Defence, Asia-Pacific focus of Indo-US cooperation

India now a ‘major defence partner'; partners quibble over climate agreement

June 08, 2016 11:18 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:56 pm IST - Washington

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting at the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting at the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday.

India and the U.S. had different interpretations of what they agreed on the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama met on Tuesday, but on defence and cooperation in Asia-Pacific, both sides agree that they made great strides.

The U.S. has recognised India as ‘major defence partner,’ a classification that will allow India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from the U.S. This U.S. move will be complemented by India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an exclusive club that restricts trade in sensitive defence technologies. The U.S. has also declared that it will be its “strong objective to have India voted as a member “of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), another export control regime, later this month.

“Now …we would be treated at a level similar to the closest allies and partners of the U.S. and that it sort of allows for better, higher quality, faster technology access on the defence side and also more liberal access to the duel technology side,” Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said.

The joint statement said, “The leaders reached an understanding under which India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.”

While India is enthusiastic about the prospects of technology cooperation, the U.S. is more focused on the progress on climate change. U.S. officials, speaking before and after the release of the joint statement said India has agreed to complete the ratification process within the year of 2016.

President Obama’s brief media statement was almost entirely on climate. As American media went to town with this version, Indian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity sought to explain that India agreed to do it “as soon as possible,” and no timeline has been committed to.

The joint statement is worded such that both sides can stick to their respective versions. “India and the United States recognize the urgency of climate change and share the goal of enabling entry into force of the Paris Agreement as early as possible. The United States reaffirms its commitment to join the Agreement as soon as possible this year. India similarly has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective,” the statement said.

Roadmap for Asia-Pacific

According to a senior Obama administration official, a significant achievement of Mr. Modi’s visit is the finalization of a document on the shared strategy of both countries in Asia-Pacific. The official said this document – kept confidential – outlines a joint strategy to deal with specific situations and scenarios that could emerge in the Asia-Pacific region in the future.

The joint statement said “the completion of a roadmap for cooperation under the 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which will serve as a guide for collaboration in the years to come.”

“…there was important progress on finalising agreements relating to defence logistics, sharing of maritime information, and even the movement of U.S. aircraft carriers in the region,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily news conference.

The U.S official, however, sought to downplay the China angle that comes in most analyses of India-U.S. ties. Explaining at some length how India and the U.S. “are both global powers” and have independent interests in all parts of the world, the official said: “This is about us – U.S. and India, not about any third country. In fact, that is the qualitative change that has come about in the India-U.S. relations in the last decade. Earlier, one of India’s neighbours used to be the main topic of conversation. That is no longer the case.”

Just as Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama were meeting, U.S. Secretaries of State and Treasury were concluding the eighth edition of the U.S.- China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. The official said he was not aware if the American delegation took up with China the question of India’s NSG membership. The joint statement says the U.S. has sought the support of all NSG members for India’s admission. “The United States called on NSG Participating Governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG Plenary later this month,” it said. China is opposed to admitting India.

Announcement of a framework for the U.S.-India Cyber Relationship was hailed by the U.S. official as a unique and first of its kind agreement that the U.S. has reached with any country. The finalization of the text of an Information Exchange Annex under the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation, also was listed as a major breakthrough by both Indian and American interlocutors.

Salutation to Yoga

In a curious addition to the set of shared objectives of India and the U.S, the joint statement called for the promotion of Yoga. “The leaders also reiterated the importance of holistic approaches to health and wellness, and of promoting the potential benefits of holistic approaches by synergizing modern and traditional systems of medicine, including Yoga,” the statement said.

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