Policy Brief: India US 2+2: How India Retains Strategic Autonomy?
On 6 September India and the United States relations passed two significant milestones holding the first 2 + 2 Strategic dialogue between the Defence and Foreign Ministers and signing the COMCASA. “The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India’s defence preparedness,” Indian defence minister Ms Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Press Statement after the very first Indo US 2+2 Strategic Dialogue.
U.S Secretary of State Mr. Michael Pompeo and U.S Secretary of Defence Mr. James Mattis, called on Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and briefed him on the deliberations during the first 2 + 2 Dialogue and were congratulated by the Prime Minister for holding the same successfully.
India is also a Major Defence Partner of the United States, is granted STA 1 status without being member of any US led alliance and has also signed the logistics support agreement between the forces LEMOA.
If some see this as a decisive tilt towards the United States, there is need for a pause, this is one more step in India’s retaining the modicum of strategic autonomy through what some call as “Please All diplomacy,” that also serves India’s national interests.
To flesh out the theme a flashback of India’s diplomacy with major global powers in the last six months needs to be retraced.
The Strategic Dialogue with the United States follows a defence ministers meet with Japan during the visit of the Japanese Defence Minister to India on 20 August, where again he had an audience with Prime Minister Modi
This was followed by a four day visit of Gen. Wei Fenghe, State Councillor and Defence Minister of China who called on the Prime Minister on 21 August.
Speaking to the Defence Minister of Japan Mr. Itsunori Onodera Prime Minister Modi “welcomed the broadening and deepening of the Special Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan in recent years”.
To Gen. Wei Fenghe the high level contacts between India and Japan were appreciated including in the areas of defence and military exchanges.
Coming to the track at a higher plane Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an informal Summit with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in April this Year, the objective was to establish strategic communications at the highest level and overcome the discord post the 73 day standoff at Doklam in 2017.
This was followed by the Sochi Summit in Russia between Mr Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.
While there was much buzz about the QUAD (India, Australia, Japan and United States) forum in the Asia Pacific, now being called the Indo Pacific on 01 June, Prime Minister Modi speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue outlined India’s vision of a cooperative architecture in the region and also the overall foreign policy framework.
Mr Modi outlining the course of his visits in April and May to China and Russia said, “Ten days ago in an informal summit at Sochi, President Putin and I shared our views on the need for a strong multi-polar world order for dealing with the challenges of our times. ………..At the same time, India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship. ……………….No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China. We are the world’s two most populous countries and among the fastest growing major economies. Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border”.
He went to underline the importance of keeping the Indo Pacific region free from conflict and strife stating, “All of this is possible, if we do not return to the age of great power rivalries.”
Sceptics may call this as a please all diplomacy but it serves India’s national interests well.