Defence and Security cooperation is a key component of the bilateral relationship between India and the USA. Over the two-decades, especially since the enforcement of the New Framework for India-U.S. Defense Relations in 2005, both the countries have created a wide-ranging strategic partnership.
The 2005 framework, as well as the renewed 2015 framework, resulted in intensification of relations in defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, collaboration and cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy, and exchanges between each of the three services.
The desire for enhanced engagement is better reflected in the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region that was unveiled during Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015.
The vision brings the Act East Policy of NDA Government and the Pivot to Asia Doctrine of Obama administration in tandem.
The ‘Act East Policy’, which was articulated in August 2014, builds on the ‘Look East Policy’ of the Narsimha Rao Government and envisages accelerated across-the-board engagement between the two growth poles of a vibrant Asia, that is, India and ASEAN countries.
Under the Pivot to Asia policy, one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to lock in a substantially increased investment—diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise—in the Asia-Pacific region.
• Emergence of Asia: The 21st century is the century of Asia. As per experts, the increased prosperity in the century comes mostly from the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, it is quite logical for the world’s largest political, military and economic power to build new alliances in the region to get the bigger pie.
• Within Asia, apart from China, India is the only major country with which the USA doesn’t enjoy fulfilled military relations despite the USA being the second major trading partner in the world.
• Since the end of the World War II, the USA could bring the major countries in the region including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc under its ‘umbrella of friendship’. Hence, building partnership with India is the only remaining natural choice for the USA.
• Chinese challenge: Considering the present global dynamic, China is the only country that can pose challenge in the near-term to the supremacy of the USA in the present ‘unipolar’ world. To counter the so called China’s ‘Peaceful Rising’ strategy, India appears as a best ally for the USA as it shares around 3500 long land border.
• Lucrative India’s arms market: As per a SIPRI report released in February 2016, India remains the world’s largest weapons importer between over a 5-year period between 2011 and 2015. This trend provides a huge opportunity for the world’s largest arms exporter that is vying for diversification of markets in the context of saturation in the existing markets (like Europe) and competition (from China).
• Geostrategic Dynamics: Military relations with India is a major necessity for the USA, as it has security interests in the region including Af-Pak, Iran, Iraq, etc. In-principle approval for the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in April 2016 is expected to decentralize and ease the pressure on US military on provision of logistical support, supplies and services.
• South Asia has been at the centre of global political scene since the colonial times. The region, especially India, is of considerable ‘military’ significance for the global major military power due to its strategic location, access to Indian Ocean, connectivity to the Central Asian region, etc.
• India’s track-record: India is better qualified to become the major defence ally in the region as it has cordial military-civilian relationship and functioning democracy. To this end, the USA, in June 2016, recognised India as ‘major defence partner,’ a classification that will allow India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from the country.
• Terrorism: Modern day terrorism is formless, borderless and Stateless. It can be emanated from any source and in any form. Hence, the partnership is essential to tackle diversified dangers originating from piracy, illegal migration, cyber threats, chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.
• Retaining the superiority in high seas: Lastly, it is because of its superior naval power the USA emerged and remained as the major global military power. Hence, it is the urge to continue its dominance over the high seas that compel the USA to forge alliance with India that has the access to Indian Ocean.
• Towards this end, the USA has kept maritime security component at the core of recent bilateral relationship as a whole. The inaugural Maritime Security Dialogue in May 2016 and the Malabar Exercise 2016, involving Japan, near the South China Sea proves this emphasis.
• Thwarting ‘Nuclear-threat’: India is sand witched between two nuclear armed States – China and Pakistan. Hence, it is a necessity for India to maintain the state of the art nuclear technology in order to be seen and perceived as a major deterrent force.
• For this to happen, access to nuclear materials and sensitive technologies, membership in the export control regimes like Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement and Australian Group is the key.
• To gain this access and membership, the USA leadership has explicitly and openly declared its support to India on a number of occasions including in the Joint statement on India-US endurance as global partners in 21st Century that was issued during Modi’s visit to the White House in June 2016.
• Military modernization: The Ministry of Defence announced the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) in 2013 covering a period of 15-years. The focus of the LTIPP is to modernize the Indian Armed Forces at an estimated cost of 100 billion US dollars by 2027.
• To reach this goal, the USA can play a big role as it is home to major defence and aerospace companies in the world such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, etc.
• And this expectation is not unreasonable given the transformative role played by the US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) since its establishment in 2012 and a series of recent policy measures including the 100% FDI in defence, Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 to facilitate indigenous production.
• Countering China: China’s ‘String of Pearls’ doctrine has been posing a major challenge for India’s ambition to become a regional power. To contain this trend, association with an even bigger power like the USA will be handy for India.
• Countering Pakistan: Pakistan has been an ally of the USA since the times of cold war. Time and again, Pakistan proved as a major security threat for India as it has been a source of cross border terrorism.
• Hence, to keep Pakistan under check the military muscle of the USA is the best bet for India which was rightly proved during the Kargil Conflict. During the war in 1999, the Clinton administration successfully exerted pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its troops and consequently averting a major war between the neighbours.
Undoubtedly, the USA is the world’s major military power in terms of well-trained human resources, technology, research and development and production. Hence, it is imperative for India to strengthen the alliance in order to leverage the capabilities of the USA and its partners (like Israel, Germany, etc) alike.
However, the alliance is not without its hindrances, setbacks and pitfalls. The Senate’s rejection of an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act, 2017 that proposed ‘global strategic and defence partner status’ on par with NATO allies to India is indicative of lack of consensus in the Capitol Hill on the bilateral relations.
Similarly, on many occasions, the experts warned that India’s obsession to see the relations with the USA through the prism of China will threaten India’s sovereignty and detrimental to long term strategic interests of the nation.
Still, these minor setbacks and unsubstantiated apprehensions shouldn’t push India into a policy paralysis mode vis-à-vis the USA. No doubt, transformation of external policy from the ‘NAM Neutral Mode’ to ‘Alignment with the de-facto Super Power’ is itself a sign of India’s efforts to reinvent itself in accordance with global political dynamic.
The former British Prime Minister Henry John Temple of the 19th century rightly said – “In Global Politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, but only permanent interests.”
If at all India wants to be in the League of Major Powers the defence and security cooperation with the USA is the best bet (in fact the only bet) for India under the present circumstances. However, the litmus test for the policy makers lies in the ability to ‘get most out this cooperation’ without getting caught in the trappings (if at all they exist) of Uncle Sam.
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