|Image Credit: telegraph.co.uk|
India’s strategic partnership with the US in the Asia-Pacific will be a defining one in the 21st century. This pivot has all the makes of an all-weather partnership between two countries whose defence cooperations have grown multifold in last few decades and are economically deeply integrated. In the light of the successful visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, let us examine where India and the US stand strategically in the Asia-Pacific and world at large.
Indian PM Modi embarked on a historic fourth visit to the US this June for his seventh meeting with President Obama in just two years of being in power. However, this visit was geopolitically critical viz-a-viz Pakistan and China. The drone strike on Afghan Taliban Chief Mansour and the stalling of the F-16 deal to Pakistan by the US Congress has brought US-Pak relations to a new low with China seeking to plug the trust deficit between them. With the critical question of India's MTCR and NSG memberships, this visit was historic in the true sense of deliverables.
PM Modi began his visit 5-nation tour with the inauguration of Salma Dam in Herat, Afghanistan that was built with India 's help and proceeded to Qatar, Switzerland, the US and finally Mexico. He was successful in obtaining endorsements from Switzerland and Mexico for India's NSG membership. The 48 member NSG regulates the supply of nuclear commerce and fissile material across the world. India has already received backing from the US and Japan and is being opposed unsurprisingly by China and Pakistan. China is blocking India’s admission into the NSG stating that India is not a signatory non-proliferation regime (NPT), and hence it does not qualify to be accorded membership of the elite group. China is also using the reason of Pakistan (who has sought similar status before NSG) to block India. China’s arguments do not hold weight as India has an impeccable record on nuclear proliferation and in accordance with the IAEA protocol, has already classified its nuclear reactors for the civilian and military purpose. Laughably, Pakistan, a rank proliferator (as admitted by its former scientist AQ Khan) of smuggling nuclear technology to states like Libya and has written to Russia, South Korea, and New Zealand for opposing India’s NSG bid.
An Extraordinary meeting of the NSG was held on the 09th-10th June 2016 in Vienna where countries were positive of India’s NSG bid though China (vocally) and others like South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria and Turkey are still holding out. Hectic diplomacy is underway by India and the US to bring other holdouts to yield and for China to soften its stand by the time of Annual Plenary in Seoul from the 20th-21st June 2016. Since the decision in NSG has to be by consensus, even a whiff of opposition by China has the potential to delay India’s NSG membership. The consequences of such a de-facto veto by China are significant for India as it has sought to expand the role of Nuclear Power as part of its push on renewable energy by 2030 per the Paris Climate Change agreement signed in December 2015. Moreover, China’s prospective opposition to India’s bid will fasten the geopolitical alignments between India and the US and the allies like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, etc. that could trip China's dream of foisting its order. China’s opposition is derived from the fact that it cannot accept a nuclear legitimized India in a region it is seeking to dominate. Hence, how China votes on India’s NSG bid and whether the US will be able to yield China on the same (like it did for the 2008 waiver) will determine the geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific in the times to come.
Along with India's NSG membership, Prime Minister Modi’s US visit also marked successful the culmination of India’s membership in MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) a group of countries that regulate the export of missile technology, armed drones, and long-range missiles to countries across the world. In a silent procedure adopted, India’s application for MTCR automatically went ahead when none of the member states objected, with the deadline for the same expiring on the 06th June 2016. Italy, previously opposing the same was mollified after the UN Tribunal's Order for the releasing of Italian marines on bail and India's compliance. India can now export its hi-tech missiles like Brahmos Cruise Missile (jointly developed with Russia) to countries like Vietnam, UAE, Chile, Brazil, and the Philippines. Entry into MTCR will also enable India acquire armed drones like Predator from the United States and develop long-range cruise missiles which countries like Russia currently possess. India’s entry into MTCR is thus a big foreign policy achievement of the Modi Govt.
