Global headwinds bring India, US closer : The Tribune India

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Global headwinds bring India, US closer

Washington seems to have grudgingly accepted New Delhi’s strategic autonomy

Global headwinds bring India, US closer

IMPETUS: The 2+2 dialogue between Quad partners is indicative of the growing Indo-US convergence. PTI

Gen Deepak Kapoor (retd)

Former Chief of Army Staff

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to China underlines the depth of the gradually developing close relationship between Moscow and Beijing. This embrace has geopolitical ramifications both at the regional and global levels. From the Indian perspective, in view of the ongoing Chinese expansionism in the Himalayas, any Russian support to this adventurism would be detrimental to India’s security interests. Against this backdrop, there is a need to examine the possible trajectory of Indo-US defence cooperation after the elections in both countries.

Defence trade between the US and India has increased substantially in the past 15 years.

As far as the Indian elections are concerned, the indications are that the present dispensation is likely to retain power. In such an eventuality, it would be fair to assume that the current stance of New Delhi on India-US ties would continue, leading to a steady growth in the relationship.

In the US elections — polling is due in November — it is too early to hazard a guess as to whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump will win, especially amid the latter’s legal troubles. In case of a Biden victory, the current set of US policies is likely to be followed through in relations with India. However, if Trump wins, some changes can be expected. The quid-pro-quo approach vis-à-vis European members of NATO that Trump followed during his presidency could well be adopted by him while dealing with India.

Irrespective of who becomes the US President, the competitiveness between an aggressive and expansionist China and the US is likely to grow, accentuating the geopolitical divide at the global level.

In the regional sphere, the Indian growth story and Chinese aggressiveness have resulted in a confrontational situation, which has defied resolution despite 21 rounds of military-level talks. At the political level, too, no headway appears to have been made.

India is the only nation in the region which has physically resisted Chinese attempts at grabbing territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In the Ladakh sector, China has steadfastly refused to withdraw from several areas it occupied, resulting in an eyeball-to-eyeball deployment. Further, Sino-Pakistan collusion has raised the possibility of a two-front threat to India in the sensitive J&K region.

The commonality of perceived threats is a driver of closer Indo-US ties. It has taken the US considerable time to grudgingly accept the Indian stance of ‘strategic autonomy’ in view of the coinciding national interests. The grant of Tier-1 status to India in 2018, the signing of four key foundational agreements (the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) and the commencement of the 2+2 dialogue between Quad partners is indicative of the growing Indo-US convergence.

Over the past 25 years, China’s defence budget has officially been 3-4 times larger than that of India. Unofficially, its budget could roughly be one-and-a-half times the official figures. This has created a huge military capability gap between the two, which is partially offset by excellent and superior fighting ability of our soldiers. So, India has to tread carefully while dealing with the Chinese. Thus, in the Quad deliberations, India has steered clear of security issues in view of the Chinese sensitivities. This aspect has been well understood by India’s Quad partners.

Defence trade between the US and India has increased substantially in the past 15 years. In 2020, the US Congress authorised $25 billion worth of defence sales to India up to 2025-26. New Delhi is keen on joint research and production with transfer of technology (TOT) in defence equipment. However, an agreement on this issue is yet to materialise.

It needs to be appreciated that technologically, the US is far ahead of India in advanced defence weaponry. Hence, any agreement in this field will entail the US sharing high-end technology details with India. Up to what extent the US would be willing to part with such sensitive knowhow and at what price remain in the realm of negotiations.

Prolonged Indian dependence on Russia for defence equipment for modernisation is gradually reducing. However, the pace of this reduction is likely to remain slow as the Indian economy can hardly afford huge defence budgets to quickly shift to Western/Made-in-India weaponry for modernisation. Limitation of resources, therefore, is likely to delay our defence modernisation. A liberal US approach on TOT would help in a quicker transition.

Another factor that is likely to prolong the shift to Western/Made-in-India weaponry is the timeframe for its introduction, trials of the equipment in multifarious terrains and weather conditions, acceptance by the Services after due changes/modifications and finally, mass production for absorption by the Services. There is hardly much latitude in shortening this cycle, which is likely to be 15-20 years, depending on the size of the order and the manufacturing capability. In some cases, work has already commenced in the past few years.

The conflict in Ukraine has brought Russia and China much closer, with Moscow gradually delinking from Europe and depending increasingly on Beijing. This bear hug, coupled with the Chinese muscle-flexing in South and East China Seas and the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is a cause for concern, thus enhancing the need for strategic convergence between the US and India. While occasional pin-pricks between the two may continue regarding issues like human rights, treatment of minorities and continuation of ties with Russia, geopolitical compulsions at the global level are likely to bring them closer in the long run. 

#China #Russia #United States of America USA #Vladimir Putin #Washington

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