Regional Responses to U.S.-China Competition in the Indo-Pacific

In long-term strategic competition with China, how effectively the United States works with allies and partners will be critical to determining U.S. success. This report examines the potential benefits of, and potential impediments to, partnering more closely with India. India is already a peer or near-peer competitor of China across a range of military capabilities, and India’s self-defined core national security interests are in relatively close harmony with those of the United States. However, U.S. planners must be keenly aware of the constraints on both India’s willingness and capacity to forge a partnership based on strategic competition with China. These include persistent aversion to any partnership that might be characterized as “alignment,” even after a major 2020 border clash with China; significant distrust of U.S. commitment and intentions; a highly risk-averse structure for the making and implementing of security policy, particularly vis-à-vis China; economic linkages with China; underfunding of basic military needs; and a lack of military capability and interoperability sufficient for frictionless interaction with U.S. forces. India will likely remain a key U.S. partner, but such challenges should moderate expectations about the pace for increased engagement.

The research described in this report was sponsored by Brig Gen Michael P. Winkler (PACAF/A5/8) and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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