August 25, 2013

Is India a ‘Global Swing State’ in International Policy?

Source: India West

Journalist: Sunita Sohrabji

India is the quintessential global swing state, and – as the country continues its meteoric rise – may achieve an outsized influence on the international stage, concluded two scholars in a report released July 26 by the Senate India Caucus.

The National Bureau of Asian Research interviewed Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, and Dan Kliman, senior advisor with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, for a report it produced for the Senate India Caucus. 

“While the term ‘BRICS’ has become a recognized term to include the five nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, Richard Fontaine and Dan Kliman make the argument that the U.S. should consider a new framework for engaging India as a ‘global swing state,’” said Sen. Mark Warner, co-chair of the Senate India Caucus. “Fontaine and Kliman include Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey in this grouping and provide an assessment of why India should be viewed through this new policy lens,” he said in a press statement.

Given its influence in world affairs, the U.S. must significantly engage in India, in areas such as maritime security and human rights policies in Burma, stated Fontaine and Kliman in the report. The U.S. must also actively engage in expanding the economic relationship between the two countries, producing a successful bilateral investment treaty and liberalizing bilateral commerce agreements.

A free trade agreement between India and the U.S. may be premature at the moment, said Fontaine and Kliman, adding however that both countries could seek to “begin putting in place the building blocks for an eventual FTA, including pursuing agreements that would ensure free trade in specific sectors,” summated the report.

Washington must allocate greater economic resources to India to cement the partnership between the countries as India’s rise on the international stage grows.

“Even as Congress wrestles with how to balance revenue and spending, it should increase the level of funding for programs involving India. Over the long term, this investment promises to deliver a high geopolitical return,” stated Fontaine and Kliman.

The researchers said they applied the American concept of a political swing state – a state with equal proportions of Republicans and Democrats which could give all its electoral college votes to either party on election day, therefore “swinging” a presidential election – to U.S. foreign policy. 

“In U.S. foreign policy, a focus on (global swing states) 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,” noted Kliman and Fontaine.

India has demonstrated its need to have a global voice, most prominently with its ongoing quest to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council and its signature on a 2011 international accord which called for “a new world order whose political, economic and financial architecture is more inclusive, representative and legitimate.”

But India’s global outlook is conversely challenged by the need for internal development growth and greater economic development within the country.

“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,” said Fontaine and Kliman. “U.S. engagement of India will remain premised on a single idea: that India will continue to play a great and growing role in international affairs,” concluded the researchers.

In related news, the Senate India Caucus wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated June 21 before he headed to New Delhi for the fourth India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.

The letter, signed by both Senate India Caucus co-chairs Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, stated the need to implement the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement, signed in 2005 by former President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The letter also urged the lifting of caps that allow U.S. companies to invest in India, and expressed concern about measures that would retroactively allow the Indian administration to levy back taxes on foreign entities.

“It is imperative that India send a clear signal that foreign businesses need not fear arbitrary, retroactive taxes,” stated Warner and Cornyn.

On his two-day trip to India, Kerry focused on climate change, urging India to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. “I know that India is well aware of the grave threat that this global crisis poses. Yours is already one of the most severely affected nations. And unfortunately, the worst consequences of the climate crisis will confront people who are the least able to be able to cope with them,” he said at a talk in New Delhi June 23.


  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012–19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009–12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy ad...