India’s Strategic Balancing in the Indo-Pacific: Impacts on Regional and Global Geopolitics

India holds immense significance in the Indo-Pacific region due to various compelling reasons. Firstly, India’s geographical location places it at the crossroad of the Indo-Pacific, connecting both the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. With a coastline of over 7,500 kilometers and numerous strategically important ports, India possesses a natural advantage in maritime affairs. This has led to India’s increasing focus on maritime security and its active participation in regional forums such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). As piracy, territorial disputes, and non-traditional security threats continue to pose challenges in the region, India’s strong naval presence and collaborative efforts with other countries tends to be effective at securing the important sea lines of communication as well as Indian interests (Khan, 2018). Furthermore, India’s growing military capabilities and its commitment to a rules-based international order make it an important partner for majority of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region. India has been actively engaging in naval exercises such as the Malabar naval exercises etc, and defense partnerships with countries like the United States, Japan, Australia, and ASEAN nations, strengthening its ties and contributing to regional security. Its participation in initiatives like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) further underscores its significance as a key player in the Indo-Pacific.

Secondly, with a population of over 1.3 billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous country. This demographic advantage, coupled with its robust economy, positions India as a major player in the region. India offers immense opportunities for businesses and investors with its vast consumer market and a booming middle class. Its strong manufacturing base, particularly in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, information technology, and automotive, makes India an attractive destination for foreign direct investment. As a result, India’s economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region has been steadily increasing, leading to deeper economic integration and cooperation among countries in the region. For instance, India’s “Act East” policy, aimed at enhancing connectivity, trade, and people-to-people exchanges with Southeast Asia, is a testament to its commitment to deepening regional integration and strengthening economic partnerships. Additionally, India’s engagement in initiatives like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) further reinforces its role in driving economic cooperation and development in the Indo-Pacific (Upadhyay, 2014). Lastly, India’s historical and cultural ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific, such as Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island nations, provide a strong foundation for fostering diplomatic relations and promoting cultural exchange. Indeed India’s rich heritage and soft power image, through yoga, Bollywood, and Ayurveda, have also greatly contributed to its increasing influence in the region. Overall, India’s strategic location, demographic strength, cultural ties, military capabilities, and commitment to regional stability make it an indispensable player in the Indo-Pacific, shaping the dynamics of the region and contributing to its progress and prosperity.


US – India Strategic Partnership

The strategic partnership between these two nations is based on shared values of democracy, economic prosperity, and regional stability. This partnership comprises of various domains such as:

Bilateral Trade & Economic Ties

While addressing the annual India Ideas Summit of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) on 12th June, 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “At the heart of our strategic partnership are our economic ties” (The Hindu, 2023). The United States is India’s largest trading partner since 2021, and India is its 7th largest trading partner. According to the provisional data of the Commerce Ministry, the bilateral trade between India and the US increased by 7.65% to US$ 128.55 in 2022-23 as against US$ 119.48 billion in 2021-22. The trade between the US and India encompasses a wide range of sectors, including information technology, pharmaceuticals, textile, jewelry, agriculture, energy, and defense. On the other hand, the US is accounted as the 3rd largest investor in India, with cumulative FDI inflows of US$ 60.19 billion from April 2000-March 2023 (IBEF, 2023). Americans have made notable foreign investments in the country’s power generation, telecommunications, ports, roads, petroleum exploration and processing, and mining industries etc. The collaboration in these industries has resulted in mutual benefits for their economies.

Military & Defense Relations

Both countries are also prominent defense partners.  The defense trade between the US and India has risen from near zero in 2008 to more than $20 billion in 2020. The surge is greatly influenced by the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status given to India by the US in 2018. This status allows the sale of state-of-the-art military equipment to India without fulfilling license requirements. Multiple other defense agreements, such as the 2012 Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, have been signed between the two countries that allow India to co-produce advanced weapon systems, using sophisticated military technology, with the US (Mehreen & Abid, 2022). Apart from this, both India and the US have become the largest military exercise partners, with an emphasis on maritime security and inter-operability. ‘Yudh Abhyas’ is a leading bilateral ground forces exercise between the two states which has been ongoing since 2004. Its latest 18th edition was held in November 2022 in northern India. On the other hand, the Malabar stands as an eminent example of naval exercises between US and India. While it was inaugurated in 1992 as a bilateral naval exercise, Japan joined in 2014 and became a permanent participant the next year. Australia’s participation began in 2020, bringing together naval forces from all four Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) countries. Malabar’s 26th edition was held off Japan’s coast in November 2022. (CRS Reports, 2023)


The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is indeed a significant part of the strategic partnership between the United States and India. Comprising the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, the QUAD is a forum that aims to promote a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Formed in 2007, it serves as a platform for these four like-minded maritime democracies to discuss and coordinate on various issues, such as trade, connectivity, infrastructure, maritime and cyber security, counter-terrorism, disaster relief, pandemic and climate change etc. The QUAD’s resurgence in 2017 is certainly reflective of the shared vision and interests of the alliance members in maintaining regional stability and prosperity. The primary motive behind the Quad is to keep the strategic sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any military or political influence. It is basically seen as a strategic grouping to reduce Chinese dominance. The core objective of the Quad is to secure a rules-based global order, freedom of navigation and a liberal trading system. The coalition also aims to offer alternative debt financing for nations in the Indo-Pacific region. For India, the QUAD provides an opportunity to deepen its strategic ties with the US and its allies, ensuring a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region. Most recently the leaders of the Quad nations met on May 24, 2022 in Tokyo for the fourth time and the second time in person. The Quad summit witnessed the launch of a new initiative for continuous collaboration in the maritime domain, space, climate change, health, and cyber security (White House, 2022).

