India and the United States will hold their third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue on October 27 during which the sides are expected to explore ways to further strengthen defence, security and global strategic ties includingIndo-Pacific region. For the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, the US has requested an in-person meeting in New Delhi rather than a virtual meeting, however in view of the US presidential elections in November 2020, pandemic Post-COVID 19 situation and uncalled for People’s Liberation Army (PLA) encroachment across Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, October 27 has been agreed to be the most suitable date for such a dialogue. Both sides are likely to carry out a comprehensive review of their strategic cooperation.
Announcing the date for the talks, the ministry of external affairs said US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper will visit India on October 26 and 27. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will represent the Indian side at the talks.
The high-level talks are taking place in the midst of India’s festering border row with China in eastern Ladakh as well as renewed global focus on growing Chinese military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Both the issues are expected to figure in the talks.
The US has been severely critical of Chinese behaviour in eastern Ladakh. People familiar with the upcoming talks said the overall focus of the deliberations is likely to be on further ramping up of defence and security cooperation including expansion of intelligence sharing as well as military-to-military ties. The US is fully aware of the aggressive Chinese moves in East China Sea (ESC) and South China Sea (SCS), massive naval maneuvers, aggressive posture against Taiwan and serious human rights violations in Hong Kong beside continuing genocide in Xinjiang and Tibet.
It is expected that the two sides may finalise the long-pending Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to further boost bilateral defence ties. The BECA will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.
In June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation.
The two countries signed another pact called Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high-end technology from the US to India. The two sides are also expected to talk about the modalities that need to be made to the COMCASA agreement, which has already beeninked.
The first edition of the two-plus-two dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump approved the mechanism. The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year. The framework of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.
In view of the Chinese forays continue growing the US has decided to place a liaison officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC) for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which is located in NCR Gurugram. Due to the global lockdown due to COVID 19, the US has yet to post the officer. But it will be decided during the third round of Indo-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
Also, for improving interoperability and cooperation between the forces of the two countries, India is considering the US request for posting liaison officers at the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
Besides the growing tensions between India and China along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, and Chinese growing presence in the IOR, the talks will be centered on Anti-Missile Defence, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Network Centric Warfare.The two sides are also expected to talk about the modalities that need to be made to the COMCASA agreement.
The recent UAE-Israel deal, growing unrest in West Asia, the Indo-Pacific Region, Quad, enhanced military cooperation, including joint development of UAVs, are expected to be included in the talking points between the two sides.
A Letter of Acceptance (LoA) from the Trump administration is expected which is for the sale of Integrated Air Defense Weapon System (IADWS). Talks between the US-based Raytheon Corporation and Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace will take off once the letter is handed over to India. In view of the growing tensions between India and China, expediting the pending deal for 30-armed UAVs from US-based General Atomics could be discussed.
India and the US are in the midst of negotiating — air-launched UAV, which will be a co-development project between the US Air Force Research Labs, the Indian Air Force, Defense Research and Development Organisation, and a Bengaluru based Indian Startup Company.
The date for this event also holds weightage as on the same date a four day Chinese Communist Party plenary has been scheduled in Beijing, in which 370 members of Central Committee will interact with the Chinese head of the state Xi Jinping to review policies and discussions on the next five-year plan. During this the signing of India-US agreements will also have its ramifications in China. This will also provide the anti-Xi Faction of CCP to target Xi Jinping.
Indeed the discussion on Afghanistan Peace Process will also be on the table. Trump administration is adamant on the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and is eyeing on India to fill in that envisaged void which will the aftermath of US withdrawal. With Taliban being the party to peace talks India has always maintained a safe distance with Taliban during their recent talks with India at Doha. A full-fledged dialogue with Taliban will be contradictory to the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) which is proposed by India at UNGA since 1996 and it will also be in contradiction to India’s stand on Afghan peace process which must be led, owned and controlled by Afghan i.e. the democratically elected govt.
Conclusively, with high hopes there is lot on table for India and US to benefit each other taking the benefit of the current strategic scenario and gains for India could be even more depending upon the negotiations. Certainly it would a take India-US relations much closer than ever before.