ISSN 2330-717X

US-India Strategic Partnership Touches Himalayan Heights – Analysis

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By Dr Subhash Kapila

The United States-India Strategic Partnership has touched ‘Himalayan Heights’ , both literally and figuratively in 2020 commencing with its upgradation to a “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership’ during President Trump’s visit in February and assertions made by United States during  US-India Third 2+2 Dialogue Meet recently. 

In overall perceptions, in October 2020, both the United States and India stand undeniably committed to closely cooperate and coordinate their strategic and security initiatives towards neutralising the security challenges posed by the China Threat in Indo Pacific and its varied manifestations in other strategically sensitive regions of the world. 

United States Secretary of State and Defense Secretary Pompeo in a highly symbolic gesture of United States solidarity with India and Indian Armed Forces visited the National War Memorial in New Delhi to honour India’s war-dead ‘Bravehearts’.  This appears to be the first ever visit by foreign dignitaries to honour India’s War Heroes.

Secretary Pompeo also paid a glowing tributes to Indian Amy’s  20 ‘Galwan Gallants’ who died fighting Chinese troops in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020, but not before inflicting three times  the number of Chinese troops killed.  

The US dignitaries did not mince words on defining the China Threat but as is the wont of Indian diplomatic establishment they alluded to the China Threat unmistakably but without naming it.

Stated or otherwise, the end-game for the United States and India is the strong convergent goal of checkmating China’s military expansionism. Himalayan Heights have been touched literally in the US-India Strategic Partnership judging by the nature and content of security-related and military cooperation that both countries have institutionalised policies, those in process of execution and additional ones now agreed upon. 

The United States and India apparently have elevated the Strategic Partnership to geopolitical and military heights to encompass the global security canvass transcending the Indo Pacific confines. This Paper is not “euphoric” in analysing this game-changing achievement by United States and India together as it has gone through 20 years of its present evolution. It is a realistic analysis when measured comparatively against Congress PM Indira Gandhi’s 25 years of Indo-Russian Friendship Treaty in early 1971 which never attained such heights of security cooperation with India. Nor did it provide much geopolitical weight to India.  

In terms of India’s military capacity building the US-India military cooperation has touched Himalayan Heights visible by the speedy mobilisation of Indian Army additional inductions of military formations, tanks and heavy artillery on Himalayan Heights in Eastern Ladakh against China’s escalation of conflict made possible by predominantly American-origin Indian Air Force Transport Fleet. 

The Indian Air Force with its Heavy Lift Transport Fleet of US-origin Aircrafts and Helicopters comprising C5 Giant Globemasters. C-130 Hercules, Chinook Heavy lift Helicopters speedily airlifted both Indian Army additional troops and tanks to Leh and other Forward Airfields and locations. US Apache Attack Helicopters patrolled the skies above Eastern Ladakh.

In October 2020 significantly, the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership has finally emerged as to what I would term as “Institutionalised Security & Military Partnership” akin to a ‘Military Alliance’ though not spelt out as such. The above evolution of what I had termed in 2000 as “The Advent of the Inevitable” in my first SAAG Paper on US-India Strategic Partnership has turned into a substantive reality in 2020.

This strategic reality may not have crystallized, but for China. Ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed power in Beijing in 2013 China set itself on the course of military confrontation not only with the United States but also against India. China in 2020 has perceptively not only inflicted aggressive military turbulence globally in terms of its push towards ‘Greater China Exceptionalism’ but also escalated military confrontations on its peripheries in Indo Pacific Asia from South China Sea to India’s Himalayan Borders resting on China Occupied Tibet.  

“Evolving geopolitical compulsions and imperatives would ultimately force the United States to dispense with strategic ambiguities on China and Pakistan and push the United States to stand-by India in the intensifying China-India Military Confrontation. Such a game-changer would insure that the United States not only stands on the right side of history but also ensures the continued strategic embedment in Indo Pacific of the United States, with India’s strategic support”.

This portentous assertion in 2015 was inscribed on the back-cover of my book: ‘China- India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives’ (2015) In October 2020 it can be conceded that both United States and India geopolitically and militarily “Stand Together on the Right Side of History” judging by a detailed  analysis of the Joint Statement released on conclusion of the US-India Third 2+2 Dialogue Meet in New Delhi on October 27 2020 carried on website of US State Department. 

While the Indian media has concentrated on highlighting quotes and sound-bytes extolling the elevated security and military relationship by US and Indian top dignitaries but not analysis seems to have emerged of the substantive contents of the intense institutionalisation, integration and coordination of US –India security and military relationship incorporated under various heads in Joint Statement somehow missed media coverage.  

This Paper shall not dwell on Indian media quotes but confine itself to highlighting the main components of the elevation and intensification of the US-India Security & Military Relationship which has a bearing not only on the China Threat to India but also wider afield to Indian Ocean, Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

In global geopolitical terms, the elevated US-India security relationship has declared that the United States stands committed to ‘stand with India’ not only against threats generated by China under control of Chinese Communist Party but also against many other complex global and regional threats.

