New York: India's increasing role in the Asia-Pacific has been supported by the United States, the region's premier naval power. As part of growing military links between New Delhi and Washington, the US and Indians navies will take part in a joint exercise in April in the Bay of Bengal.
"The US-India relationship is built on a strong foundation of common interests and values,” said Jim Miller, acting defence undersecretary for policy, ahead of the Malabar exercises.
“The US sees India as a partner in advancing stability and security in the region and globally, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen our partnership on defence and security," added Miller, who co-chaired the annual defence policy group dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday.
The Malabar drills run the gamut from training with the US navy on antisubmarine warfare and advanced naval combat to maneuvres emphasising coordinated anti-piracy exercises. Exercise Malabar, as it is known, may seem routine at first glance. But in the context of recent tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as last year’s intensifying rhetoric among countries with interests in the South China Sea, Exercise Malabar is assuming greater significance.
Singapore, Japan and Australia joined the US and India in “Malabar 2007,” which featured three aircraft carriers, 28 surface vessels, 150 aircraft and over 20,000 personnel from India, the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore. It was one of the largest multilateral naval exercises ever held in the Bay of Bengal, prompting Beijing to issue demarches to all five participating countries.
According to defence experts, from China’s point of view, the coming together of these five navies marked the beginning of a loose anti-China naval barrier in the Indian Ocean region.
The Pentagon, in its recent strategic review, said it was investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India, and had identified China as a threat while declaring Asia as a US priority. It is no secret that the US is keen on a strategic partnership with India and policy coordination on regional affairs in the Asia region, which is a diplomatic euphemism for shared concerns over China's growing power.
Since 2001, the US and India have conducted over 40 joint military exercises. A 10-year Indo-US defence pact signed in June 2005 deepened intelligence-sharing, military technology transfers, missile-defense collaboration and arms sales.
Indian ships now routinely escort US freight ships through the Indian Ocean and conduct joint anti-piracy controls with the US. And real economic ties, as opposed to the formal frictions at the World Trade Organisation, get closer every year. But India is no budding UK, and any US policymaker who believes New Delhi will act as a lieutenant for US interests has been smoking something herbal. Iran is a case in point.
India shocked some in Washington, including the likes of Nicholas Burns, who was former president George W Bush’s pointsperson in negotiating the India-US nuclear deal, by walking out of step with the US on Iran. But if Burns knows India well enough, it really shouldn’t be so shocking that India has a mind of its own on Iran. India is not seeking to be a junior partner in an anti-China coalition, but is quite happy pursuing its own interests as an emerging power.