India as a "Global Swing State": A New Framework For U.S. Engagement with India
This interview was originally published in the National Bureau of Asian Research. Read the full interview here.
As India continues its rise, a combination of factors may give it outsized influence on the global stage. NBR spoke with Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, and Daniel Kliman, senior advisor for the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, about their argument for why India is a "global swing state" (along with Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey). They outline what being a "swing state" means for India's role in the international order and offer recommendations on how Washington should engage New Delhi within this framework.
What are "global swing states"?
We came up with the concept of "global swing states" during the run-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential election. In the American political context, swing states are those whose mixed political orientation gives them a greater impact than their population or economic output might warrant. Such states promise the highest return on investment for U.S. presidential campaigns deciding where to allocate scarce time and resources.
Global swing states are nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge of multiple regions, and embrace democratic government at home. Increasingly active at the regional and global level, they desire changes to the existing international order but do not seek to scrap the interlocking web of global institutions, rules, and relationships that has fostered peace, prosperity and freedom for the past six decades.
In U.S. foreign policy, a focus on these nations can deliver a large geopolitical payoff because their approach to the international order is more fluid and open than that of more established powers like China or Russia. In addition, the choices they make—about whether to take on new global responsibilities, free ride on the efforts of established powers, or complicate the solving of key challenges—may, together, decisively influence the course of world affairs. Due to their mixed orientation and potentially outsized impact, these nations resemble swing states in the U.S. domestic context. In a report last year, we identified four global swing states: Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.
India is the quintessential global swing state. Its GDP is roughly $4 trillion and grew 7.4% annually between 2000 and 2011. By some measures, India is now the world's third-largest economy. Sitting at the edge of the Middle East and East Asia, it occupies the majority of the South Asian landmass and has a land or maritime boundary with every state in the region, as well as China, Burma, Indonesia, and Thailand. Democracy in India has endured with only a single brief interruption since independence in 1947.
Indian leaders have on occasion called for a new system of international governance—lending their voice, for example, to a 2011 joint statement with Brazil and South Africa that endorsed "a new world order whose political, economic and financial architecture is more inclusive, representative and legitimate." Yet in practice, Indian leaders prefer to boost their country's representation in existing institutions. This is most evidenced by India's ongoing quest for permanent membership in an enlarged UN Security Council, an issue that has become a litmus test in its bilateral relations with the United States and other established powers.
At the same time, New Delhi is increasingly torn between pursuing an international approach aimed at giving India the space to focus on internal development and pursuing economic growth at home while taking on greater—and more costly—responsibilities abroad. A sign of this internal tension was the recent debate triggered by "Nonalignment 2.0," a report authored by a group of distinguished Indian scholars and policymakers that argued for an inward turn. It is currently unclear which contending perspective will win out and just how active India will become in upholding the international order over the medium term.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Richard Fontaine is the president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Daniel Kliman is a senior advisor with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). He leads the Global Swing States Project, which focuses on whether four rising democratic powers—Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey—will bolster the prevailing international order.