Indo-US defence relations
– Will irritants persist?
Much before US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in India on his recent visit, his agenda was well known. The visit was follow up to President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January. Carter, who had travelled to India in September 2013 as Deputy Secretary of Defense to sign the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) between the two countries, was expected to give the DTTI a major boost in addition to the joint venture ‘Make in India’ projects agreed during the visit of Obama: next-generation Raven UAVs; intelligence gathering and reconnaissance modules for C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft; mobile electric hybrid power sources, and; chemical and biological warfare protection gears for soldiers. During Obama’s visit, the two countries had renewed the defence framework agreement which defines steps to be taken in the next decade (up to 2025) to give a major boost to the bilateral defence partnership, incorporating for the first time a provision to co-produce weapons in India along with transfer of technology under the DTTI.
The new framework for India–US defence relations in 2005 had resulted in increased defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, collaboration and cooperation in maritime security and countering sea piracy. In 2014, for the first time an Indian Navy ship participated in the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Bilateral dialogue of the Indo-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) has been ongoing post-9/11 attack; forums being the Defence Joint working Group (DJWG), Joint Technical Group ( JTG), Defence Procurement and Production Group (DPPG), Senior Technology Security Group (STSG), Military Cooperation Group (MCG) and Service to Service Executive Steering Group (ESGs).
During his recent visit, Ashton Carter heading a 13-member delegation visited the Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam before coming to Delhi where he met the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, External Affairs Minister and the National Security Advisor. Carter conveyed to Prime Minister Modi that India was an important strategic partner for the US, US policy of rebalance in Asia-Pacific complimented India’s ‘Act East’ policy, and that US is committed to the expeditious implementation of the decisions reached between him and President Obama. Views were also exchanged on regional issues, including the situation in Afghanistan, and the recent developments in the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region. With Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Secretary Carter discussed existing and emerging regional security dynamics, Indo-US defence relationship and the broader India-US Strategic Partnership, reaffirming their commitment to expand and deepen the bilateral defence relationship. The hallmark of Carter’s visit was signing of the 2015 Framework for the India-US Defence Relationship, aimed at guiding the bilateral defence and strategic partnership for 10 years.
The new framework agreement provides avenues for high level strategic discussions, continued exchanges between armed forces of both countries, and strengthening of defence capabilities recognising the transformative nature of the DTTI. While two projects for joint development of mobile electric hybrid power sources and the nextgeneration protective ensembles were finalised, agreements were also reached on: expediting discussions for cooperation on jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction, and other areas; pursuing co-development and co-production projects that will offer tangible opportunities for US defence industries to build defence partnership with Indian industries including manufacturing under ‘Make in India’, and; enhancing bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, like maritime security and knowledge partnership in the field of defence.
While import of 22 Apache attack helicopters and 16 heavy lift Chinook helicopters were already cleared, how the ‘Make in India’ will progress under the DTTI remains to be seen. Technology sharing and maritime security cooperation were also being linked in the past to India signing agreements like the CISMOA (communication interoperability and security memorandum agreement), LSA (logistics supply agreement) and BECA (basic exchange and cooperation agreement for geospatial cooperation). This apart, the thrust of the US side over the years generally appears to be for cooperation on the high seas of the Indo-Pacific other than promoting business for the arms industry. Arguably, post such high level Indo-US dialogue, mention is made that regional developments too were discussed but the question is how seriously does the US take India’s security concerns like Pakistan’s continued proxy war against India; China’s aggressive posture astride the Himalayas; China’s strategic lodgment in Gilgit-Baltistan; efforts to undercut India’s role in Afghanistan; and China’s sub-conventional aggression in Myanmar and India to name a few.
The fact is that the Pakistan-China nexus may well be the most dangerous in the world, facilitating a seaboard to China on the Indian Ocean next to the Persian Gulf. Both these countries are nuclear powers and are proactively indulging in proxy wars. Continued US support the Pakistani military despite all this, even blatant nuclear proliferation, is certainly detrimental to Indian interests. The question is, will the US address these concern or will these irritants continue in the Indo-US defence cooperation matrix?
Continued US support to the Pakistani military despite all this, even blatant nuclear proliferation, is certainly detrimental to Indian interests
LT GENERAL P.C. KATOCH (RETD)