Next Steps in the U.S. Indian Partnership


2016-09-18 By Gulshan Luthra and Nilova Roy Chaudhury

New Delhi. It was in 2004 that India and the United States had announced The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with an eye on future cooperation, and a year later, in 2005, Washington formally announced that it recognized India as a regional and global power.

Changes in political leadership in both the countries notwithstanding, the two have moved forward since then. Indian Prime Ministers AB Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh, and now Mr. Narendra Modi, have responded well, albeit progressively, to the US efforts initiated by Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama.

Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama have met several times over the past year, including in Vientiane most recently. After his official visit to Washington DC in June 2016, the Indian Prime Minister described the US as “an indispensable partner” and outlined his thoughts for “a new symphony” in bilateral relations. Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the two countries have also met periodically since then. The US declared India a “Major defence Partner” during Mr. Modi’s visit.

Although there is no NSSP 2016, both India and the US talk tough on terror, have raised strategic ties, and Washington has reaffirmed support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, after anchoring India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Significantly, while the Indian Defence Minister, Mr. Manohar Parrikar was in Washington end-August, the US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, was in New Delhi at the same time.

The two met their counterparts, Mr. Ashton Carter and Mrs. Sushma Swaraj respectively.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar are seen at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in New Delhi, April 12, 2016. Photo: Getty Images/AFP/PRAKASH SINGH
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar are seen at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in New Delhi, April 12, 2016. Photo: Getty Images/AFP/PRAKASH SINGH

Washington has been urging India to sign four “foundational” agreements, the second of which, LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) was signed during Mr. Parrikar’s visit. The first one, General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was signed in 2002.

Mr. Parrikar said that while implementation of the LEMOA will be on a case to case basis, no timelines have been set for signing the other two, the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Intelligence.

LEMOA will facilitate access to each other’s bases but there is no provision for setting up any military force or base on each other’s territory. Both the countries can now access each other’s bases though.

Defence and Diplomacy go together, and along with them comes trade and commerce. In New Delhi, along with Mr. Kerry, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker also held talks with her counterpart, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The agenda was the same in both the capitals, strategic cooperation in global arena to ensure free and safe passage of shipping through the oceans, deleting terrorism, facilitating each other in logistics, and supplying new defence technology systems to India.

Mr. Parrikar met representatives of several top US defence companies while in Washington and also visited Boeing’s facility manufacturing the Chinook heavy lift helicopters in Philadelphia. The Indian Air Force is buying 15 CH 47 helicopters and 22 Apache AH 64E combat helicopters from the company.

It may be recalled that at the IDEX’05 defence expo in Abu Dhabi in March 2005, shortly before the US announcement supporting India as a major power, US defence companies told us that their wares were open for sale to India. For instance, Boeing offered its F/A 18 Super Hornet and Raytheon put up its famous Patriot anti-missile missile.

AMRAAM, SLAMRAAM and DamnRAAM (the first two really are very sophisticated missiles, the third is whatever else) all seemed to be on the table for New Delhi. The demand for the four foundational agreements came up later.

Understandably, no manufacturer can sell military goods without government clearance, and what is sold, depends on government-to-government negotiations and agreements.

Cooperation under NSSP has resulted in India buying some $ 15 worth of aircraft and weapons so far from the US, with Boeing accounting for around $ 10 billion worth in the last few years. Boeing, and the world’s biggest arms manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, have also offered to set up aircraft factories in India to meet the huge requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for replacing its inventory of 1970s and 1980s generation combat aircraft.

Touch on Terror, and Promising on Trade

During the talks in New Delhi, at the second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue which ended August 31, a strong message against terrorism, particularly propagated by and emanating from Pakistan, security threats and “challenges to the rule-based order” combined with a resolve to raise the bilateral trade turnover to 500 billion dollars emerged as key outcomes from the discussions.

The India-U.S. Strategic & Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) is the premier bilateral forum for discussions on trade, economic and defence-related issues. The dialogue is co-chaired by India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and US Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

The dialogue was held a day after India and the US signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in Washington.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the two-day S&CD, the two countries acknowledged that defence was “the bedrock” of the strategic partnership.

US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter (right) shaking hands with Vice-Admiral Bimal Verma, Chief of Staff of India’s Eastern Naval Command, in front of India’s frigate INS Sahyadri, in Visakhapatnam city on June 2, 2015.– PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter (right) shaking hands with Vice-Admiral Bimal Verma, Chief of Staff of India’s Eastern Naval Command, in front of India’s frigate INS Sahyadri, in Visakhapatnam city on June 2, 2015.– PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

“Reiterating that defence ties form the bedrock of the bilateral strategic partnership, the two Sides recognized the importance of the announcement regarding India as a Major Defense Partner of the United States and decided to take further steps expeditiously to enable greater cooperation in the area of co-production and co-development. To this end, the United States committed to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with its closest allies and partners,” the statement said.

The strategic Dialogue was elevated into a Strategic and Commercial Dialogue during President Obama’s visit to India in January 2015.

The first India-US S&CD was held on September 22 last year in Washington.

Secretary Kerry observed, “The security threat is our biggest challenge. We must strike at the root cause of violent extremism,” adding: “It’s clear that Pakistan has work to do in order to push harder against its indigenous groups that are engaged in terrorist activities. We have been urging Pakistan to crack down on terror camps and the sanctuaries in the country.”

“We don’t make distinctions between good and bad terrorists. Terror is terror,” Kerry said, reiterating Washington’s commitment to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 and the Pathankot attacks to justice.

Speaking at a joint press conference after the S&CD, Mrs. Swaraj said she and Secretary Kerry “agreed that nations must not maintain double standards, such as the categorization of good and bad terrorists, nor must they act as sanctuaries and safe havens for terrorist organizations.” India’s EAM said, mincing no words.

“We reaffirmed the urgent necessity for Pakistan to dismantle safe havens for terrorists and criminal networks, including Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and ‘D Company’.

Secretary Kerry and I also agreed on the need for Pakistan to do more to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks to justice quickly,” Swaraj said.

Notably, the US State Department spokesman has thrice, since the Dialogue, urged Pakistan to act against terrorists who “attack neighbors.”

New Delhi and Washington have also, Mrs. Swaraj said, “agreed to strengthen our cooperation in the area of maritime security. In accordance with the roadmap for the Joint Strategic Vision, we have launched a Maritime Security Dialogue.

Our Trilateral with Japan has moved from dialogue into action in key areas of regional connectivity and HA/DR.” (Humanitarian Assistance /Disaster Relief).

Secretary Kerry was also critical of China in comments on its refusal to accept the judgment of the Permanent Council of Arbitration against it.

Making a reference to India accepting the International tribunal judgment on Bangladesh, he said, “We discussed how India’s decision to accept a International tribunal judgment regarding its maritime border with Bangladesh actually stands apart.”

“This is the kind of policy that supports the rule of law that brings us closer and in my judgment reflects a sense of confidence and a sense of responsibility,” Kerry said.

“It is a model of how potentially dangerous disputes can be resolved in a mature and peaceful manner including the South China Sea where the US urges China and the Philippines to respect the judgment of the International tribunal which is final and legally binding on both parties.”

The S&CD also focused on bilateral trade and investment- related issues with Sitharaman and Pritzker discussing the ease of doing business with the bilateral CEOs Forum.

They also prioritized measures to promote ties in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Republished with permission of our partner India Strategic.