Stephen M. Walt

Playing hard to get

The New York Times reports today that Indian officials are miffed because the Obama administration has been paying a bit more attention to China of late. As a realist and an advocate of offshore balancing, I think this is wonderful. Security in Asia matters to us, but it matters a lot more to India for ...

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The New York Times reports today that Indian officials are miffed because the Obama administration has been paying a bit more attention to China of late. As a realist and an advocate of offshore balancing, I think this is wonderful. Security in Asia matters to us, but it matters a lot more to India for the obvious reason that India is in Asia and the United States is not. Security cooperation with the United States is a valuable asset — despite the missteps of the past decade, it is still the world’s largest economy and strongest military power — so Asian countries like India ought to be willing to do a lot for us in order to get our attention and our help. They are more likely to help if they understand that the United States has many options and that they can’t take its assistance for granted. If India thinks that we’re tilting slightly toward Beijing, maybe they will do more for us in order to persuade us to lean back their way.

Bear in mind that India also wants the Obama administration to squander more blood and treasure in Afghanistan (HT Juan Cole). I understand why India wants Washington to do the heavy lifting there, but what is India willing to do for us? For example, if our real strategic concern is not Afghanistan but rather the long-term stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, is India willing to do anything to reduce tensions with Pakistan and thus make that task a bit easier? And no, I’m not saying that the rivalry between India and Pakistan is all India’s fault, or that the United States should treat India with indifference. I’m just reminding you that diplomacy is not just about reassuring others that they can count on us no matter what, and that the United States should take advantage of our favorable geopolitical position and play “play hard to get” more often. 

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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