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Wednesday, 13 April 2016 05:41

A Reality Check of the Indo-US relations in the aftermath of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter India Visit. Featured

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US Secretary of Defense Ashton J. Carter’s second visit to India within a year has generated lot of interest among our neighbors, especially China, as they see India being wooed up by US as part of balancing China strategy. The Chinese official media has given prime place to Secretary Carter visit and fear that India is slowly moving towards becoming a closer strategic ally of the US in the Asia Pacific region. As per the official Chinese media, the latest move of India signing the logistic support agreement has proven their concern right, and now they call India as “the new anchor” for US military in Asia Pacific. Apart form other two agreement related with drones and laser equipment, the signing of LSA with USA has a very serious implications for the Chinese. As they are already embroiled with the long term US military bases around China, the latest move of US to bring India on the bandwagon is a alarm bell for what they are going to confront in this region.

 China has enough reasons to think in this direction as being the largest trading power in the world they are being kept out of the recently concluded Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Whereas, India, now the fastest growing economy in the world, is seen as a possible strategic partner and ally, which may be included in the TPP expansion. Recently, the US Navy has sent its Aircraft carrier into the South China Sea to check the reinforcement of the freedom of navigation to which China has expressed its opposition voiceferously. The recent events in the South China Sea gives a clear indication of the coming confrontation in this region and US involvement which hitherto was criticized of not protecting the interests of its long-term allies in the region. Will India join the US in its move to contain China in the region is the major question Chinese have been asking us for years. Now the latest deal with US has vindicated their perception that India is moving closer to US and may become a part of containing China.

Since 2010, US has restarted its military bases in the region as part of rebalancing to Asia pacific, and has aided in militarily with arms and ammunitions to Australia, Philipines, Taiwan and now to India to stand against Chinese hegemony in the South China sea. US has been using Indian Ocean as its one of the major military base which is now alarmed by the increased presence of PLAN activities. Hence there is a call for increased cooperation with Indian Navy. As the US based strategic thinker Ashlley Tellis has pitched for in his various articles, the US is willing to share is technology with Indian Navy in building new Aircraft carrier, which hitherto only depended upon Russia. India has not shown a keen interest to this offer, because we do not know what is the hidden cost of this latest US offer. But as the body language shows, the Indian defense minister Shri Manohar Parrikar is feeling quite confortable with his American counterpart, and they have slowly developed a close working relationship which will expedite the various deals which is hanging over from the past one decade.  


Photo: Indian defense Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar meeting his US counterpart before signing the historical agreements in the area of defense cooperation.


As his gestures suggests, Secretary Ashton has been for long an advocate of closer ties with India, which is clear from his speeches and articles in journals and newspapers. Most of us believe that Secretary Carter has got his policy focus right on Asia-pacific and he is doing his part to convince India to join the US bandwagon in the region. The three agreements signed during his visit are not just ceremonial but it has significant implications in redefine the US military presence around India. Although India has clarified that it will not accept any long term US marine presence near its territory, but it does not mean that there will be no US military presence in some form or other in this region. The US has been known for imposing its will on its partners by either overt or covert means.


Photo: Indian Defense Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Exchanging the Defense Framework Agreement during the later’s visit to India in  June 2015.


During his last visit in June of 2015, Secretary Carter signed a new framework agreement with India for closer cooperation in defense sector. Then also Carter conveyed that India was an important strategic partner for the US and the US policy of rebalance in Asia-Pacific. In his speeches in India, and even before coming to India, Secretary Carter gave enough reasons to convince Indians that now in the background of Rising Chinese hegemony at the Sea, the country should embrace the US as the peace keeper and he considers India to be an important partner as peacemaker in the Asia Pacific region. He has emphasized the common value and talk of convergence of our interest in this region, mainly in the area of checking Islamic terrorism and piracy at the Sea. But it is obvious to policy watchers that the elephant in the room is the People’s Republic of China. Since President Obama launched its policy of rebalancing to Asia, Secretary Carter has been one of his closest allies in this effort. Hence, his latest goodwill for India should be seen in the same policy background of the Obama presidency.

The main stumbling block of Indo-US defense cooperation lies at the export control oversight committee headed by some of the US senators who are controlled by anti-India lobby which objects to any critical technology transfer to the later.  As per the latest talk of Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), despite several assurances in the past by visiting US Presidents, US administration has not been forthcoming to remove all the barriers on these critical technology exports to India and most often objected by the US senate committee. They treat India as any other countries some time at par with Pakistan and China. These few Senators see India as a threat to US interest in South Asia and hence veto any move to remove the sanctions. Therefore in this background, any talk of co-production and co-development of new arms and equipment is a distant dream to be realized in near future. Therefore, Secretary Ashton has to work hard to remove this misperception about India, as the track record of the country is impeccable. The long demand of US from India to cut off all its dealings with Iran has not been justified on humanitarian or any international legal background. India is a sovereign nation and it has all the equal rights and freedom to have mutual beneficiary bilateral relations with other sovereign nations. 

