You’d think the United States and India would make natural allies. A majority of Indians say they have a favorable view of America. The world’s two largest democracies, both suspicious of China’s growing military strength, should be the best of friends, right?
Not exactly. No formal military alliance exists between the two powers. The reason why … is a long story.
U.S. support of arch-rival Pakistan from the Cold War to the present day, and fear among Indian elites that superpower America could overturn India’s new and fragile sovereignty have kept the countries at a distance. Soviet aid to India didn’t help make many friends in Washington, either.
But that’s changing, albeit slowly. During a recent counter-insurgency exercise in Washington state, Kevin Knodell watched Indian and U.S. Army troops train together and carry out mock battles. The video above includes some highlights.
New Delhi’s military is experienced in this kind of fighting due to Islamist insurgencies in Kashmir and a slow-burning Maoist rebellion in the interior. But the driving principle behind these exercises is building military-to-military ties. Think of it as diplomacy … with guns.
It helps that both armies can learn from each other, and it’s good practice as the U.S. Army shrinks in size and relies more on foreign partners abroad. Indian military culture is rigid, while the U.S. Army tends to give its non-commissioned officers a great deal more autonomy.
The exercise was also a relief for the American soldiers, despite a few cultural mishaps. (at one point MREs provided to the Indians contained beef … which the soldiers politely handed back.) No harm done, fortunately. At the end of the day, training with an experienced foreign military is a lot easier than creating one from scratch.