Welcome Steps in Indo-US Cooperation
Will help India’s rise as an independent power
India and the US are drawing ever closer in strategic terms, and this is welcome. The agreement, in principle, to mutually share logistics, under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, reached during the recent visit of US defence secretary Ashton Carton to India, is the latest development in this process. A Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, under which sensitive technologies can be transferred to India for domestic manufacture, is in place since 2012. Two more agreements are being negotiated, on communications security and interoperability and on geospatial cooperation. These would help India’s desirable rise as a major, independent power that engages with all other powers.
In order to live up to this strategic vision of active, independent engagement with the rest of the world, India needs to make good two capacity deficits. One is institutional capacity for wide-ranging engagement with all relevant powers. Right now, there is the risk of New Delhi being overwhelmed by the flurry of initiatives emanating from the US and not having the resources to engage with other powers. The other is technological capability, to avoid being the passive, albeit eager, receiving end of a unidirectional flow of advanced technology. This cannot be achieved by setting up yet another government research institution. It calls for an ecosystem of vibrant universities, robust private sector participation in defence-related research and production, and extensive, but result-oriented, work in public sector research outfits.
Even if the logistics-sharing agreement falls short of opening a US base in India, doesn’t it drag India into a potential anti-China alliance led by the US? After all, a US intervention over Taiwan or in the South China Sea that makes use of, say, Indian airstrips, is far more likely than an Indian operation in the Caribbean, calling for use of US bases. The short answer is that an arrangement that ensures China’s rise stays peaceful would avert the need for external intervention and suit everyone’s interests, including China’s.