Stronger, closer, but nothing exclusive: Carter

U.S Defence Secretary Carter on relations with India ahead of his visit.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST

Published - April 06, 2016 04:21 pm IST - Washington

The U.S is looking for stronger and closer relations with India but not for “anything exclusive,” Defence Secretary Ash Carter said, days ahead of his three-day visit to India that starts on April 10. Mr Carter, a strong proponent of deeper cooperation between India and the U.S, said he spent “a lot of time on it,” and reiterated that the U.S Pivot to Asia and India’s Act East policy implied convergence of concerns and interests.

Mr Carter will also be visiting the Philippines, where he will witness a joint military exercise and visit a U.S navy ship in the South China Sea.

“What we are looking for is a closer relationship and a stronger relationship as we can, because it is geo-politically grounded,” Mr. Carter said, speaking at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “They (India) want to do things their own way. They don't want to do things just with us. They want to do things themselves. So all that's fine. So we're not looking for anything exclusive,” Mr. Carter, said adding that both countries would be announcing a “whole bunch of things” during his visit.

Mr. Carter’s emphasis on allowing space for India’s autonomy even as strategic ties deepen between the two countries comes against the backdrop of renewed efforts to conclude three defence agreements — the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). Long in negotiations, critics of these agreements — many within the Indian defence establishment – have argued that these would push India into a permanent embrace with the U.S and limit India’s strategic choices. “Indians are, like many others, also proud. So they want to do things independently,” Mr. Carter said.

“..there is a great deal of buzz over renewed talks on signing one or more of the defence foundation agreements…Such agreements open new doors to cooperation, and are tangible signposts of progress in our security relationship,” Richard M. Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in U.S. India Policy Studies at CSIS told The Hindu . Mr. Rossow pointed out that India would be participating in the air force exercise Operation Red Flag, later this month, after an eight-year gap.

The defence secretary said there were two key elements to the U.S-India strategic cooperation. First, the Pivot to Asia — Act East convergence, which, he said was “like two hands grasping one another.” He named the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) as the second defining component. “…they don't just want to be a buyer. They want to be a co-developer and co-producers. So, they want that kind of relationship,” Mr. Carter said, adding that this approach was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. “…there could be positive changes to the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). Four near-term DTTI projects were announced at the conclusion of President Barack Obama's historic January 2015 visit to New Delhi, as well as two longer-term projects. Not all of the near-term projects have been able to move ahead, and other project ideas have been floated by both sides. So perhaps the two sides are prepared to reshape the DTTI project list,” Mr. Rossow said.

Pivot Real?

Responding to the moderator’s observation that American allies in Asia Pacific wondered whether the pivot was for real, the defence secretary said the U.S was doubling down on efforts in the region, in “qualitative and quantitative” terms. “…for the simple reason that it is the single region of most consequence for America's future,” Mr. Carter said. He said the new rebalancing of Asia would have to account for the rise of China and India. “….this is a region that has no NATO, where the wounds of World War II are still not healed. So you can't take that for granted.”

China has raised concerns about the new Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the U.S and Philippines, and the joint exercise that is currently underway. “the United States should first clarify the targets of its Pivot to Asia strategy, which so far has featured no more than unscrupulous inconsistency between fear-mongering deeds and peace-loving words,” the Xinhua , official Chinese news agency said earlier this week.

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