The second 2+2 meeting between the Defence and External Affairs Ministers and senior officials of India and the United States concluded successfully in Washington, DC this week.
The main items on the agenda during this discussion included exchange of views on key developments in regional security environment, tackling terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and working towards a peaceful and stable order in the Indo-Pacific region. The most significant outcome of this meeting was signing of an agreement for cooperation in industrial security; which would now facilitate and smoothen the process of bilateral cooperation in defence research and development.
In the first round of 2+2 dialogue in September last year in New Delhi, one of the crucial takeaway was signing of Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement or COMCASA for enhancing interoperability of the military forces of the two countries. The second round of 2+2 thus further enhanced the deep defence and security ties between the two countries.
There were apprehensions around about the success of this endeavour between India and the United States to keep strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries by materializing in concrete terms the convergence of views on global and regional security.
President Donald Trump was facing a big challenge to his administration in view of the impeachment proceedings in the US House of Representatives. India is in the midst of implementing key and new legislative measures. India and the US are also in the midst of trade negotiations to resolve the differences over tariff and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) issues. India had decided to go ahead with its defence deals with Russia, despite Washington’s pressure. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, had a sanction policy towards Iran that could not be accepted by India.
Indian companies were upset over removal of GSP by the US, as it affected billions of dollars of business. India was also critical of the remarks of some US legislators on religious freedom issues and the Citizenship Amendment Act. But these challenging developments did not obstruct the resolve of the US State Department and the Pentagon and their Indian counterparts from moving ahead with their resolve to further solidify the strategic partnership that has been painstakingly constructed over the last two decades.
The visible aspects of this bourgeoning partnership, notwithstanding multiple changes of leaderships in the two capitals, are reflected in the fact that India has become an important partner of the US in defence acquisitions, about 2000 US companies are doing business in India and about 200 Indian companies have invested billions of dollars in the United States. Over 200,000 Indian students study in the US and contribute about $7 billion annually to the US economy.
India and the US are also on the same page on critical issues, such as combating terrorism, opposing Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) due to its predatory economic practices and on issues such as peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, and maintenance of maritime order in the larger Indo-Pacific region.
There is no doubt that individual US politicians raise issues, which are in the realm of domestic politics of India. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appreciated that India democratically debates all issues and underlined that Indian democracy needs to be “honoured.”
There is little doubt that the edifice of strategic partnership between India and the United States has become strong enough to weather differences over other political, economic or even security related issues.
As India marches towards becoming a $5 trillion economy with nuclear capability and a robust democracy, the US will continue to view India as a strategic partner and not adversary. There is also a clear realisation across the political spectrum in India that marching with the United States will facilitate India’s growing role in world affairs.
To that extent, the second round of 2+2 dialogue in Washington is a milestone in the right direction.
Script: Prof.Chintamani Mahapatra , Rector & Prof. American Studies Centre, JNU