But if we do a reality check, the Indo-Us relations are moving very slowly on both political and economic front, and in the area of security cooperation, we are far from becoming a distant ally of the world’s only Super Power, forget about getting the NATO ally status which some Indians has been asking for. The ground reality of our bilateral relations is that US has maintained double standard on various issues of India’s national security concern, especially when it comes to sanctioning the terrorist organizations acting from across our immediate border. US administration have not been very supportive in our effort to get these organizations declared terrorist outfit by the UN and get them banned. US have also refused to extradite the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack, David Coleman Headley who is an American terrorist of Pakistani origin. On this front, China and US have shown similar apathy to our concern and have sided with Pakistan on various times. Recently at the UN China for the third time vetoed the Indian move to declare the Pakistani terrorist outfit  Jaish-e-mohammad as a terrorist organization which was the mastermind behind the Pathankot attack. 

Under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new pragmatic foreign policy regime, India is testing all the waters and open to all the new and old alliances. But the country is still calculating its strategic move in the Asia-pacific region and has made it clear that the “country will not be part of this joint patrol mechanism in the South China Sea, as proposed by the US.” This might be a decision in hurry, as Indian economy rises it also needs to ensure the free and safe passage of its commercial as well as friendly military vessels to pass through these sea routes, which is now exclusively claimed by Beijing. My own observation of US and Chinese behavior in the Asia pacific tells me that a strong China is also necessary for maintaining peace and stability in Asia.

In the last few years, Pentagon has been under serious budgetary pressure to which India is a very lucrative potential partner. The call for increased activism by India in the Asia Pacific is aimed at reducing the pressure on US military budget imbalances. At the same time India is poised to spend more than USD100 billion on its defense modernization and capacity building in the coming decade. Hence India is being seriously considered as a potential power in not only the Indian Ocean but also in the South China sea which if convinced to join US can create a multi lateral alliance together with Japan, Australia and other US allies. But India is not in a hurry to jump on the US boat, although it may share some In the post independent era, India has for long survived as an independent sovereign state and defended its boundaries on its own in the absence of any major military alliance. It will also take enough precautions to ward off any misperceptions that the new regime in Delhi is saying goody bye to India’s old wisdom of non-alignment and independent foreign policy.

Despite its latest profile of a major power, India will continue to maintain a friendly and mutually beneficial relations with its ancient neighbors based on mutual respect of its sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic matters. This is something in the DNA of our foreign policy, which no Indian leader can afford to sideline. Therefore, India will continue to coexist peacefully with her small or big neighbors but will not compromise if provoked by any state or non-state actors, which operate from across the boundary. India is poised to be emerging as a major power in Asia and a global player for maintaining peace and stability. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, today India is a strong country with will power to act decisively. Her confidence is all time high, and her leadership is young and bold. Any misadventure from any country will get a fitting reply.  

Nevertheless, Secretary Carter name will go down as one of the best Secretary of defense who got Asia-pacific right made substantive transformation in US policy to rebalance and reassert the peace and security in this most complex region. Ashton has sent some goodwill sign to India during his two visits and he may be the right partner for India to convince the US congress for the technology we require in our defense modernization. But remember that he would not be doing it alone if not able to get the confidence of defense ministers of like-minded countries in Asia Pacific. In very short time he has been able to win the trust of our defense policy makers and has created a new synergy for cooperation in defense technology. We can hope that in near future India will be able to go through various successful deals by working together with its newly found friend in Washignton.  

It is lately recognized by the US strategic community that India is one of the most important strategic balancer in Asia-pacific, which is the reason that Ashton has made this country as one of its major focus in Washington to get what India wants and in return What India can do for his strategy of US defense policy in Asia. If he can successfully convince the US congressmen, especially those who are falling in the lines of Late Richard Holbrook, then only we can conceive of a lasting strategic alliance with Washington. The world politics is all set for a major transformation and it is the time when new global alliances will be created to take on the new enemy. Therefore, it is also now up to India to be a part of this historical shift and find a close alignment with US in Asia or be left on the periphery and remain a bystander to the vital defense and security issues of Asia-Pacific which will have serious consequences for the peaceful and stable growth of our nation.

To conclude, let us remind us that, Prime Minister Modi’s call for India to become a leading power represents a major strategic shift in our foreign policy. To realize this goal, we all Indians need to work together and create a consensus first domestically, that what role India will play as a major power and who will be our strategic allies? Without having this clear in our mind, we will end up talking to all but allying with none. After going through some of the toughest decade in our foreign policy making, it should be clear to us by now, who is our friend and who cannot become our friend.     


Read 723 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 April 2016 06:23