July 19, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at India’s growing political and commercial ties on an Africa continent that is increasingly important strategically, diplomatically and economically to the interests of the United States.

Like the African strategy of the People’s Republic of China as well as the African travels of Chinese leaders and their troubling arms sales to regimes on the continent—all of which Dr. Pham has previously examined—the article argues that India’s engagement of Africa can be understood as “quests for resources, business opportunities, diplomatic initiatives, and strategic partnerships.” However, he argues that “while the growing influence of any other major actor on the continent bears very careful watching, there are a number of reasons why New Delhi’s increased engagement in Africa, unlike that Beijing, ought to be cautiously welcomed in Washington ”:

First, India’s modus operandi not only benefits Indians, it also benefits Africans…the lessons which India learned while freeing itself from the oppressive “Hindu rate of growth” with the economic liberalization begun in the 1990s under then-Finance Minister (now Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh are precisely those African states need to study for their own development, rather than the “no strings attached” blandishments which are offered to them by China’s mercantilist mandarins. Moreover, for African states, many of which are plagued by instability, autocracy, and ethnic and religious strife, India offers the example of a successfully developing country where speakers of twenty-two different official languages (in addition to English) as well as an estimated 1,652 mother tongues have co-existed largely peacefully for six decades, acquiring ever greater national consciousness while building the world’s largest democracy…

 Second, the burgeoning Indian-African relationship is good for the United States overall…among other things, the U.S. can benefit in many of its security preoccupations in Africa from the tacit—and occasionally explicit—support of India, which has enormous political capital from its longtime leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as its support of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements on the continent. On the other hand, no country has lost more of its citizens to Islamist terrorism than India which, even today, remains one of the states most targeted by jihadis. Hence New Delhi is potentially ideal complement to Washington’s counterterrorism agenda for Africa, able to articulate the anti-extremism message credibly in places where, quite frankly, our credibility is very limited. Furthermore, while America cannot expect a proud and democratic nation like India to be its lackey, neither will the latter country likely to present a direct challenge to core U.S. interests in what is now the geostrategically vital region of Sub-Saharan African. On the other hand, as it play commercial catch-up ( India’s exports amount to just 10 percent of China’s), the subcontinental country’s economic interests are more likely than not to clash with those of the Middle Kingdom.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “The Indian Tiger’s African Safari,” click here.