While Ashley Tellis set the simmering pot aboil with his calling India a bad bet for the US, Arzan Tarapore, in his rejoinder, as India being the best bet returned the pot to a simmer. Both articles raised issues that need addressing, some of which have been kept aside to ensure a continuous common approach from where cooperative dialogues flow towards a free and open Indo-Pacific. Hence, placing China at the hub of engagement is perhaps not the right approach, as India’s dynamics with China vary vastly from that of the US.
Sharing common borders, land and maritime, with adversarial nations limits a nation’s strategic outreach, and it takes time to extend beyond set piece boundaries, especially maritime. Further, if the past paves the way to the future, trust plays a significant role. Over time, the US-India trust factor has been greatly enhanced, and we are seeing more robust engagements since the 2005 Civil Nuclear Agreement, despite the existential differences over specific issues, more recently over Russia.
While facing two adversarial nations and exercising strategic autonomy since 1947, India has extended its strategic outreach to encompass most of the Indo-Pacific and specific regions of interest beyond it. The US should consider ‘itself lucky that its neighbours are not like India’s, thus providing the opportunity to go global, especially after the Second World War. While the paths followed by both nations since 1947 crossed different bridges, they converged in 2005 and have since found compatibility in addressing the threats and challenges posed by the changing security environment of the then Asia-Pacific and now the contemporary Indo-Pacific.
To advance compatibility, the US should not template relations with India based on the alliance frameworks with its allies. It needs to understand and accept the formula driven from the global strategic partner with India. Despite the view from the differing lenses of alliances and strategic partnerships, successive US administrations and Indian governments have helped build bridges and cooperative mechanisms.
Signing a slew of agreements regarding defence sales, technologies, and logistics support to enhance military interoperability indicates the decisive convergence factor. Apart from bilateral exchanges, the QUAD forms an active leaders-driven platform, which along with Australia and Japan onboard, has identified several areas of cooperation aimed at shaping a favourable, positive, and inclusive Indo-Pacific environment. Therefore, the first state visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, from 21 to 24 June, is awaited with bated breath.
It would be optimistic to expect much from the visit, given the positive body language exhibited by the US President and the Indian Prime Minister in their meetings outside the US. However, it would be more pragmatic to expect little to no change in the stances of both nations on issues related to their respective national interests and positions in the ongoing Indo-Pacific power balance and power transition equation.
What we can optimistically expect from the visit is perhaps a more accepted understanding of India’s relations with Russia, cementing of issues related to the initiative on critical and emerging technologies- iCET and finalisation of the GE-414 engines deal, to power the Indian-made Tejas Mark II fighters, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), and the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) for the Indian Navy.
The deal, which looks at co-production in India with a high degree of transfer of technology (ToT), would unfreeze the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative termed DTTI, put some muscle on it, and set the stage for more such joint endeavours. Other issues that would have been discussed in detail during the recent visit of Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, would be on the list, minus the issues that need more deliberation to be agreeable to both sides.
Issues related to QUAD initiatives could also be on the table, especially those that need some pushing and the involvement of other nations. China could also be discussed, perhaps limited to bilateral actions to address common threats and challenges. On the economic side, sealing the agreement to set up a USD 2.7 billion chip-making facility in India. ‘While diversifying for more such ventures.’ with ‘Such diversification would aid the global chip-manufacturing industry while opening doors for more such ventiures.’
Overall, as per the White House statement issued on 10 May, the visit is expected to strengthen the shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and the shared resolve to elevate the strategic technology partnership, including defence, clean energy, and space. It is a feeling shared by most India-US enthusiasts, and a 60 per cent fructification of agreements and understandings should mark the visit a success.