Article139.png”” alt=””Article139″” />In the changing geopolitcal environment coupled with China’s expansionist designs both on land and at sea, the Narendra Modi government is resetting ties with the United States of America which visiting Defence Secretary Ashton Carter called a “”strategic handshake.”” After dithering for nearly 15 years, India quietly buried the outdated policy of non-alignment by allowing access of its defence facilities to the American military on a reciprocal basis. New Delhi cannot afford to lose out on the technological revolution critical for its security and national interest. There is a Bill in the US Congress seeking to bring India on par with NATO in the transfer of sensitive defence technology.
Defence experts emphasise there is a message for India’s extended neighbourhood especially China. “”India needs more support as it cannot stand against China on its own either militarily or economically. Some kind of message had to be sent. It does not mean we are allying with the US,”” they observed.
Significantly, Carter’s sojourn to this country comes at a time when the US Congress is considering the US-India Defence Technology and Partnership Act which encourages the US President “”to coordinate with India annually to develop military contingency plans for addressing threats to mutual security interests to both the countries.
Concluding his four-day visit to this country from April 10-13, Carter and his host Defence minister Manohar Parrikar strongly signalled their cooperative intent when the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) would be signed in the next few weeks or months. The US has similar arrangements with more than 80 countries.
Carter spoke about his desire to advance consultations for cooperating in developing aircraft carriers as well as jet fighter technology. Two pathfinder projects were announced to co-develop a Digital Helmet Mounted Display; and a Joint Biological Tactical Detection System. It is unlikely that production of these will begin any time soon. Defence acquisition from the US has grown at an aggregate exceeding ten billion Dollars. With Presidential elections scheduled in the US in November doubts have arisen about the bilateral defence cooperation with India. That is why the Department of Defence in Washington is trying to establish the first ever country specific unit, the India Rapid Reaction Cell in hastening progress in spheres like co-production of aircraft carriers and jet fighter engines.
The attempts of the Barrack Obama administration to strengthen India’s defence is aimed at cutting down China to size. Impartial observers stress India’s reconsideration of foundational agreements with the US is pragmatic. New Delhi has the right to withhold its consent to LEMOA. At the same time India remains wary and unhappy about the US handshake with Pakistan. There is no doubt once LEMOA is concluded it will give American aircraft and warships access to Indian military bases for logistical purposes including refuelling and repair.
Indian military will also enjoy similar access to the US bases. This will qualitatively transform India’s relations with the only global super power. The Logistics agreement had been first proposed in 2004 but the Congress led UPA government developed cold feet. Then Defence minister A K Antony believed it was too intrusive and could also be perceived as India side stepping the Non-Aligned Policy.
The joint statement refers to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. However, Parrikar has been guarded in avoiding any reference to joint patrolling. Even the agreement on sharing data on commercial shipping which was expected to be concluded will be subjected to another round of talks. It is important for India to take a considered view of the repercussions that such a strategic alliance might have for India’s relations with other countries. Meanwhile, Parrikar and Carter will initiate a bilateral maritime security dialogue that includes diplomats and the defence establishments. Indo-US strategic cooperation in Defence has already unnerved certain nations in South Asia’s neighbourhood.
Moscow has threatened to stop cooperation in nuclear submarines. China is not pleased with the Indo-US joint statement and has reneged on its promise of massive investment in this country. America watchers are saying that US wants to get India on board in its attempts to “”rebalance”” the situation in Asia. Simply put Washington is determined to counter China’s rise.
In that context a pivotal role is envisaged for India along with Japan and Australia. It has become imperative for Modi to build national consensus on critical foreign policy issues by enlarging defence cooperation in the face of the Hindutva agenda pursued by BJP’s ideologue, the RSS and the fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar.
The Modi government appears to be shedding the country’s strategic diffidence as evidenced in the past. At the same time New Delhi needs to move faster to be able to avail of the opportunities at this juncture.
Senior Congress leader and former Defence Minister A K Antony said the logistic agreement with the US would pave the way for India becoming part of the American military bloc. The Congress led UPA while in power at the centre was under pressure to sign such a pact. “”We resisted it because it was against national interests.”” The Communist party of India (Marxists) expressed similar reservations.
China’s relative geopolitical strength at any time is that it thinks of itself as a great power. This is based on its historical role as a central political player in Asia. The US is attempting a tri-continental strategy to check Beijing’s rise. Clearly Obama wants to be one of those grandmasters seeking to go beyond foreign policy by getting involved in the ruthless global game of geopolitics.”