Indo-US de­fence ties

In­dia and the US share strate­gic ob­jec­tives and one area in which there is pos­i­tive con­ver­gence be­tween the two na­tions is the ris­ing threat from China


In the re­cent past, China has be­come in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent in the East and South China Sea and she has also been mak­ing bla­tant at­tempts to as­sert her sovereignty over the ar­eas claimed. This has not only been a mat­ter of se­ri­ous con­cern but has also caused a de­gree of alarm for the coun­tries in the re­gion es­pe­cially Viet­nam, Philip­pines, Malaysia and In­done­sia, apart from In­dia. But what is rel­e­vant for In­dia is that China’s ag­gres­sive pos­ture has also pro­vided an im­pe­tus to the emer­gence of a new align­ment of na­tions more ap­pro­pri­ately de­scribed as a power block, in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion con­sist­ing of four na­tions, namely the United States, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and In­dia. While this devel­op­ment ought to be of equal con­cern to China, as for In­dia, there are some un­cer­tain­ties that con­tinue to nag the newly crafted Indo-US strate­gic partnership.

Only a few decades ago, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and In­dia was not very cor­dial; in fact, it was some­what hos­tile. The US al­ways sup­ported Pak­istan which was for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses an ally, pro­vid­ing it with mil­i­tary hard­ware in­clud­ing mod­ern com­bat air­craft that were used against the In­dian forces in the Indo-Pak war of 1965. Six years later, the US Navy sent an air­craft car­rier into the In­dian Ocean in an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date In­dia dur­ing the war with Pak­istan in 1971 for the lib­er­a­tion of Bangladesh.

Re­cent his­tory of Indo-US re­la­tions have also been plagued by some tur­bu­lence. Be­fore be­ing elected as the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia in May 2014, Naren­dra Modi was per­sona non grata in the US as he was car­ry­ing the bag­gage of the car­nage dur­ing the ri­ots in Gu­jarat in 2002. Dur­ing this sor­did episode which was es­sen­tially a vi­o­lent re­ac­tion to an­other equally hor­ren­dous car­nage, a large num­ber of mem­bers of a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity were slaugh­tered in mob vi­o­lence. Naren­dra Modi was the newly in­stalled Chief Min­is­ter of Gu­jarat at that time and was re­garded by many as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the may­hem. In fact, the US Gov­ern­ment at that time had de­cided not to grant him a visa should he have ap­plied for one.

How­ever, post the land­slide vic­tory by the BJP dur­ing early 2014, there was a per­cep­ti­ble change in the sce­nario. Ex­perts in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions were of the view that the re­sults of the elec­tion would bring about a rad­i­cal change in the Indo-US re­la­tions. And they were right, at least to some ex­tent. The fact that Barack Obama was the first US Pres­i­dent to be in­vited as the chief guest at the Re­pub­lic Day pa­rade at Delhi on Jan­uary 26, 2015 may have ap­peared to some to be a sym­bolic ges­ture of mere cos­metic value, but in fact, it did help send a clear mes­sage of a new be­gin­ning in Indo-US friend­ship and the mu­tual in­tent to take the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the largest and the old­est democ­ra­cies in the world to a new level.

In­dia and the US do share strate­gic ob­jec­tives and the one area in which there is max­i­mum and pos­i­tive con­ver­gence be­tween the in­ter­ests of the two na­tions is the ris­ing threat from China. The re­cent eco­nomic tur­moil notwith­stand­ing, China is a re­gional power and is rac­ing ahead of In­dia both eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily clearly striv­ing to be a su­per­power to chal­lenge the po­si­tion of the US on the global scene. Com­bat­ing the men­ace of ter­ror­ism is an­other area where the in­ter­ests and pri­or­i­ties of In­dia and the US are con­gru­ent. On the eco­nomic front, the US views In­dia as a lu­cra­tive mar­ket for in­vest­ments pro­vided the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is able to set the house in or­der. In­dia, on the other hand, eyes the regime of high tech­nol­ogy the US has to of­fer both in the mil­i­tary and non-mil­i­tary sec­tors of the in­dus­try as also col­lab­o­ra­tion in the field of nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion to en­sure In­dia’s en­ergy se­cu­rity in the years to come.

But today, the con­tin­ued sup­port of Pak­istan by the US is a ma­jor ir­ri­tant and in fact a stum­bling block in the ef­fort by In­dia to strengthen ties with the US. What makes the con­text some­what in­con­gru­ous is the fact that while Pak­istan is vir­tu­ally an ally of China which is in­im­i­cal to both the US and In­dia, the US con­tin­ues to pro­vide lib­eral eco­nomic and mil­i­tary aid to Pak­istan. The most re­cent episode is the plan by the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion to sell to Pak­istan eight Lock­heed Martin F-16 Block 52, the most ad­vanced ver­sion of the leg­endary com­bat plat­form, os­ten­si­bly to com­bat ter­ror­ism, an al­ibi some­what dif­fi­cult to digest by even the most gullible. This deal is to be fi­nanced par­tially by an eco­nomic aid pack­age that has also been planned for this year. This de­ci­sion by the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion has been op­posed not only by In­dia but by mem­bers of the US Congress as well.

While both In­dia and the US har­bour great hopes of pro­pel­ling their strate­gic partnership to un­prece­dented lev­els, there is a lurk­ing danger that the Pak­istan fac­tor may well sub­vert the ef­forts and as­pi­ra­tions of the two na­tions. And China will leave no stone un­turned to spoil the party!

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi

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