The behemoths, US & Russia, are at loggerheads again in Ukraine, and India is carefully treading the path of friendship with both it’s allies. Ostensibly, since 2016 India was designated “Major defence partner” of the United States, and later in 2018 India got the Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status, which facilitated it in accessing license free military technologies from US. But India- US relationship has always been akin to a seesaw—it goes up and then down.
After Russian President Putin’s visit to India in the first week of December, a pandemonium was created regarding the downward spiraling Indo-US relations. So let us rummage through all the recent events to comprehend which way the two allies are headed.
The optimistic view—brothers in arms!
- SOSUS—The fishhook!
In 2015 after the 10-member ASEAN meeting, India’s then Defence minister Mr Manohar Parrikar decided it was high time India played a greater role in Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and South China Sea. Soon QUAD happened! US was very keen to make India, Australia and Japan join it. With QUAD, India also became a part of the SOSUS wall. SOSUS means sound surveillance sensors chain, which originates close to Japan and has now touched Andaman-Nicobar Islands. It gives India the advantage to create a counter- wall against Chinese submarines loitering in the Andaman Sea and deep south China sea. This will help India fortify its land borders and littoral zones against Chinese intrusions.
- Largest supplier of arms:
US has sold transport aircrafts, helicopters, missiles, and myriads of other defence equipment’s worth $22 Billion to India and deals worth $10 Billion are still being negotiated. P8I Poseidon, MQ-9 Predator-B drones, C-130J, Apache, Chinook, etc. are few US built entities which often grab headlines in India. This is also one of the main reasons US or India would hate to see the bond turn sour.
Chinooks & Apache helicopters make debut during Republic Day parade 2020
- Cyber cooperation: India is keen to join CODE, Cyber Offensive and Defensive Exercises, and US is supportive of the idea. Some time ago, Gen Bipin Rawat, the far-sighted man that he was, had visited US Cyber Command in Virginia, and he was the first senior official from India to do so. DCA India’s Defence Cyber Agency, a fledgling, will also be able to increase its effectiveness by the cyber cooperation with US. CODE holds biennial cyber exercises. In the last such exercise held in 2019, 10 countries had participated, and it was cohosted by Taiwan.
- Emulating USSOCOM: US Special Operations Command has the responsibility to oversee various special operations component commands of the Army, Marine corps, Navy, Airforce of US’s Armed forces.USSOCOM helps in synchronizing global ops against terrorist networks, also indulges in unconventional warfare. India will send a liaison officer of Colonel or Lt Colonel rank to USSOCOM, Florida. India aspires to emulate coordination of different special op components back home, albeit it may not have to travel as far as US to take on terrorists, as India has terrorist factories just across the border.
- SSA—Ostensibly, India and US would soon sign on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) agreement, which would help India get info on space debris and hence avoid collision of its satellites with them. This will boast the performance of ISRO and India’s defence satellites.
The above are just few fields India-US look forward to cooperating in. We can not ignore gamut of other occasions when India-US got together to put up a good show in the past.
The pessimistic view—US is nobody’s friend
- Ditching dollars: One thing that really irks US, is when somebody snubs dollars, as that comes with certain repercussion to their currency. After the annual summit this year, when Russian President Putin was in India, both the countries declared they would be using national currencies, Rupees & Rubles, for bilateral arm deals. Russia since sometime had been suggesting ditching the green bills, for it has been on the receiving end of US and its allies sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The talks to switch to national currencies had begun as early as 2018 but making a sudden switch at that point would have been costly for both the nations and ergo the decision comes as India gets its S-400s in 2021.
- S-400 deal: This has been a bone of contention between India & US since long. US has decided to hang a sword of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) on India. Though many believe, this may not blow up as much as it is expected to– as Turkey, a NATO member, had managed to sail through this storm without hurting itself after it purchased S-400 batteries from Russia. It was removed from the F-35 program but Turkey didn’t face a very strong action.
The Russian S-400 system
- US will “actively raise” Human rights issue: This was a statement by US ambassador-nominee Eric Garcetti that grabbed the eyeballs of many few days ago. This is reminiscent of the roundtable discussion that was held by Antony Blinken with 7 civil societies representatives on abrogation of 370 (Kashmir), farmers protest, CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act ), restrictions on the media and Pegasus surveillance among the other topics of discussion. This meeting took place when Mr Antony Blinken was in India in July earlier this year. This meeting by Mr Blinken had evoked the famous statement “it is the moral obligation of all polities to right wrongs done historically” –by India’s Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar.
- UNSC climate change vote: Recently India & Russia together voted negative against a proposal that would have allowed UNSC (UN Security Council) to deliberate on climate-related issues. Add to US woes, that India was very vociferous about “few” who do not want to be held accountable for their actions. This of course didn’t go down well, with many in US.
Link to India’s UNSC reply.
- The Afghanistan blunder: US had kept everyone away from the closed-door negotiations that it held in Doha with the Taliban at different occasions since 2018. India with its huge investments in Afghanistan was miffed with US for doing so. In fact, on many occasions Gen Bipin Rawat said that India had anticipated rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, and had warned US about it, though India’s advices fell on deaf ears. US’s blunder was for everyone to see when Afghanistan, a democracy, was handed over to terrorists within weeks after US forces left Afghanistan. India’s three billion dollars’ worth investments in Afghanistan now stand the risk of being jeopardized.
This was another instance when it was proven beyond an iota of doubt that US is nobody’s friend.
- NGO funding: It’s a well-known fact that US likes to roll its dices through the NGO it funds in different parts of the world. India has in recent past cancelled licenses of thousands of NGOS, yet earlier this year in Rajya Sabha it was revealed that US still tops the list in funding for NGOs in India, and that between 2016 & 2020 US had contributed close to Rs 19000 crores to the NGOs.
Long ago President Joe Biden’s good friend, Hillary Clinton had sent several expert teams in the guise of NGOs to Gujarat to try and find mass graves, to “get Modi”. But then Obama didn’t let the wounds fester and was quick to take corrective measures.
Foreign policy– the grey zone
The US & India relationship faces such bumps every now and then, which make bonding together a little tough for both the countries. But then this is true for almost every other country in the world. Russia and China on one hand have territorial disputes, on the other hand support each other against US. Turkey shot down Russian fighter jet once yet Russian President Putin was the one to alert Erdogan, the Turkish President, of the coup and attempt on his life. UAE & Qatar have dragged each other to International Court of Justice (ICJ) for terrorism in the past, yet today both the countries are ready to bury the hatchet and move forward. Every country is ready to mend ties and turn a blind eye to minor errors of it’s allies, if that works in nation’s interest.
But at this point it is important to add that India as a country has become a vibrant economy and a vociferous nation, which is ready to flex its pecs. No country in the world can today afford to snub the giant economy India is emerging into. Hence, India is ready to make bolder statements to defend its actions and is not reticent in expressing it’s divergent views on international platforms.
This is where recent speech by Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, is worth mentioning. His words warn us of the future, where behemoths countries might stand against us. We must ready ourselves for an avant-garde approach to handle such situations.
Article by Levina
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The truth is nobody can be trusted forever. Countries can be trusted only in domains where both are in one page.