A week prior to US presidential election, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the then Secretary Defence Mike Esper of the US flew down to New Delhi for third round of significant meeting (2+2) with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar. The visit assumed great significance as it took place just a week short of the US Presidential elections, and also led to the signing of Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), nearly ten years after it was first proposed by the United States.
Implications of 2+2
The visit sent an unambiguous signal of renewal and continuity of Indo-US relations, with India’s defence minister stating that the visit is “aimed at further deepening defence cooperation in a wide range of areas”. Reading between the lines, one would expect that US will provide intelligence support in the ongoing and likely future friction on northern borders with China. If newspaper reports are to be believed, US did provide geo spatial data during Eastern Ladakh face off between two armies even before BECA was inked.
Indian delegation also included the CDS, Chiefs of Army, Navy and the Air Force in addition to the Defence Secretary. The 2+2 dialogue spanned over wide spectrum from health, science and technology, education; accentuated by China’s aggressive economic and military posturing. In addition, Eastern Ladakh transgression clearly reflected the expansionist mindset of CCP. It’s close alliance with Pakistan and positioning of two divisions of Army in occupied Gilgit-Baltistan is of serious concern. Both, China and Pakistan have probably decided to present to India a strong two front aggression in J&K and Ladakh Union Territories.
The signing of five agreements during the visit symbolises the will of the two countries to work together for regional and global stability, inclusive of respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism and cooperation in improving prosperity. On terrorism, Pakistan was asked to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks and accelerate action against perpetrators of 26/11, Uri and Pathankot terror attacks.
Signing of BECA along with earlier Foundational Agreements, has paved the way for India to acquire armed drones, eg, Reapers or Predators for long range precession strikes on hostile targets over land and sea. The agreement also provides for real time exchange of geospatial intelligence through advanced satellite imagery, topographical and aeronautical digital data for long range navigation and pinpointed strikes against hostile targets.
Will the 2+2 agreements continue to move at the pace at which Trump administration has propelled? There would be clarity only after President Joe Biden moves to White House and the administration settles down.
India is also set to work with the US in development of ‘drone swarms’ which can overwhelm the enemy and destroy its air defence systems. There are talks of acquisition of UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) which use multiple satellite links for their control for bombing of far off targets. Under the DTTI (Defence Technology and Trade Initiative) near term projects have been identified for fast tracking the joint development programme.
Will the 2+2 agreements continue to move at the pace at which Trump administration has propelled? There would be clarity only after President elect Joe Biden moves to White House and the administration settles down. Joe Biden is no novice having been a Senator and two term Vice President with President Obama. Also in play will be Democratic Party’s broad understanding of geopolitics and stature of the US in the world. It may be worth gazing through some areas which may have implications for India Post Trump.
As far as India-China equation is concerned the Indian action on Eastern Ladakh border has bipartisan support. Joe Biden, even before getting elected, spoke of his support for India in the larger Indo-Pacific and keenness to work with India. It is in larger interest of the US to support India for its strategic objective to succeed in the Indo-Pacific. However, the pace at which the relationship has moved during President Trump’s administration would now depend on Biden’s China and Pakistan policy.
Should Joe Biden make even minor policy corrections to existing relationship of the US with China or Pakistan for reduction of US hostility, Delhi should expect to experience slower progress of Indo-Pacific strategy and QUAD. As a consequence Japan, India, Australia trilateral cooperation could increase.
Joe Biden, even before getting elected, spoke of his support for India in the larger Indo-Pacific and keenness to work with India. It is in larger interest of the US to support India for its strategic objective to succeed in the Indo-Pacific.
There exists an understanding for working together for COVID vaccine as also facilitate creation of reliable supply chain within the group. The advantage of Indo-Pacific cooperation lies not only in coming together of hard power but also for meeting economic challenges and non-traditional threats. It also needs to address an alternate to BRI of China by making lending more transparent and sustainable.
Darshana Baruah, a researcher at Carnegie, has identified three specific elements to India’s approach. First, it underlines an opportunity to expand its footprint across the region while facing significant capacity and capital constraints. Second, it places partnership at the core of India’s Indo-Pacific interests. She argues that India’s relationship with island nations will shape India’s role in the region. Third, though Indo Pacific is a large opportunity, India’s priority and investment will largely be in the IOR.
This is very appropriate analysis. A pause could hence be anticipated in the pace of progress of Quad and Indo Pacific strategy. Japan, Australia and India must have an alternate way forward, should US slow down its assertion.