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Continental and Maritime in U.S.-India Ties

Author: Evan A. Feigenbaum
November 1, 2010
Business Standard


Two worlds--continental and maritime--have intermingled and collided throughout the history of Asia. For a thousand years, Asia was deeply interconnected. Goods, capital, technologies, ideas and religions moved across Silk Road caravan routes and over well-trafficked Asian sea-lanes.

But between the 16th and 18th centuries, Asia fragmented. Maritime trade swamped continental trade. And many of India's traditional roles in Asia were subsumed within the British Empire.

To American strategists, today's India is a jumble of contradictions. India is a maritime nation--strategically situated near key chokepoints--but with a continental strategic tradition. India is a nation of illustrious mercantile traditions but for decades walled off large swaths of its economy.

Much has changed, largely because India's rapid economic growth has allowed it to break from the confining shackles of South Asia. India is again an Asian player, better integrated into the East Asian economic system and with a growing capacity to influence the balance of power.

So, as US President Barack Obama arrives in India this week, it's worth asking this question about US-India relations: If so much has changed, why do Washington and New Delhi remain burdened, even imprisoned, by continental preoccupations?

At one level, this is unavoidable. Indeed, viewed from an Indian perspective, it is understandable. After all, Pakistan's choices complicate American policies. And elements of Washington's partnership with Islamabad complicate Indian policies too.

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