Innovation & Technological Cooperation

As two of the world’s largest democracies and economic powerhouses, both countries recognize the significant potential that lies in collaborating on innovation and technology. Therefore, they have established various initiatives and agreements to further reinforce their partnership. In 2011, both Washington and New Delhi amidst the growing importance of cyber security and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that made way for the new generation security collaboration between the two countries. The Framework for the US-India Cyber Relationship, signed in August 2016, establishes a bilateral mechanism for practical cooperation on cyber security issues, such as information sharing, capacity building, and joint exercises (Khan, 2018). Moreover,, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have also developed a steady pace of cooperation, which provides an open opportunity to both parties to share technology, for military as well as scientific purposes. In addition to that, an MOU was signed on the Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership, through which Micron Technology, Inc. agreed to invest up to $825 million to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India (Jamy & Ali, 2023). Most recently, President Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) in May 2022, aiming to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the two countries.


India’s Balancing Act

It is often stated that the Indo-US relationship is more of a marriage of convenience, where the US believes that India, due to its large area and economy, has the potential to actualize the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy. While India views its partnership with the US as an opportunity to pursue its strategic interests, and assert itself as an influential power in the region and beyond. Indeed this partnership is founded on shared goals and mutual interests, primarily including countering China’s assertiveness in the region. As China’s influence expands, India’s role becomes even more significant for the US. But India sought to adopt a more balanced approach. Its approach of balancing its relations with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region primarily revolves around its conception of strategic autonomy, which is something billed as a “mutation of realism and India’s traditional non-aligned posture” (Smith, 2020). Strategic autonomy basically refers to a state or entity’s ability to make decisions independently, especially in matters of security, defense, and foreign policy, without being overly reliant on or subjugated to the influence of other powerful nations or alliances. In simple words its about prioritizing self-sufficiency and independence.

As an emerging power, and in the wake of a rather complex geopolitical landscape, India has carefully crafted its foreign policy to maintain its independence and pursue its national interests. While India values its partnership with the United States, it is also aware of the need to diversify its alliances and maintain a balanced approach. This can be seen through India’s active participation in platforms like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which provide alternative avenues for engagement and cooperation. For instance, India recorded over $100 billion in intra-BRICS trade in 2022 (India Briefing, 2023). And as the president of the SCO this year, India relentlessly pursues the organization’s regional collaboration, security and development agenda (Wani, 2023). Additionally, India enjoys close ties with countries such as Russia, and Moscow remains a major arms supplier to New Delhi. Even after the Russia-Ukraine war began, and despite having strong ties with the West, India has resisted taking sides and condemning Russia. Similarly, China stands as the 2nd largest trading partner of India, with their trade touching an all-time high of $135.98 billion in 2022 (Economic Times, 2023). Hence, its evident that India effectively balances its actions and avoids overreliance on any single country or alliance. And this is India’s strategic autonomy which allows it to pursue its own priorities and maintain a degree of flexibility in its foreign relations. However, this approach may also be seen as a threat to the United States, as India’s pursuit for strategic autonomy and the apparent refusal to be drawn into the rivalry between US and China has the potential to undermine America’s efforts to counterbalance China’s influence, or in other words challenge US traditional hegemony in the region.


Impact on Regional and Global Geopolitics

The Indo-Pacific has seen changing dynamics in light of the strategic rivalry between the US and China, and the consequences for the regional order. With its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States signaled a geopolitical realignment, acknowledging China’s ascent as its principal threat and challenge. Sustaining the balance of power in the region is thought to need a multifaceted strategy incorporating international cooperation. China’s expanding influence in the region is the target of the US Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP), which was developed by the Biden administration in 2021 after being started by the Trump administration in 2017 (Freeman et al, 2022).Cooperation with key partners—each with their own perception of the Indo-Pacific—is necessary for this approach to be effective. This cooperative strategy is best represented by the Quad Alliance. The commitment to free and inclusive Indo-Pacific was also emphasized by the AUKUS alliance, which consists of the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The European Union (EU) also has Indo-Pacific interests that coincide with US strategies. Both organizations have a strong emphasis on vital technology, regional connections, and high-quality infrastructure. The EU’s Global Gateway plan, which emphasizes the possibility for transatlantic cooperation in responsibly managing competition with China, is in line with the US perspective (Mohan G. 2022).

While the US does what it deems appropriate, it still cannot negate that the “Indo-Pacificization” of Asia, with the unfolding of contemporary geopolitical realties, is meant to be characterized by India’s pivotal position in the Asian strategic system and the rise of opposing ideas for creating regional order. With its rather proactive Act East Policy, which promotes trade and strategic relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific, India is demonstrating its growing influence. This, which reflects worries about China’s expanding power, includes collaborations with Japan and heightened participation in the South China Sea. In spite of claims that the United States seeks to limit China by involving India in programs such as QUAD, academics contend that the Indo-Pacific framework recognizes the important role played by India.

India’s balancing tactics and engagements with all stakeholders in the region paves way for a more multi-polar power structure in the region, giving regional nations more autonomy (Munir & Safdar, 2022). This directive may act as a counterweight to China’s aggression and US-related uncertainty. Given that all of the regional countries identify as democratic and have similar interests—India, Japan, Indonesia, and others share US ambition to balance China in the region—a multi-polar order in the region may work to the US’s advantage. The regional states and the US, who would not have the same agency as previously but would still be able to restrict China, would be equally responsible for holding the regional order together in this scenario. Therefore, the region and its governments would be protected by a multi-polar system from both Beijing’s aggression and Washington’s unpredictability.



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