Prime Minister Modi acknowledged President Obama's role in supporting India's MTCR and NSG membership at the White House indicating how far Indo-US relations have progressed in the last two years. The four visits to the United States by PM Modi and the path-breaking visit of President Obama in January 2015 have cemented the Indo-US partnership and will define the geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific. The Address by PM Modi to US Congress on 08th June 2016 was applauded all around and well received. PM Modi commended the bi-partisan support of Indo-US strategic partnership and called for the further deepening of ties from trade to defence and military. He stated that India is more with aligned with the US today in interests than ever before and that India and US could partner each other in Asia Pacific region from Africa to the West Pacific. He also commended the US Congress for cutting military aid to the sponsors of terror across India’s borders and hinted at China by expressing India’s commitment to freedom of navigation as per International law.
PM Modi’s visit to the US this time around was even more significant in the backdrop of a rising Sino-Pak axis in Afghanistan-Pakistan and for the US, it was time to walk the talk. We can see proof of the same in the rapid strides in the Indo-US Defence Partnership. India signed the defence partnership with the US in January 2015 during President Obama’s visit along with the DTTI agreement that allowed technology sharing between the two countries especially dual-use technologies which the US shares only with its NATO Allies and Israel. The US House of Representatives in the NDAA Bill of 2017 ( as passed) contains a bi-partisan amendment of codifying defence partnerships with India and the DTTI Agreement for Transfer of Technology. The Amendment also contains the authority to the US President to transfer conventional technology to India in compliance with US Laws, set up a rapid reaction cell in Pentagon for India, Logistical and security cooperation with India in Asia-Pacific region between the countries including maritime security and was unanimously approved by the US Senate.
On the 07th June 2016, a new bill was introduced in the US Senate titled ‘Special Global Partnership with India Act of 2016’. The said bill not only codified the defence partnership between two countries but also discussed economic and trade as a component of Indo-US strategic partnership. The bill calls for extensive cooperation with India in the fields of defence, intelligence, logistics sharing, space, climate change, agriculture, innovation infrastructure, renewable energy, etc. The bill further talks about technical and security cooperation between two countries on terrorism, cyber security and allied domains in the region. The bill authorizes the president to transfer conventional technologies to India and for this purpose, the President is sought to be empowered to grant exemptions to India for such military transfers under US Arms Controls Exports Act for five years subject to the extension of another five years after notification of the same to the US Congress. This Bill seeks to institutionalize the Indo-US defence partnership and will give India a status equal to that of a NATO ally or Israel. The exemptions will be subject to renewal by US Congress after ten years, which is part of the usual procedure.
The Indo-US Joint Declaration issued on 07th June 2016 further cemented the partnership with India and the US sorting out the Nuclear deal roadblocks and paving the way for 6 Westinghouse-Toshiba Nuclear reactors in India to be signed between NCPIL and Westinghouse by June 2017. The US EXIM Bank will work at financing the project, building the site plan and engineering designs for the reactors. The US also backed India lead International Solar Alliance for renewable energy committing an investment of $20 billion. Also, the declaration also stated that India and the US have finalized the text of LEMOA foundational military agreement for the sharing of logistics between armed forces of the two countries. Thus, as per reports LEMOA has been finalized and does not require any formal signatures for its implementation, heralding a new era in Indo-US military ties. Similarly, India and the US also began negotiations on the cybersecurity agreement draft with the parameters agreed on both sides. Apart from defence and military, they also signed an agreement on a global entry program for Indians in the US and the backing of India’s entry into the APEC trade and economic bloc and agreed to continue deliberations on contentious issues like IPR, BIT's and terror cooperation in the region.
From being a pariah to a US’s strategic partner equal to a NATO ally, Indo-US ties have a come a long way. However, it remains to be seen how they manage the divergence of views on Iran or Russia, which are traditional Indian allies. Indian PM Modi, while heralding the new Indo-US Defence Partnership has called for the mutual respect of each other's strategic autonomy in world affairs. In sum and substance, the pivot to the US which New Delhi has embarked upon is a cautious embrace. This pivot is an indication of India's shedding the baggage of the past to a more confident and assertive player in The New Global Order. PM Modi is continuing the Vajpayee legacy of the US and India being natural allies and with this pivot, he has now truly laid the Nehruvian era relic of NAM to rest.