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Onus on US to Boost Defence Ties with India

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  • December 12, 2015

    Amid the growing congruence of interests between the two countries on bilateral, regional and global issues, India-US defence cooperation is set to reach new heights. However, America needs to gain India’s trust by helping India in building indigenous defence industries, meeting energy demands, and including it into global decision-making bodies like UNSC

    India-US relationship has been transformed over the last one and a half decades. In this ameliorating relationship, defence cooperation has emerged as the most visible aspect of bilateral ties. The foundation of this lies in India’s rise as economic, military, and political power; and its potential role as a net security provider in Asia and beyond.

    India has also emerged as the world’s largest defence market where the US has become the top arms supplier to India. In addition, China’s ambitious foreign policy to dominate the Asian region, its ever growing military assertiveness, territorial claims, and rapid construction of artificial islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) has thrown serious challenges to American leadership where India is seen as a balancing power. Besides, the growing transnational security threats such as international terrorism, climate change, WMD proliferation, etc, have further brought the two nations closer on regional and global security issues. Hence, amid the growing congruence of interests between the two countries on bilateral, regional and global issues, India-US defence cooperation is set to reach new heights.

    Economically, India’s growth rate has been accelerated. In 2014, its GDP was over $ 2 trillion. Militarily, India is one of the strongest countries in the world. It has over 1.3 million soldiers (third largest army in the world), and a huge arsenal of weaponry, including nuclear weapons. Politically, India is the world’s largest democratic country with a stable political system. In 2014 General Election, for instance, out of the total 834.1 million eligible voters, 553.8 million people cast their vote for a stable BJP-led NDA Government in an atmosphere of confusing array of political parties. India’s rise with such economic, military and political power significantly contributes to Asia’s peace, stability and prosperity. This has attracted world’s attention, especially that of the US which seeks to build a robust strategic partnership with India for protecting and promoting its regional and international interests.

    India’s growing defence market has also substantially contributed to the development of India-US defence cooperation. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2015 year book, India emerged as the largest buyer of weapons and defence equipment during 2010-2014. Its share in global imports has increased by 140 per cent over the previous five-year bloc, 2005–2009. Importantly, with almost 40 per cent share in the Indian defence market, the US has overtaken Russia (30 per cent), France (14 per cent), and Israel (4 per cent) to become India’s largest arms supplier during 2011-2014. Providing statistics about India’s arms imports, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Rajya Sabha that out of Rs 83,458 crore spent on defence imports during 2011-2014, the US got Rs 32,615 crore.

    Since 2007, India has in fact bought $13 billion defence equipment from the US. India’s major imports from the US include 10 C-17s Globemaster –III strategic airlift for $4.1 billion and 8 P-8I maritime patrol aircraft for $2.1 billion. India and the US are now working towards greater collaboration in joint research, design, development, and production of gen-next military technology under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). They have already finalised the joint development of Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Sources and the Next Generation Protective Ensembles under the DTTI. In a clear signal to India’s growing importance to American interests, both as a major arms buyer and potential collaborator in the defence sector, the US established in February 2015 an India Rapid Reaction Cell (IRRC) to speed up defence cooperation between the two countries. Moreover, as part of an ongoing series of high-level meetings aimed at establishing broader cooperation on the joint research, co-development, and co-production of high-end defence equipment, the two sides held the first formal meeting of India-US Joint Aircraft Carrier Working Group (JACWG) in Washington in August 2015.

    Defence Minister Parrikar and his American counterpart Ashton Carter on December 10 ramped up defence and strategic ties by agreeing to fast-track co-production ventures. “The Indo-Asia-Pacific is one of the most consequential parts of the world for America’s future. And we welcome India’s rise as a security partner in a region where half of humanity lives, and half of the world’s economic activity takes place,” Carter told reporters at a joint news conference.

    However China’s growing military assertiveness and its ambitious foreign policy to dominate the Asian region have raised serious concerns for both India and the US. While the US strongly believes that a robust defence and security cooperation between the world’s largest and strongest democracy would help maintain region’s peace and security, it encourages India to play a proactive role in managing the balance of power in the region. On the other hand, despite recent improvement in its ties with Beijing, India remains increasingly concerned about the unresolved border problem, frequent eruption of border incursions, China’s support to Pakistan’s defence building, and Beijing’s growing military assertiveness in the India-Pacific region, especially China’s growing proximity towards India’s immediate neighbours.

    India has recently expressed strong resentment over Beijing’s blocking of its move in the UN seeking action against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a Pakistan-based terrorist and the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Japan’s inclusion in the 2015 Malabar joint military exercises is another crucial step towards strengthening regional strategic partnership. Modi Government’s current “Act East Policy” rather than the earlier “Look East Policy” also increasingly converges with the Obama Administration’s Asia “rebalancing strategy” where both sides look to play proactive role in maintaining regional peace, stability and security. The signing of the “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” in January 2015 further strengthened the two countries strategic partnership in the region.

    The US sees India’s rise with economic and military power as in American interests and eagerly looks to share security burden with India. In fact, it has been urging India to play proactive role and become “a net provider of security” in Asia and beyond. The US now needs to help India in building indigenous defence industries, in technology transfer, innovation, meeting the growing energy demands, and inclusion in India into global decision-making bodies like UNSC. The American support to India in these areas is a litmus test of its commitment to build a robust India-US strategic partnership in the 21st century.

    This article was originally published in The Pioneer