The United States has been active in its policies toward the smaller countries of South Asia in the Indian Ocean region. In recent weeks, the U.S. concluded its third annual security dialogue with Bangladesh and sponsored a resolution against Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes. Since early 2014, Washington has called for new elections in Bangladesh after much of that country’s opposition boycotted national polls, and last year the U.S. pursued a defense agreement with Maldives that would have allowed rights for U.S. military personnel visiting the country.
These policies reflect careful consideration of U.S. strategic interests and democratic principles, but India has not viewed all of them favorably. While there is certainly much convergence between U.S. and Indian aspirations for stability in Afghanistan and East Asia, structural cleavages characterize both nations’ political and strategic approaches to the smaller countries in India’s backyard.
The first part of 2014 has been particularly marked by disagreements between India and the U.S. over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives. In 2012 and 2013, the U.S. received India’s vote for a UNHRC resolution calling for Sri Lanka to investigate alleged human rights violations during the final stage of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Yet India abstained from voting this year, explaining that the U.S.-sponsored resolution went too far by demanding an “intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty” and an “external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate.” The State Department expressed disappointment with India’s lack of support.