What is the current status of India-US relations? India US used to be known as ‘estranged democracies’ (Dennis Kux). However since the end of cold war, they have strengthened their strategic partnership. The common factor is rise of China. Beginning of strategic partnership. After operation Shakti, there were 14 rounds of talks within two years between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott (US deputy secretary of state). It has led to the visit of US president Clinton and the beginning of strategic partnership with the release of vision statement. Up till now USA’s approach was to hyphenate India and Pakistan rather than any independent India policy. It was the influence of Ashley Tellis (Indian born US expert) that Bush administration started de-hyphenation. Reasons for the change? Relative decline in the importance of Pakistan. Attraction of Indian economy. The power of Indian diaspora. Rise of China.
In 2010, during Obama’s visit, there was a beginning of strategic dialogue. In 2015, strategic dialogue became strategic and commercial dialogue. Trump administration started 2+2 dialogue. What is the state of the relations? At present if India has the closest relations with any country, it is USA. Once south block was known for ‘reflexive anti-Americanism’, now it has become a thing of the past. Vajpayee called USA as the natural ally, Modi held that ‘Our relationship has overcome ‘hesitations of history’. Areas of strategic partnership. The strongest pillar is defence cooperation. The other pillars are civil nuclear cooperation, high technology and space, clean energy, stability in Indo-Pacific region. However India and USA do have disputes over Doha talks, Climate change negotiations, Visa related issues, Intellectual property rights especially related to pharmaceuticals.
Our nations have overcome ‘Hesitations of history’PM Modi on Indo US relationship.
India US relations are moving toward maturity. There are more than 50 dialogue forums where there is a regular interactions. The relationship has become too broad. Some of the pronouncements of Trump administration has further cemented the relations.
1. India is the only country for which Trump administration has released hundred years strategy.
2. In the National Security Strategy of the administration, China, Russia have been criticized as a threat where India is seen as a critical partner to maintain peace and stability in Indo-Pacific.
3. Trump administration’s South Asian strategy related to Afghanistan has been critical of Pakistan and appreciative of India.
4. Recently Indo-US cooperation in counter-terrorism is growing as US has announced bountis on the arrest of some major terrorist leaders.
Indo-US defence cooperation.
There is big change from Cold war era. Today the strongest aspect is the defence cooperation. USA is challenging Russia’s status. One of the weakness of India Russia defence partnership is – very limited military to military contacts. One of the major strength of India US has become huge military to military interactions, massive exercises.
In 1993, defence policy group was revived. In 2005 India US defence framework agreement for 10 years was concluded. It has been again re-entered in 2015 for another 10 years.
What is USA’s approach?
To replace Russia as India’s major defence supplier.
What was the uniqueness of India Russia partnership?
It had gone beyond buyer and seller. They have been developing jointly. Russia is also doing technology transfer. To counter Russia, USA started DTTI initiative. (Defence, Trade, Technology Initiative). Pathfinder projects have been started. There is a technology sharing arrangement. India and USA will also be going for joint production, development. Interoperability between the two forces is developing. India has already signed 3 foundational agreements.
1. EUMA (End User Monitoring Agreement) this gives US inspection rights.
2. LEMOA (Logical Exchange Memorandum Agreement).
3. COMCASA – This will allow India to acquire sensitive weapons like Sea-Guardian drones. Only one agreement is remaining that is (4) BECA (Basic Exchange Communication Agreement – Sharing of geo-spatial information).
USA has also accorded India the status of major defence partner and STA 1 ( Strategic Trade Authorization Act. This will also allow India to access high technology weapons which are available only for closest allies like Britain.
India US cooperation against China.
India’s location in India ocean makes India the natural partner for USA. US policy is to control the oceans. Indian ocean is strategically the most important. It is the busiest sea route. USA has given the theory of string of pearls. According to US department of defence, China has the policy of building naval bases to contain India. According to China they are not naval bases and the main objective is to ensure the safety of sea lines of communication. China has developed its first naval base in horn of Africa in Djibouti. China has also developed its military base in Badakhshan in Afghanistan. China is now training the Afghan forces in counter terrorism efforts. India has also started giving importance to naval power. In 2015 India has released new maritime doctrine which is more assertive and aggressive. The title is ‘Ensuring the safe seas’. India has claimed itself to be ‘net security provider’ in the region. India is increasing its naval presence in South China Sea(?). India, US, Japan are going for naval exercises in the region. After many hesitations it has joined QUAD. India has changed its Look East into Act East.
What is the difference in Look East and Act East?
Look East (During the time of Narsimha Rao) – Economic diplomacy and focus on South East Asia.
Look East under Vajpayee – Focus on strategic partnership and going beyond ASEAN countries. i.e. Strategic partnership with Japan, South Korea. In this phase Look East developed even domestic dimension i.e. Look East through North East. Myanmar was seen as a gateway.
Act East – In 2015, at ASEAN Summit Sushma Swaraj launched Act East. Background: For long USA has been insisting to stop looking east, start ‘act east’ (Hillary Clinton). Though Act East is a continuity with Look East, yet there are some changes.
1) Scope has become wider. Indo Pacific region.
2) It now also includes North East Asia with special emphasis on Mongolia.
3) Pacific islands and Australia as well as New Zealand are covered.
4) Special focus on maritime dimension. (India strengthening Nuclear triad).
According to former foreign secretary, Look East will be linked to Look West. It means India will be strengthening partnership with GCC countries. India recently acquired Duqm port in Oman.
Views of scholars.
Shivshankar Menon (Ex Diplomat, NSA to Manmohan Singh).
Book CHOICES. There is a conviction in Indian foreign policy makers that India US strategic partnership, serves India’s interest better. However there a consciousness that there is a creative tension in the relations. e.g. There is a perfect congruence in the east, however the relationship is awkward in the west.
Teresita Schaffer & Howard Schaffer
Book INDIA AT A GLOBAL HIGH TABLE.
The current strategic realities create strong imperatives for closer relations with USA yet the manner in which India conducts its foreign policy is preachy and pricklish (India lacks strategic culture, known for exceptionalism, don’t understand their own benefits). It means there is a limit to which US can expect, limit to which US can rely on India
Book OUR TIME HAS COME.
India is charting its course to power. India is a rising power of Asia. It is better if USA appreciate India’s approach. USA should make efforts to strengthen the partnership.
India US relations are complicated. US never had to deal with any country like India before. India is neither ally nor adversary and USA has been used to looking countries from these two frameworks.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT article.
India should not get overjoyed with USA’s heartwarming phrases like ‘India is a consequential partner for USA’. As world is chaotic, leave options open. USA should not shape India’s options.
In comparison to China, India fails to effectively combine power, principle and pragmatism. India should resist temptations to look geopolitics in ideological terms. For long India wanted a multipolar world, now India should learn the art of living in the multipolar world.