GP Insights # 432, 1 November 2020
On 27 October, India and the US concluded the third India-US Two plus Two dialogue, reflecting the "Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership" between the two countries. According to Dr S Jaishankar, the minister for external affairs of India, "The 2+2 dialogue has a pol-mil agenda" underlining the "close bilateral relationship" between the two countries. The 2+2 dialogue included the following: from the US - Secretary Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; and from India - Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh.
Multiple agreements were signed during the 2+2 dialogue. The main ones include the following: Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement between the Indian Ministry of Defense, and the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; MOU for Technical Cooperation in Earth Observations and Earth Sciences in the Indian MoES, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and extending the duration of the bilateral MOU concerning cooperation with the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership in India.
The joint statement issued on 27 October 2020 underlined "Advancing the Defense and Security Partnership." It said: "Noting the 15th anniversary of the inaugural US-India Defense Framework Agreement, the Ministers commended what has become a comprehensive, resilient, and multi-faceted Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between the United States and India. They applauded the significant step of the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). They also welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defense information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation."
The External Affairs Minister also said that "the Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus of" the bilateral dialogue. Both sides "reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region" and "upholding the rules based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states."
India's External Affairs Minister also said: "A multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis."
What is the background?
First, the steady emergence of a defence partnership between the two countries during this decade. Ever since the discussions started on India-US strategic partnership since the late 1990s, there has been steady progress during the last two decades on expanding defence partnership. While the last decade witnessed slow progress with ups and downs, the pace has fastened during the last ten years. While the Indo-US nuclear deal was a major achievement during the last decade, since 2002, both countries have intensified the relationship with multiple agreements: the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002; an extension - the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) in 2019; the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016; and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018.
Second, the strengthening of defence relations between the two countries as a part of a larger political engagement and strategic partnership. While the US is looking at India as a part of its Indo-Pacific vision, New Delhi is looking Washington as a part of its search for space at the global governance.
Third, slow but steady expansion and diversification of India defence partnerships and procurements. While the Soviet Union was the primary source until the early 1990s, India has been diversifying its defence partnerships and procurements. Russia still remains a crucial defence partner; so is France, Israel and the US now. For India, it is not only defence procurements but also partnerships.
What does this mean?
While India looks at strengthening the strategic partnership with the US, it has to look at the fallouts in the immediate region. India-China relationship has been steadily deteriorating in recent years; Beijing sees the growing Indo-US partnership as anti-Chinese.
Besides looking at India-China relations, New Delhi will also have to forecast likely Islamabad-Beijing collusion to upset the Indo-US defence partnership.
Finally, New Delhi will also have to balance the Indo-US and Indo-Iran relations. Besides Beijing, Tehran has also been unhappy with the Indo-US relations. For India, there is so much at stake in Tehran – not only bilateral relations but also India's investments in Afghanistan and the INSTC.