2+2 dialogue takeaways: India, US ink COMCASA pact, New Delhi gets waiver to purchase S-400 Triumf from Russia
The 2+2 Dialogue and its outcome make it clear that India and the US have found a certain rhythm in their dealing.
After months of delay, the high profile 2+2 Dialogue between India and the US has finally taken place in New Delhi on Thursday. The meeting comes at a much important time – Pakistan’s new government, Taliban’s renewed violence in Afghanistan and American sanctions on Iran and Russia – had sparked many speculations within the Indian strategic community on what would be on the discussion agenda. With a meeting duration of only a few hours, both sides as expected tried to cover as much ground as possible to discuss issues of mutual interest. But here are the key takeaways:
• Despite the cacophony of Donald Trump administration about India and the world in general, progress in India-US relations remains a function of how its respective bureaucracies perceive the partnership. It is remarkable to note that even as 2+2 dialogue between the defence and foreign ministers was getting postponed, both sides kept up their regular consultative dialogues on intelligence sharing, homeland security, cyber security to name a few.
• The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) indicates that the Indian military has shed its reservations on sharing sensitive tactical communications with the US. More importantly, the Indian military is unlikely to demonstrate such level of comfort with any other foreign military. What this means is that for a third country – meaning Russia or China – it will appear that India is now firmly in the US camp. This perception will shape their approach towards India.
• The US has shown a steady readiness and commitment to put in place processes – bringing in new legislation, modifying domestic frameworks for technology sharing, enabling Indian entry into multilateral export control regimes etc. -- to ensure that India gets access to the state of the art defence technology. The imperative is now on India to demonstrate its commitment by expediting its own processes to leverage US commitment. The bureaucratic delays will only harm the US commitment.
• The US has given India a waiver from the Russian sanctions, through the National Defense Authorization Act for its purchase of S400 missile defence system, despite considerable anti-Russia sentiments in the US security establishment and polity. But this waiver comes with expectations. Beyond the S400 system, it would be unrealistic to expect that the US will continue to look away India’s defence purchases from other countries, especially from countries hostile to the US.
• India-Pakistan hyphenation is again a reality, much to the dislike of New Delhi but a work of New Delhi's own. While certainly legitimate for India to raise Pakistan's perfidy at every available international forum -- from G20 to BRICS to UN, it also acts to keep India tied firmly in an equation with Pakistan. The joint statement issued after the 2+2 Dialogue and Secretary Pompeo's trip to Islamabad, before arriving in India affirms this reality.
• India and US' disagreements on Iran, Pakistan, Russia etc. are a reality no doubt. But it also indicates that these disagreements are coming to fire because both sides have maintained a dialogue on these issues.
The 2+2 Dialogue and its outcome make it clear that India and the US have found a certain rhythm in their dealing. India may like to emphasise this relationship as a partnership between the equals, but unless New Delhi is ready to demonstrate and act on its commitments, it will be difficult to fend off the perception that it remains the junior partner, unwilling to do burden sharing – much like the NATO.
The current outlook of the relationship may give an impression that India-US ties remain transactional. But the sense of shared values and a fundamentally cordial nature of the relationship —unlike China where border dispute and security competition makes it adversarial or Russia which makes no bones about its disdain for a West led order — means that India and US can carve out a unique but flexible partnership, which is quite unlike what the US has had with its allies. This flexibility especially would work well, when the US alliance system itself is under strain.
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