Defence Industry

Defence Collaboration: Strategic Partnership with USA
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 29.1 Jan-Mar 2014 | Date : 06 Mar , 2014

Boeing's C-17 Globemaster

The US occupies, and in the foreseeable future, will continue to occupy a position of pre-eminence on the world stage. Indian perception of world politics is a multi-polar world where a congregation of nations would set the agenda – India would be one among them. The days of the Cold War, when relations with one would be at the cost of relations with another, are long gone. A lasting relationship with the US is foreseen and India would do well to recognise the reality.

The new millennium saw USA realise the futility of sanctions that had been in place since the 1998 nuclear tests…

Indo-US relations have seldom been easy. Ever since India gained independence, representatives of the world’s two largest democracies have on numerous occasions met at the negotiating table expecting to find a friendly reception for their proposed solutions for the world’s problems, as also to iron out the wrinkles in their own relationship. Seldom have these representatives returned from their negotiations without a sense of disappointment if not betrayal!

In 1947, there were few issues that required negotiations between two geographically distant countries that had been even further separated due to America’s restrictive immigration policies and India’s colonial past. Until WW II, few Americans had visited India and Indians were even less likely to have visited the US. Elite Indians were aware of the anti-colonial stand that Franklin Roosevelt took in the meetings of the allied powers, comparing the parallel from American history. As was expected then, at the time of India’s independence, there were friendly relations between the two democracies.

In the years that followed, the friendship waned with time and the relations followed a roller-coaster ride with short periods of good feeling or downright hostility towards each other, followed by longer periods of sheer indifference. The relationship between India and the US has come a long way since the days of Eisenhower, Nehru, Kennedy, Johnson and Indira Gandhi when non-alignment was a thorn in the side. With the opening up of the economy by Narsimha Rao, the ties have become a two-way street for companies that are truly global. The process of engagement suffered a setback once again after the nuclear test by India, but picked up under Clinton and George Bush. Studies of the Indian growth, the support that India offered on the US policy on national missile defence and the support on the Global War on Terror after 9/11, made USA sit up and take notice of India and view it as a growing world power with common strategic interests.

Strategic Partnership

The new millennium saw USA realise the futility of sanctions that had been in place since the 1998 nuclear tests. President George Bush lifted the sanctions in late September 2001, which was followed by a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, Vajpayee in November 2001. Cooperation between the two nations increased during 2002-2003 and in January 2004, USA and India launched the ‘Next Steps in Strategic Partnership’ (NSSP). The relationship was further strengthened in the next few years with a flurry of high-level and working-level visits between the two nations.

The current Indo-US relationship is in consonance with common strategic goals of both nations…

The current Indo-US relationship is in consonance with common strategic goals of both nations viz. tackling global terror, security concerns in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), climate change, containing China’s challenge, economic and military, amongst others. India’s strategic location between SE Asia and West Asia and its emergence as an economic power coupled with a modernisation drive in its military, placed it on a special platform in the US security horizon. India finds a special mention in two of the most important documents, namely, the Pentagon Quadrennial Review of 2010 and the National Security Strategy – 2010. USA, in developing India as a strategic partner, valued it as a buffer against China’s economic and military growth. This was appropriate for India as China figured in its security appreciation too. According to Raja Mohan, “convinced that India’s influence will stretch beyond its neighbourhood, Bush reconceived the framework of US engagement of India.”

India is blessed with an enviable geographic location, looking out over the Sea Lanes Of Communication (SLOC) linking West and East Asia, a position that the US military finds very attractive and wanting to exploit with the grant of a quasi/semi-permanent air/naval base. Apart from this, the US military has also appreciated the diversity of terrain available in India – from desert to tropical forests to snow clad peaks – and has also recognised the Indian expertise in high-altitude warfare, counter-insurgency and peace-keeping, for training its own troops with the Indian armed forces. The new strategic relationship has mutual military collaboration as an important component and is beneficial for militaries of both countries. While the USA has the latest technology and hardware based on it, India is a leading player in knowledge economy and has demonstrated soft-power potential.

New Defence Agreement

The US and India signed a new defence cooperation agreement intending to strengthen military ties in the next decade and set up a bilateral working group that would guide India’s purchase of US arms. The ‘New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship’, signed by the then Raksha Mantri, Pranab Mukherjee (now President of India) and the then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, in June 2005, replaced the ‘Agreed Minute on Defence Relations’ of January 1995, between the two countries. With the signing of the new agreement, the two nations hoped to enter a new era of transforming their relationship.

The initial approach of the Obama Administration towards Indo-US ties raised concerns about a downturn…

The agreement foresees, amongst others, collaboration on multi-national capabilities, expanded interaction with other nations in promoting regional security, enhanced capabilities to combat proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, expanded two-way defence trade and collaboration on missile defence and increased exchange of intelligence. The new agreement also set up a Defence Procurement and Production Group as a part of the Defence Policy Group, which coordinates policy discussions between the two militaries.

Are the Indo-US Strategic Relations on Track?

The initial approach of the Obama Administration towards Indo-US ties raised concerns about a downturn from the Bush era. The unease in Indian minds was raised due to the following:

  • Obama, while campaigning for his election, linked the genesis of Af-Pak problem to Kashmir.
  • After taking over as President, his administration’s approach in handling the Taliban in Afghanistan differed significantly from the Indian perception.
  • The Indian reading of America was that its actions were selective in handling terrorism and the latter followed a different yardstick for different nations.
  • The US did not fulfil its commitment to sharing intelligence by not disclosing evidence about of David Headley, till he was interrogated by Indian agencies.
  • The Obama Administration was seen to be trying to coerce India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  • Obama, himself, was under criticism for his anti-outsourcing views.
  • There was also the apprehension that Obama was delaying the implementation of the Civil Nuclear Deal between the two nations. The US asked for a ban on transfer of enrichment technologies to non-signatories of the NPT. This was against the spirit of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal.
  • Finally, the issue of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 was proving to be an irritant in the relations between the two nations.

On the economic side too, Indo-US relations have started to fray…

A standard study of Indo-US bi-lateral relations has always labelled them as ‘estranged democracies’. However, the two democracies have moved ahead from that portrayal. Today the relations are marked with a sense of common purpose and regular interaction at all levels. Yet the two nations do not see eye-to-eye on many world issues. Sources of friction are, slowly but surely, creeping in. While some accept it as normal when two large, independently-thinking nations interact and work together on different issues, but in the prevailing circumstances, there is also the question of attitude of those in power in the two nations.

The most observable difference in opinion is on the handling the fall-out of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. While India wants the US to lead the world in backing Kabul to fight the Taliban, the US on the other hand, is in line with the Pakistan proposal to accept a political settlement with the Taliban and is trying to force the Afghanistan President, Hamid Karzai, to accept it.

On the economic side too, Indo-US relations have started to fray and India seems to have lost the goodwill that it had earned in the US Congress. While India, in its short-sightedness, passed the civil nuclear liability law, the US is soon to impose restrictions on Indian software firms. The two nations seem to be afflicted by a narrow view which needs to be resolved at the highest levels to keep the relations on track. Despite the myopia that seems to have set in, there are efforts to resolve the geo-political and economic issues.

1 2
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja

former Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left