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CWA # 22, 9 June 2018

Global Politics
The "Indo-Pacific Command": What's in the name?

  Divyabharathi E

Does the name change, coming amidst the tensions with China means something? Why is the Indian Ocean significant to the USA? Is there an India component?

Research Scholar, Department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai
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The US military has renamed its Pacific command to US Indo-Pacific command. The US Pacific Command has been responsible for all the US military activities in the greater Pacific region including India, with 375,000 civilian and military personnel. 
Does the name change, coming amidst the tensions with China means something? Why is the Indian Ocean significant to the USA? Is there an India component?
Three American Strategic Interests in the Indian Ocean
The US has the following three geostrategic interests in the region:
• Maintaining an open Indian Ocean highway
• Defending chokepoints at either end of the Indian Ocean
• Sanitizing the Indian Ocean as a secondary front in broader Asian regional competition.
The US pursues the following strategies to achieve its interests in the region
Making Strong Allies
The US interest in the region is curbed down due to economic constraints faced by excessive military spending. It becomes imperative, therefore, that the US make partners and allies who cater to US’s strategies and policies in the region. 
Countries such as Singapore and India are prime partners and allies, which explains the strong and growing ties between the US and the region. Essentially, the US seeks to create a network of formal and informal alliances in the Indian Ocean. The US expects this would adequately deflect or withstand any activities by competitors to decrease its impact or obstruct its access to the Ocean.
The Nixon Doctrine 2.0
Under this approach, the Pentagon seeks to create a similar relationship with countries that are democratic and economically able to act as security providers in their regions. It is based upon this reasoning that Australia, India, Indonesia and South Africa become strategically important to US strategy in the Indian Ocean Region.
Renaming of the Pacific command: What is in the name?
India is the most strategically situated State in this region which can be a potential player in reducing the growing influence in the region. No matter, currently China is concentrating more on East and South China seas, its influence in this region is alarmingly increasing thanks to Beijing’s permanent military bases in Gwadar and Djibouti. Given the US’s own competition with China for influence in East Asia, India is seen as a natural ally. This perception deepens when one considers that India’s growing economy enables it to fulfil the role of undertaking some of the US’s security functions in the Indian Ocean, permitting Washington to concentrate more on the events in East Asia.
Securing the freedom of passage in the IOR should be a priority for both the U.S. and India, especially in light of China’s growing presence in the region. A well-balanced and active agenda in the IOR falls in line with the current administration’s focus on American economic and security interests. One such move was seen when India signed Logistics Defence Pact with the USA which allowed their militaries to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment. The Trump administration looked at India as an important military ally in the Pacific and the move to rename the Pacific Command could be significant to enhance joint military operations. The move certainly highlights strong Indo-US relations and could make things difficult for China. 
Not only to increase its strategic ties with New Delhi in the region but also to tap India’s large Defence market, where the USA is India’s number two weapons supplier, closing $15bn worth of deals over the last decade.
A Possible Indian Response
The change in the name of the US command factually means intensified military cooperation, particularly given the weakening of US military contacts with Pakistan, and the fact that Beijing's ties with Islamabad, on the contrary, are growing stronger. This move essentially means that the US is continuing its ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. However, full-fledged Indian cooperation with the US in its struggle against China is unattainable. This will not happen given the overall success of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to China. In addition to this is the Russia-India-China dialogue, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the BRICS.
The US is attempting to bind India to its own interests by its increased efforts. At the same time, India understands that strengthening ties with the US and aggravating tensions with China would lead to a reaction from Beijing. Therefore, US strategy may not succeed. India will follow its own path, and it is clear to India that its involvement in the Sino-US conflict would not correspond to their own national interests. India will employ a more balanced approach.
India will do so by increasing its purchase of US weapons while leaving some portion to buy Russian weapons and continuing its cooperation in the nuclear sphere with Moscow. New Delhi’s would not compromise in straining the economic ties with Beijing.
To conclude, the strategic relationship of the United States with India is predicated upon Washington’s desire to achieve its own objectives in the region and beyond. India, on the other hand, would try to stick on to its own national interests and try to maintain cordial relations with all the countries by incorporating balanced approach to cater to its own needs.

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