Saturday, December 4, 2021

US DEFENCE SECRETARY’S VISIT TO INDIA

Script: Dr. ASH NARAIN ROY, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

Many strategic analysts were of the view that the Joe Biden Administration would be too preoccupied initially with an assertive China and a defiant Russia and would be repairing ties with Europe. However, India figures prominently in Washington’s priorities; the events that have unfolded recently are testimony to that. Days after QUAD Leaders’ virtual meeting at the highest level and with India, the US, Australia and Japan agreeing to deepen cooperation on maritime, cyber and economic security issues, the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to India assumes immense significance. The QUAD meeting and Mr. Austin’s visit have conveyed a strong signal that President Biden considers India not only central to American power and strategies but also as a bulwark against China.

Over the years, India and the US have created a plethora of dialogue mechanisms and working groups to deepen bilateral engagements covering a wide range of issues. There are more than thirty bilateral dialogues and working groups, which span from space to energy and high technology trade. There are three US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Groups, as well as the Strategic Energy Partnership, Cyber Dialogue, Civil Space Working Group, Trade Policy Forum, Defence Policy Group and many more.

If the US is a key source of cutting- edge technologies for New Delhi; for the US, India is a credible partner in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. The two countries are very closely bound by military-strategic network and strategic partnership. Then there are QUAD, US-Japan-India trilateral and several bilateral mechanisms. The two countries are also party to the new investment frameworks like Japan-led Partnership for Quality Infrastructure and US-initiated Blue Dot Network to build new supply chains to reduce global economic dependence on China. The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue serves as the premier dialogue mechanism between the United States and India.

Against this background, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India needs to be understood and analysed. The visit has served to focus attention on further deepening defence, security and strategic cooperation between the two countries to meet “today’s and tomorrow’s challenges”.

Mr Austin described the partnership between the “world’s two largest democracies” as “resilient and strong.” This partnership is a key pillar of the American policy for the Indo-Pacific. He quoted Prime Minister Modi’s statement how India stands for “freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce and adherence to international law” which is a “resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”

Secretary Austin’s visit marks a big step towards realising the full potential of the comprehensive global strategic partnership between India and the US. The two sides reaffirmed that their closer cooperation with countries keen to uphold rules-based order can promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The Joint Press statement, as India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, is consistent with India’s policy of SAGAR which stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region.

The two sides used this visit to explore new areas for collaboration like information sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence, space and cyber. The setting up of the Indo-Pacific wing and an Oceania wing in the Ministry of External Affairs is intended to raise India’s growing profile and India’s role as a net provider of security. The Quad Summit meeting has re-energised this platform’s vigorous strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.

The growing Indo-US ties are not at the cost of India’s strong defence ties with Russia and other countries. India has deeply cherished its strategic autonomy and it believes its national interests lie in bilaterally addressing its differences and disputes with China. India is also not a party to the US containment strategy against China or its punishing sanctions against Moscow. New Delhi has conveyed its position on its decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile defence system, which puts India at risk of sanctions under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Differences on some issues don’t define Indo-US ties; growing convergences on their strategic interests do.

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