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US-India Defense Ties: How Far Can They Go – Analysis

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By Pramod Jaiswal and Kimberley Anne Nazareth*

Ashton Carter, US Secretary of Defence’s visit to India this April was a call on his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar among many other diplomatic parleys that came along with this Indian stoppage. This was Carter’s fourth visit to India as Secretary and his second one in less than a year, thus underscoring the importance of India as a strategic partner. It could also very well be his last visit on behalf of the Obama administration. In an attempt to end his Presidential tenure on a positive note with India, the outgoing President of the US, Barack Obama by sending members of his cabinet, is trying to make up for any damage that was done to the Indo-US bilateral relations during the course of his reign. Added to which, the Obama administration is trying to leave no stone unturned in the process of bringing much needed global closure on issues that had been lingering for long.

While it still has many cases pending- such as the closing-down of the Guantanamo Bay, and many have once again cropped-up on its agenda courtesy deteriorating security situation- Afghanistan and Iraq, the current US administration has been able to meet success on many other fronts. For instance, having struck a nuclear agreement with Iran in July 2015, which thereby brought the country out of international isolation and diminished the prospects of a nuclear global showdown that had been looming large, the US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Iranian foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif during the UN Summit late in April 2016, highlighting the consistency with which the US has been approaching what it had promised to deal with.

Carter’s visit took him to the coastal region and home state of the Indian Defence Minister, Goa and then on to New Delhi to meet with the Prime Minister. The agenda was tightly planned into a three-day visit between April 10-12, wherein they visited the INS Vikramaditya aircraft as well as the USS Blue Ridge, indicating that the Pentagon has altered its attitude from a presumptive ‘no’ to a presumptive ‘yes’ on issues of maritime cooperation with India.

For the first time on a public platform, Secretary Carter used the term ‘strategic handshake’ to describe India-US ties. It marks a testimony to the budding strategic partnership that is forming between the two nations by indicating the growing convergence of India and US’s interests in the region. Carter called the US-India relationship as the “defining partnership of the century”. However, Indians should not over read this as the Americans are looking to head into in the Asia-Pacific with full force and need a strong base of allies to support them which includes among others, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

On the agenda of this meeting was the renewal of the persuasion to sign the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) defence agreements. While the US has signed these with most of its strategic partners, the LSA would however be problematic for if the US were to get militarily involved in the Middle East and require logistical support, then India would have to provide it.

Added to which, if India were to sign these agreements, they would be bound to the US and this could create problems with China. According to Parrikar, India has agreed ‘in principle’ but not on paper. India and the US have been trying to finalize with these agreements for a long time but not to much avail. They are yet to put their signatures on them. Not only are these agreements about technology transfer, but they involve other aspects as well. These also include furthering logistical exchange in terms of military cooperation in Asia, as also in terms of other material support such as food and fuel.

Though India may not have signed the above mentioned, it has however shown interest in the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which would make India a co-developer and could very well boost India’s ‘Make in India’ strategy in the defence sector. However, even as a number of projects were announced at the time of the 2015 Presidential visit by Barack Obama, not all of them have been able to move forward.

Reiterating their shared vision and ideals, the main reason for the visit was to reaffirm the convergence of the US rebalance strategy and India’s ‘Act East’ Policy. Though this is not the specific mandate of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ to contain China, it could very well be seen as a check on China’s posturing in the region. India’s ‘Act East’ aims at strengthening ties with regional nations who fear China’s activities. In a wider regional scenario, the visit initiated by India could nevertheless be a signal to China of the emerging India and US alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore. However, Beijing is countering these through Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, etc. The US and India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which signals a closer mover towards the US. However, India is not looking to freeze or contain China as they have to balance the relationship with both.

Prior to his visit, the Secretary stated that the US was looking for stronger relations but not ‘anything exclusive’. Though progress was made in terms of logistics and technology transfer, joint military exercises with Japan and MoU on this will be signed in the coming weeks. The talks cantered round the modernisation of the Indian Navy.

