India and the US held the first maritime security dialogue in Delhi on Monday adding another layer to the growing defence ties between the two countries, once on opposing sides of the Cold War divide. This increased cooperation is taking place at a time when Washington is hoping to rope in Delhi to play a more effective role in balancing China’s military might in the Asia Pacific region.
There is heightened tension between the US and China over the latter’s claims to disputed islands in the region and Beijing’s consolidation of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, through a massive land reclamation effort.
Senior Indian and US officials exchanged views on security of the global waterways and ways to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two navies. In the past few years joint exercises between the navies of India and the US have become more complex. The MALABAR exercises now will have Japan as a permanent feature. "Among the issues discussed were Asia-Pacific maritime challenges, naval cooperation, and multilateral engagement,’’ said the American side in a statement after the talks.
Joint secretary in charge of Planning and International Cooperation (PIC) in the Ministry of Defence, Shambhu Kumaran and Ministry of External Affairs' joint secretary, Americas (AMS) Munu Mahawar represented the Indian side. Meanwhile, the American side was represented by the assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear, the deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Manpreet Anand, and Vice-Admiral Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the US Seventh Fleet.
The decision to hold the dialogue was taken during the visit of US defence secretary Ashton Carter in April. Carter has been pushing India to play a more active role in the region and join a loose cooperative coalition of maritime nations to jointly secure the ocean ways of the Asia-Pacific region. Washington has been working on this for quite some time. A large Asian country like India would help to balance China.
India at the moment does not have the capability to stretch itself too far across the Pacific, but it is moderinising its navy to equip itself for a larger presence in both the Indian and Pacific
oceans. The UPA government was cautious, not wanting to raise China’s hackles. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is much more willing to extend defence cooperation with the US as a way to checkmate China’s unparalleled rise. The fact that China is also Pakistan’s all-weather friend is an added dimension in the equation.
"But this is not something we don’t know. The Chinese side of the border has excellent infrastructure, their logistics and supply lines are top class. We have been improving our side of the border,
but not fast enough. The report shows China’s expanding strategic strength. The point is, has India got the message. What are we going to do about it?,’’ asked former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
The US is keen that India sign three foundation defence agreements that have been in the works for nearly a decade. The logistics agreement is likely to be signed "in the coming months", Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had announced at a news conference with Carter. Additionally, the US can help open many doors.
As India waits its turn to get into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it is only the US that can do the heavy lifting , said Mansingh. The US has again reiterated that India deserves to be admitted to the NSG. President Barack Obama made similar pronouncements while he was in India. When Modi travels to Washington next month, this will definitely be part of the conversation.The question is whether Obama will do for Modi as former president George W Bush did for Manmohan Singh?
"The fact is, if we want entry into these elite clubs — especially the NSG and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), it is only the US that can deliver,’’ said India's former ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra. He also believes that India should be clear headed and know where its interests lie.’’ Once Delhi can fix NSG and MTCR membership, entry into the other dual-use technology denial regimes — the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement — will become simpler. These groups will help India be part of the global non-proliferation system and give access to dual-use and high-end technology, especially for India’s missile program.
The prime minister’s visit to Washington will provide an indication of how far India is willing to step into the US orbit. But there are those in the establishment who advise caution and warn
against getting into formal defence arrangement with the US or any other country and believe India should keep its choices open.
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Updated Date: May 17, 2016 10:51:31 IST