2+2 dialogue has paved the way for the beginning of a new era in India-US defence and strategic engagement. The two sides have resolved to continue meetings in this format on an annual basis
Photo Caption : From left, US Defence Secretary James Mattis, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after making a joint statement after the 2+2 meeting in New Delhi
From left, US Defence Secretary James Mattis, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after making a joint statement after the 2+2 meeting in New Delhi
The much-awaited India-US 2+2 dialogue has had an excellent productive, constructive and purposeful conclusion indicating the development of more profound friendship and stronger ties between the two great democracies of the world. Apart from various defence related discussions, the two sides also deliberated on India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), issues associated with H1B visa, cross-border terrorism and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Some of the salient features of the first ever 2+2 dialogue, featuring Foreign and Defence ministers of the two sides.
It is a ten year agreement effective with immediate effect. The most important aspect of this meeting was the realisation that it was no longer viable to address foreign and defence issues in a compartmentalised manner. It is said that “Strategy lies at the intersection of defence policy and foreign policy, where ideally the state aligns its military power with its relations and interests abroad” (Defence Policy and Foreign Policy, https://offshorebalancer.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/defence-policy-and-foreign-policy/) A commitment by the two sides to defend their shared democratic values and enlarge the scope of common interests.
Reaffirm the commitment to cooperate in ensuring peace and stability in the world. Ensure realisation of economic growth of the population while ensuring cooperation in combating terrorism and other shared security challenges.
India welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists by the US. It underscored the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the United States alike.
Further, enlarge the scope of defence cooperation – supply of equipment as well as training and joint exercises and make it the most significant dimension. The two sides have decided to enhance their collaborations in this area through a tri-Services joint exercise off the eastern coast of India in 2019.
The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that now obliges India to safeguard the security and secrecy of cutting-edge US communications equipment, provides India access to some advanced, cutting-edge technologies from the US and enhance its defence preparedness. It will significantly improve the interoperability of equipment between the two-armed forces.
The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and the Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) earlier this year was a significant step in this direction. As per reports – MoD briefings, the stringent clauses of COMCASA do not compromise Indian interests as they have been specially negotiated for India. The presentations bring out that these clauses do not tie down India into buying US equipment and that the US will ensure that the equipment would remain operational at all times.
The two sides also decided to establish hotlines between their Defence and Foreign Ministers and discuss tricky issues and resolve on priority. Issues such as India’s procurement of S-400 missiles from Russia and other imports from Iran are some of the examples that could be solved through such communication lines. Reports do indicate that the US may consider waiving of Iranian oil purchase by India as a part of its sanctions on Iran. However, it would require a tremendous amount of deft diplomatic and bargaining skills to obtain this waiver. Similarly, India would need to look at waivers on Chabahar port of Iran, where it has already invested heavily for access to Afghanistan.
Further, expanding the scope of Maritime Security cooperation expanding interactions on Maritime Domain Awareness. Towards this, the US has already renamed its Pacific Command responsible for relations with India as Indo-Pacific Command.
“The ‘highly successful’ first 2+2 Dialogue between India and the United States was a ‘defining moment’ and the defence co-operation between the two countries is on the right track — James Mattis, US Defence Secretary
Both sides committed to work together and in concert with other partners towards advancing a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, based on recognition of ASEAN centrality and respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, the rule of law, good governance, free and fair trade, and freedom of navigation and overflight.
One of the focus areas of the discussions was on expanding the scope and content of the US’ designation of India as its Major Defence Partner. US has already elevated India to STA Tier 1 status providing access to advanced defence technologies While discussing the significant reforms being implemented by the Indian Government towards promoting defence manufacturing under the Make in India initiative, US has nominated a Point of Contact in the US Department of Defence to help address procedural complexities and facilitate Indian companies to join the manufacturing supply chains of US defence companies. Cooperation in defence innovation was also identified as a critical area for future, and a Memorandum of Intent between our defence innovation agencies was signed.
The signing of this agreement, especially with India facing an aggressive China in its backyard is a significant change from India’s earlier stance of hesitation to ink the deal. In the overall context, the 2+2 dialogue has paved the way for the beginning of a new era in India-US defence and strategic engagement. The two sides have resolved to continue meetings in this format on an annual basis.
(The writer is a former Commandant of National Defence College of India and Commander-in-Chief of Andaman and Nicobar Command)