This statement of US intent transcends beyond the confines of Indo Pacific Asia and an indicator of things to come. Joint Statement also talks about close US-India coordination of their diplomatic strategies in the United Nations besides a commitment that United States will support India’s Permanent Membership of a reformed UN Security Council. This is a signal to China that it cannot continue as sole Asian Permanent Member of UN Security Council. It is also a geopolitical signalling that United States and India now stand together. 

In terms of institutionalisation, integration and coordination of US-India military mechanisms this Third 2+2 Dialogue Meet witnessed the signing of much-awaited BECA (Basic Exchange & Cooperation Agreement 2020) which when coupled with earlier COMCASA (Communications & Interoperability Agreement 2018) and LEMOA ( Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement 2016) encompasses United States aiding India what I would terms as ‘Full Spectrum Access’ to US geospatial Intelligence, sensitive US satellite imagery facilitating precision accuracy of Indian Missiles systems, to US provision of sensitive encrypted communications equipment for effective and secure C3I operations and allowing both United States and India access to each other’s logistics facilities world- wide. 

In layman terms, these institutionalised US-India mechanisms add to India’s  ‘War Preparedness’ capabilities, enhance India’s military capacity to effectively deal with the China-Pakistan Dual Military Threat and enlarges India’s projection of power in distant areas and distant seas. It would not be out of place to assert that this momentous institutionalisation of security cooperation has been formalised during the period 2016-2020—during the tenures of US President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The Indian Ocean Region has received special mention in the Joint Statement anticipating China’s increasing naval intrusiveness in the Region and entrapping smaller countries in China’s debt-trap diplomacy’.

Secretary of State Pompeo in this direction was to visit Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia after the India-visit. Pointing to the increasing US-India naval cooperation, both countries have decided to position US Navy Liaison Officer in India at the ‘Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) and the Indian Navy will position a Liaison Officer at the US Navy NAVCENT Headquarters in Bahrain. More Liaison Officers can be expected to be positioned at each other military headquarters. 

In the run-up to this Dialogue Meet another significant development took place when Australian Navy stands invited to join the MALABAR Naval Exercises of India, Japan and United States. The QUAD Initiative has now achieved substantive proportions. It is a clear signal to China to rein-in her predatory naval ambitions. United States has given a commitment to pursue increased cooperation and exchanges between Indian Armed Forces and the US Central Command and the US Africa Command.

This highlights that the elevated US-India security relationship is no longer Indo Pacific-specific but that United States envisages a greater role for India in global security affairs. This decision now incorporates India in exchanges with US Military Commands in the Middle East and Africa. Significantly again, stress in Joint Statement has been laid on developing greater military exchanges between US Special Forces and India’s Special Forces which have earned commendable appreciation worldwide. 

Reflected in the Joint Statement is India’s readiness to hold in 2023 the US-sponsored annual ‘Indo Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), Indo Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS), Senior Enlisted Leaders Forum (SELF). All this illustrates the general direction of increased US-India military exchanges.Internal Security challenges facing India too have been taken into account and the Joint Statement speaks of greater cooperation between US Homeland Security Department and Indian counterparts. Defence technology transfers, cooperation and joint development of weapon systems too seem to be in the offing. 

Before concluding, two issues need to be touched upon in terms of reactions within India and reactions of India’s implacable military adversaries—China and Pakistan.Overall, Indian reactions have generally welcomed the elevation of US-India Strategic Partnership with enlarged and heightened geopolitical and military contours with the exception of  India’s ‘Doubting Thomases’ of  Nehruvian era—remnants in academia and former diplomats with obsessive mindset of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ no longer relevant in 2020 geopolitical environment.  

Within India’s Opposition polity the expected rants of the Congress-Leftists combine was expected  long engaged in selling ‘China Narratives’ than objectively approaching the China Threat from the perspectives of India’s national security interests. 

Both these Indian segments question the timing of the Third 2+2 Dialogue Meet barely ahead by a week of US Presidential Elections and what would be the fate if Senator Joe Biden emerges as the next US President? In my assessment nothing would change even in that eventuality since the overall direction of the Washington Policy Establishment irrespective of political inclinations is that India is the ’preferred partner’ as United States grapples with security challenges thrown by China.

I would be tempted to add that India is the ‘Indispensable Partner’ as reflected in my Book quote above. China and Pakistan have reacted along expected lines and consternation is visible as increased US-India Security Cooperation visible in 2020 dilutes the effectiveness of their ‘India Disruptive Strategies’. Should India be mindful of China’s and Pakistan’s objections or concerns?” 

Concluding, over-emphasis would be an understatement to highlight the emerging geopolitical and military realities which have prompted both United States and India to virtually attain Himalayan Heights in terms of their strategic readings of the geopolitical environment and the imperatives that bind them into this “Inevitable Strategic Partnership” in comprehensive terms in 2020.

Significantly, one needs to add as a parting comment that no longer would. US Presidents ever think again of managing global security threats by a US-China Dyad with these ‘Game Changer’ analysed above elevating and institutionalising the US-India Strategic Partnership.

SAAG

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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