India-US Partnership Lifted to New Height
Two recent profound developments took place in the relationship between India and the United States. One was the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in Washington and another was the second meeting of the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in New Delhi.
These two developments certainly have given an idea of the transformational shift that has taken place between New Delhi and Washington over the last two years. When the Modi government came to power in May 2014, the relationship between the two countries was at a low level. However, soon after coming to power in May 2014, Prime Minister Modi decided to redirect his government’s efforts to sustain and deepen ties with the United States. President Obama warmly reciprocated to Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to forge a new bonhomie between New Delhi and Washington. This, in turn, elevated the relationship to the height of India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue.
True, as the Indian External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Foreign Secretary John F. Kerry held the second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue on 30 August in the background of an unprecedented political unrest in which Pakistan role is seemingly visible, the Indian strategic community eagerly waited to see how Secretary Kerry would react to these developments. Undoubtedly, his stand on both the issues bolstered India.
Despite Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the political unrest in the Kashmir Valley, the US has chosen, rightly so, not to extend any attention to Pakistan’s outcry. Instead, the joint statement released on the meeting of second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue has once again asked Pakistan to bring Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks, vindicating India’s concerns over Pakistan’s role in exporting the menace of terrorism into its territory including the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
While Defence cooperation has been a fulcrum of the strategic partnership between India and the US, it has further received unbound boost of late. In June 2016, the Obama Administration designated India as a “major defence partner of the United States.” In turn, this privilege enables India to be treated as equal of the US’ allies, further facilitating New Delhi’s access to US advanced defence technology under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has led the defence partnership to a new level.
This particular agreement, a modified version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), says that the US and India shall provide logistic support, supplies and services to each other, facilitating “enhanced operational readiness and cost effective mutual support” between the two. At the same time, with the aim of protecting India’s strategic autonomy this agreement does not allow the two countries to develop their permanent military base in each other other’s country. There is also a provision in the agreement that one country can refuse to provide for logistic support to the other, if it so feels.
Indeed, these transformational developments in the defence field have not taken place in vacuum, but there are some significant structural and domestic factors for the two countries to enlarge their ties in this area. There is a growing feeling among US security officials and experts that given its economic slowdown and increasing security crises in the Asia Pacific the Middle East and other parts of the world, it is not possible for the US to ensure peace and security alone.
It needs to engage rising powers like India in this regard. As the Indian government attempts to speed up the process of military modernisation with increased foreign direct investment in the defence sector, Washington sees good economic prospects in deepening defence ties with New Delhi. The rise of China and its assertive posturing in the South China Sea in recent times is another reason for the US to expand security and military relations with India.
For its part, India is aware of the fact that it cannot aggressively pursue the process of military modernisation without having access to advanced US weaponry and technology.
At a time when China is asserting its positions on disputed territories with India, blocked its entry into the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), and there is growing nexus between Beijing and Islamabad, New Delhi feels that the presence of the US in South Asia would help maintain balance of power its favour.
India also needs the active participation of the American defence industry to build a strong defence infrastructure base in the country. Isolating Pakistan internationally for using terrorism as a state policy against India also requires New Delhi to sustain security talks and military exercises with Washington. India needs US’ support to achieve the status of a major global player.
Since leadership, domestic and international factors and forces would continue to guide the foreign policy behaviour of India and the US towards each other, and since India enjoys bipartisan support in the US, the relationship would continue to deepen and expand their bilateral engagement.