From the looks of it, it seems to be business as usual that the US and India will continue to engage and maintain their strategic partnership; the only difference is that the wordings have been tweaked. India is still reluctant to commit and rightfully so. Should India sign the CISMO, BECA and LSA or continue to exert its autonomy? Will the next American President push India harder which would be problematic for India? The dilemma is that while India is trying to assert itself in the region, it also wants to retain its autonomy vis-a-vis the US. How far the two would go to accommodate the interest of the other is left for time and their strategic interests to tell.

*Dr. Pramod Jaiswal and Kimberley Anne Nazareth are associated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi. They can be reached at: [email protected]

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One thought on “US-India Defense Ties: How Far Can They Go – Analysis

  • Avatar
    May 13, 2016 at 3:03 am
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    This ties helps India to grow their desire for bilateral business as well as it could boost the terms in fascinating ways for defense system. However, in this Nuclear race, India most think for their nation security as well. We see terrorism is increasing day by day in the name of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shebab, Boko-harem, and ISIS threat which not only terrifying middle east but all over the world. Defense Technology is a great thing for India, but it also intensifies the relation between two neighbor Pakistan and China who are well equipped with Nuclear warheads. Diplomatic strategies most be gained to maintain bilateral and multilateral terms in case of sharing goods and information. Though everyone has that’s rights to agreement with big powers, but sometimes, immediate action leads mutual consent to be dangerous in terms of tie which can pressurized India to send their army in Syria, Afghanistan which can be an American strategy. Though India is aware on such but the tactics can lead more tension in South-Asia as American want their allies to be in one channel to surround the emerging China economic power and it’s interest to stop from alleging like South China Sea and many hidden reasons which India and it’s neighboring countries knows very well. This is not the time of confronting with China as China is a 2nd economic power after US. Big challenges for Indian so called Modi’s Government is to maintain bilateral and multilateral relation so tactfully so that they can have a balance relation with all around the world. However, the formation of BJP government is much much aware on such issues as it can lead anything if not governed and think from different perspectives. As we respect Indians and their technology but this race to be a first can destroy the relation with all the SAARC countries and as we know Pakistan who got direct support from US and China as a self-tested missiles and F-22 warhead fighters which makes Indian strategy to change as per their mutual benefits and security as well. In today’s context, Security is the first thing we people have to deal with. While dealing with it’s neighboring countries like Nepal, the south block have to change their strategy. Though i am Nepalese citizen and we want to maintain our relations good with all neighboring countries and around the world but the Indian embargo created not only tensions between these two countries but it can shock Indian government as well as American strategy is playing in a serious manner. Though mutual consent is good for countries but sometimes i feel Indian strategy knock out as a traditional way as Nepal becoming a Transit for Americans and EU to directly affect your region as well so India should think from long term benefits as well. Nepal rich in Water resources and we all know that India needs resources now and in future, however they fail to adopt a simple mechanisms of life that if you make your image good in Nepal city and places then people can support but this way of action leads Nepal free from their strategy as this is a failure to address the immediate situation. Constitution may change but when relation dies then seed cannot give a life so as perception matters. Further, India on past fail to talk with Srilanka’s president Mahendra Rajapaksa regarding LTTE, relation with Nepalese Government to settle Maoist but their immaturity leads now a headache for themselves as 601 parliament members. This case can lead Indian weak strategy and being aggressive does not give any sense but it destroy both country peace and mostly a case of civil war in future which they have to be serious on that from today as in both country there are some few groups who want to fail Modi Government. Many hidden activist were playing in Nepal in terms of Free Tibet, which can also drag India in maintaining relations with its big economic allies China. Agreement should be carried out if it directly depends upon country’s economic and Military powers but sometimes defense ties lead more tensions mostly in home as well why we need Nuclear toys if we don’t have a development in home and most of the cities and rural areas facing scarcity in food, social issues and security. The challenges are there but Intellectuals in India has that sense of such agreements which can help both the countries in the form of developing relations in more fascinating ways, in more diplomatic ways.
    Amit Pokhrel
    M.Sc. Urban Design and Conservation (Waiting result)
    B.E. Civil

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