ANALYSIS - U.S. looks to India as new global ally
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration is looking increasingly to India as a core ally as it seeks to engineer what could be a major diplomatic shift away from the power alignments forged after World War Two.
Old standby Britain, increasingly important Japan and, according to some of the officials familiar with administration thinking on geopolitics, Australia all join India in a group of countries Washington believes shares its values and goals.
"You might call this emerging set of alliances the 'four by four' strategy (which is) built around four great powers -- the United States, Great Britain, Japan and India," Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think-tank with close ties to the administration, wrote on the AEI website.
Nuclear power India, a growing economic force on China's border and familiarly dubbed the world's biggest democracy, is the relative newcomer to the group.
Often an adversary as a Soviet sympathizer and leader of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, it now enjoys dramatically improved ties under President George W. Bush.
Presidential aides say the United States is committed to helping India not just prosper but rise as a regional power. One senior official has said privately that the administration also intends to back India for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
IN NEED OF HELP
When the United States launched its "war on terrorism" and later invaded Iraq -- a venture opposed by longtime allies like France and Germany -- U.S. officials talked of forming "coalitions of the willing," groupings of partner countries that might have different members, depending on the issue.
But Donnelly said the administration now realizes "preserving the Pax Americana requires more permanent arrangements" and that with Iraq and other security tasks taxing the U.S. military, "we need help."
He said the United States, Australia, Britain, India and Japan shared common principles.
These included a belief that the dangers of radicalism, failed despotic governments and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East must not be ignored; that China's growing military and political strength raises doubts about its peaceful rise; that representative governments are a force for peace; and that military force is a legitimate national tool, Donnelly wrote.
He described a new and fluid era of world politics in which U.S. partners could change from issue to issue but in which the U.S. strategy for promoting stability is based first on existing strong alliance relationships -- Britain, Japan, Australia and, now, India.
The U.S. "special relationship" with Britain was enhanced by partnership in Iraq, where Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has committed the biggest troop contingent after the United States.
Australia has increasingly worked closely with Washington, including in Iraq. U.S. efforts to repair the alliance with Japan are now considered complete, after Tokyo cooperated on Iraq and moved to assume more responsibility for its own defense, U.S. officials said.
A "TRUSTED PARTNER"
The U.S. shift towards India has been propelled by rapidly expanding business ties and a belief that India's size, democratic tradition and multi-cultural character provide a firm basis for partnership, U.S. officials say.
In one sign of convergence, India voted with the United States to find Iran in non-compliance of its nuclear non-proliferation commitments at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Asked if India is prepared to be a U.S. ally, Indian ambassador Ronen Sen was measured.
"India is too old a civilization and too large and diverse a country and too vibrant a democracy ever to follow the leadership of any country or group of countries," he told Reuters in an interview.
"But it mostly certainly can be a very reliable and trusted partner in pursuing common objectives," Sen said.
Gary Schmitt, another AEI expert, said the administration is "betting the farm on India -- leading with their hearts rather than their heads -- and I'm not sure it's sensible."
He predicted India, as a rising regional power, would use its new place with the United States to leverage benefits from China.
U.S. officials insist they do not fear India-China cooperation and say they are realistic that firm ties with India will take a generation or more to build.