US-India defense ties: A budding relationship

By Ahmad Adil

NEW DELHI (AA) – Recent weeks have seen the emergence of minor trade spats between India and the U.S. But it appears unlikely that commercial differences will impact deepening defense ties between the two countries, Indian analysts say.

“Both India and the U.S. are concerned about peace and stability in Asia; both remain posited to strategically manage the rise of China,” Sylvia Mishra, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, told Anadolu Agency.

She pointed out that both countries, despite recent differences over trade-related issues, had converging strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Some differences [that Indian has] with America on issues such as trade, climate change and the AF-Pak region remain to be bridged,” Mishra noted.

Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter held a meeting in New Delhi with Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar, during which the two men emphasized their countries’ “deep and abiding interest in global peace, prosperity and stability”.

“Bilateral defense cooperation is a key component of the strategic partnership between India and the U.S.,” the two officials asserted in a joint statement issued after the April 12 meeting.

The statement added that the two officials had “reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea”.

During Carter’s visit, the two countries also signed a “logistics exchange” agreement, allowing them to share each other’s military facilities. They also agreed to begin dialogue on maritime security and discussed proposals for stepped up defense cooperation.

Indian commentators in saw Carter’s visit as another sign of steadily improving U.S.-India defense relations.

“The U.S. and India have been slowly but steadily getting closer ever since the initiative was taken to set up a strategic partnership,” Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, who teaches American studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Anadolu Agency.

“Periodically, some issues create hiccups and the general impression goes around that the relationship is in trouble,” he said.

“But in reality, the leaderships in New Delhi and Washington have sorted out these differences, and bilateral defense and security cooperation is witnessing a rising trend,” the professor added.

– Containing China

According to some experts, China is likely to react cautiously to Carter’s India visit, particularly as the joint statement referred to “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea, where China has a number of territorial disputes with some Southeast Asian countries.

“China’s reaction to Carter’s visit has been cautious,” said Mishra.

“Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that India is an ‘influential country’ that is upholding its independent policies and that China has noted the relevant reports on Carter’s visit to India,” he added.

According to Bharat Karnad, a researcher at the Center for Policy Research, another New Delhi-based think tank, China “must have been relieved” that India did not sign two proposed “foundational agreements” with the U.S. on communications interoperability and security.

Both agreements, Karnad told Anadolu Agency, had been “ready for signing when Secretary Carter was in town”.

Some political observers, however, believe India should not be too concerned about what China thinks of its burgeoning security ties with Washington.

“The Chinese don’t consider how India feels when they have relationships with countries like Pakistan and others,” said Mahapatra.

“India is improving its ties with the U.S. for its own security and defense needs and its own national interests,” he added.

Karnad, by contrast, says India should not draw too close to the U.S.

“India can’t afford to get too close to the U.S. because that will hurt its ability to manage the balance-of-power dynamic between America and China,” he said.

“The Indian government must also ensure that Russia — an important strategic partner and bulk supplier of military hardware — isn’t alienated, which will happen if New Delhi increases its intimacy with Washington,” he added.

Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House voiced a similar opinion.

“As India bandwagons with the U.S., it is necessary for New Delhi to have a clear understanding of the ends for which this engagement with Washington is pursued,” he asserted.

“Only then can India play the sophisticated game of ‘strategic autonomy’,” the analyst added.

– Future

While some outstanding differences remain between India and the U.S., experts say the relationship is expected to deepen further in the future.

“They will likely work together on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, while greater coordination on the Indian Ocean is expected,” Mishra said.

Striking an optimistic note, Mahapatra said: “The India-U.S. relationship will keep growing in future. The geopolitics of Asia has changed in such a way that it will serve the interests of both countries to cooperate on defense and security matters.”