India becomes - by objective standards - one of America's two most important strategic allies in the 21st century, the other being China. With its global economic footprint rapidly expanding, New Delhi's long-rising defense budget signals its growing need to defend those interests. Considering this young nation's vast rural poor, India is highly incentivized to accelerate globalization's advance.
Thus, whether Indians realize it or not, the world's largest democracy moves swiftly toward the role heretofore dominated by the demographically still-vibrant but decidedly overleveraged United States: shaping and securitizing global futures. As such, India's tendency to locate its global identity in the realm of past victimhood is dangerously self-limiting.
America, the original globalization-in-miniature, faces a loss of identity and power in any future globalization that does not reflect its middle-class values. As such, Washington persistently views violent, extremist anti-globalization forces as an existential threat to the global body politic.
This is a reasonable fear. As this global middle class emerges, it must foster self-rule from the middle, lest radical answers from the left or authoritarianism from the right predominate. As the tumultuously democratic half of globalization's dynamic duo, India's example could not be more powerful or more crucially important. But it is one thing to promote a national brand and another thing to defend it.
This world assumes globalization equals Westernization equals Americanization, thus rising Asia clings myopically to the notion that militarily defending the global economy is somehow America's job alone. America's lengthy bout of aggressive unilateralism under Bush-Cheney greatly strengthened this strategic illusion.
Here's the inescapable truth: It will be Asia - not America or Europe - that provides the bulk of pioneering individuals who will both extend and settle globalization's many economic frontiers in coming years. Globalization's advance will feature an Asian face, triggering far more Asian responsibility.
India is nowhere close to being ready. Like an America circa 1880, Indian officials realize the nation's economic and network connectivity with the world vastly outpaces the government's diplomatic and military capacity to protect it, rendering it unduly reliant on U.S. efforts.
What did America do back then? It developed a vision of its great power role and built up the hard-power and soft-power capacity to implement it.
More importantly, America developed and sustained a willingness to use such capacity around the world, at first experimenting primarily in the Caribbean and Pacific and choosing relatively weak opponents - e.g., the faltering Spanish empire. By the time of its successful intervention in World War I, America had entirely rebranded its military as a global force for stability.
India doesn't have the luxury of a four-decade rebranding campaign. Worse, New Delhi displays a strategic myopia regarding its military's structural development, preferring to see its forces still built overwhelming around the highly specific Pakistan scenario - as if that is its only responsibility.
Instinctively, India's navy reaches out to participate in international crises, like its impressive response to the 2004 Asian tsunamis disaster or its recent timely appearance off the coast of Somalia to combat pirates alongside NATO vessels.
While these initial steps are most welcome, India's national security community must dramatically accelerate its own discussion of the nation's emerging role as a guarantor of globalization's stability. To that end, a New Delhi that cannot imagine for itself a security role in Afghanistan, instead preferring to monitor the nearer Line of Control, misses a serious opportunity to redefine its brand globally.
Is their strategic risk in such a path? If there were none, it would hardly be worth taking. But, after the Mumbai attacks, it strikes me as inconceivable that India would remain a strategic bystander to Washington's growing efforts to regionalize an appropriate solution to the deeply unsettled Afghanistan-Pakistan border situation.
In short, India can no longer outsource its strategic interests to the United States because America can no longer cover all such bets.