U.S. Should Encourage Strong Japan-India Relations

Jeffrey Meyer /

India is steadily emerging to be one of the world’s top economic players but still faces development challenges and infrastructure bottlenecks that hinder growth. Heritage’s Lisa Curtis has been arguing that the U.S. needs to acknowledge India’s growing global role and the changing Asian strategic landscape. With new relationships emerging in Asia, the United States has an opportunity to strengthen its presence in this vital region.

Following the State Department’s announcement that the first round of U.S.–India–Japan trilateral talks will occur before the end of the year, it is time to examine how the U.S. can encourage the burgeoning Japan–India relationship. In a recent conference titled “India–Japan Ties: Asia’s Fasting Growing Relationship?” hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, three speakers stressed the need for Japan and India to strengthen their economic and military partnership.

The panelists agreed on the need to promote economic interactions between Japan and India, but there was no consensus on the role security should play in this relationship. K.V. Kesavan, distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in India, argued that even though things have changed in the past 15 years, security should not overtake economic interests in the region. From the perspective of the United States, Daniel Twining argued that U.S. goals and aspirations for India and Japan cannot be attained if we make massive defense cuts. Maintaining a strong defense presence in the region serves our greater strategic ambitions and gives the U.S. greater leverage in Asia, according to Twining, senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

One of the more controversial aspects of the India–Japan relationship continues to be nuclear nonproliferation. For years, Japan was opposed to India’s nuclear ambitions, but Tokyo was fully on board with the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decision to provide a waiver allowing India to import civilian nuclear technology and fuel without signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Nuclear dialogues between the two nations have intensified over the last year, though they were weakened by the Fukushima disaster. Heritage’s Curtis has stressed that incorporating India into the international nonproliferation framework should be viewed as an ongoing process that will take hard work and innovative thinking by the United States, India, and other partners. While Japan’s reaction following the Fukushima disaster is understandable, hopefully the two countries will not squander the progress made in their nuclear discussions as India seeks to join the ranks of nuclear nations.

Takenori Horimoto said China is a major security threat on which India and Japan agree. He argued that the axis of Japan’s maritime policy and the Japan–U.S. security alliance have gradually shifted from the fight against terrorism toward China’s oceanic assertiveness in the past two years. The 2011 meetings between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized the need for the two nations to strengthen their security cooperation regarding China’s maritime expansion. The United States should consider the rise of China’s maritime power as a threat not only to its security interests but to overall stability in Asia.

Now is not the time for the United States to make military cuts, which would severely weaken our security and economic interests in Asia. As part of its Asia strategy, the U.S. needs to strongly support the emerging relationship between Japan and India. Any U.S. retraction of its engagement in Asia would only embolden China and hurt the interests of the U.S., Japan, and India.

Jeffrey Meyer is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm