China, which is ratcheting up tensions with the rest of the world.
The Biden administration claims the United States retains “over-the-horizon” capabilities to strike terrorists. This is inaccurate. For example, should a U.S. military drone launch from a base in the Persian Gulf, it would consume much of its fuel just getting to Afghanistan, severely limiting our ability to identify and strike targets. With no U.S. bases left in the region, China, Iran, Russia, and even Pakistan will influence the future of these terrorist groups, with little reason to help the United States.
We now only have one partner who can effectively keep a watchful eye on Afghanistan. It’s the same partner that can keep track of China’s southern flank: India.
India operates Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan, the only air base with the proximity to conduct counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. With an alliance, India could allow us access to strategic bases to protect U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the broader region.
A U.S.-India alliance would also give us an edge over China. Like the United States, India recognizes that China is a rapidly growing threat. Not only is it attempting to capitalize on our withdrawal from Afghanistan, which goes against both the United States and India’s interests, China is also pressuring India on its own borders.
Last year, Chinese and Indian troops clashed in the contested Himalayan border region of Ladakh, resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers, according to the Chinese government. India has since redirected 50,000 troops to its border with China for a total of 200,000 Indian troops now stationed there. Tensions have only escalated since then. In recent days, China has also reinforced its military presence along the Himalayan border with 100 advanced long-range rocket launchers.
A U.S.-India alliance would give China pause before further expanding into Central and Southern Asia. And we’d be building on solid ground. Just this month, the U.S. military held joint exercises with hundreds of Indian soldiers in Alaska to strengthen cooperation and better prepare for cold, mountainous conditions like those in the China-India border region.
An alliance would also recognize the region’s shifting geopolitical realities. China’s newly aggressive posture toward India is not by accident. It is part of a broader plan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is emboldened after shoring up support from India’s longtime foe, Pakistan.
Following the same playbook it has used in developing countries around the world, the Chinese Communist Party has created dependence through its Belt and Road Initiative. In exchange for bolstering Pakistan’s faltering electric grid, sending thousands of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, and giving financial relief to ease Pakistan’s growing national debt, China now has a regional client state willing to do the CCP’s bidding and help bolster its international standing.
The investment has paid important dividends for Beijing. Earlier this year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan—the leader of a nation with the world’s second largest Muslim population—refused to condemn China’s ongoing genocide of Muslim Uyghurs. Now, China hopes it can rely on Pakistan to help keep Islamist terrorism from spilling over Afghanistan’s border and into western China, where the CCP fears terrorists might find recruits in the mostly Muslim Uyghur province of Xinjiang.
Growing collusion between China and Pakistan poses serious security risks for both India and the United States. For India, a U.S. alliance would be a bulwark against a two-fronted conflict on its borders. For the United States, an alliance would help blunt Pakistan’s influence—a state sponsor of terrorism now propped up by Chinese investments—in Afghanistan. We need a new partner to prevent the creation of a terrorist super state that can attack our country again.
Beyond the security relationship, the United States and India also share economic concerns, including the need for a stable supply chain. India’s enormous workforce offers an opportunity for the United States to alter its supply chain dependence on China. We can rely on India as a major source of pharmaceuticals, technology, and critical minerals, supplementing our own domestic manufacturing capabilities. We should also continue working toward a more comprehensive U.S.-India trade deal.
Then there’s cyberwarfare. As the United States felt the pain of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack by Russia-linked cybercriminals earlier this year, disrupting Americans’ gasoline supplies, a suspected Chinese state-sponsored group cyberattacked India, causing 20 million residents in Mumbai to lose power last fall. An alliance would enable us to prevent and respond to cyber threats utilizing best practices, technologies, and expertise.
The benefits of a U.S.-India alliance are many. It’s also the case that we share many values. By uniting the world’s strongest and largest democracies in a formal alliance, we can do a better job of defending freedom in an increasingly tyrannical world.
Establishing an alliance is the natural result of recent momentum. The United States and India drew closer together during the Trump administration; one notable achievement was the signing of the 2018 Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement. That deal granted India more advanced communication technology for U.S.-purchased defense equipment to help elevate coordination during conflict. In October 2020, the Trump administration and the Indian government signed another agreement for geospatial cooperation that boosted the Indian military’s weapons systems with advanced navigational tools.
These are the sorts of things that allies do, yet our current diplomatic status with India is described as a “strategic partnership.” An upgrade is urgently needed. Just as our alliances with NATO, Japan, and South Korea transformed U.S. security in the 20th century, an alliance with India would help keep us safe in the 21st century. It’s time to make that happen.