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BRP Bhaskar: New strategic equations
April 19, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

What does the agreement “in principle” between India and the United States on a logistic exchange deal, announced at the end of talks between defence ministers of the two countries in New Delhi earlier this month, signify?

Ahead of his visit, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter invested his mission with special importance by declaring the US had a “whole global agenda” with India covering all issues, while its relationship with Pakistan had to do with only issues of terrorism and Afghanistan.

Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations a few days earlier, he had claimed there was a remarkable convergence of US and Indian interests in recent years, leading to a strategic handshake. It was reflected in the 2015 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship and in the Obama-Modi Joint Strategic Vision Statement of last January, he said.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar explained that under the proposed Logistic Support Agreement India and the US would provide logistic and other support to each other when needed. He cited the humanitarian exercise undertaken during the Nepal earthquake as an example of such a contingency. Actually the agreement goes further and envisages the militaries of the two countries using each other’s assets and bases.

Both Carter and Parrikar said the agreement would not entail deployment of American soldiers on Indian soil. However, in an interview to an Indian news channel, Carter had earlier indicated it could provide for deployment of US forces under certain conditions but only at the invitation of the Indian government.

The logistic support agreement was first mooted by the US 12 years ago. Discussions on the subject made little progress as AK Antony, who was Defence Minister in the Manmohan Singh government, did not favour it.

Criticising the Narendra Modi government’s decision to go ahead with it, Antony said it was “the beginning of the end of the independence of India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy.”

Antony’s alarmist view may be a hangover of Non-alignment as practised in a bipolar world. The emerging global scenario calls for new strategic concepts. India is, in fact, seeking new strategic equations with many countries, including China.

Carter’s India visit was part of a two-week tour to boost the Obama administration’s policy of “Asia Pacific rebalance” which aims at safeguarding US political and economic interests in the context of the eastward shift in the global power balance. His final halt was the Philippines, which was once a US colony and has been aligned with it militarily since gaining Independence. The China factor in the US rebalance found direct expression in Carter’s statements there.

“Countries across the Asia Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarisation in the South China Sea,” he said. “They are voicing those concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels, in regional meetings and global fora.”

Philippines Defence Minister Voltaire Gazminn said US presence in the region would deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese.

Their remarks did not amuse China. It accused the US of sabotaging peace and stability in the region.

This was in sharp contrast to its muted response to India’s LSA decision. Asked about the reports from Delhi, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said India was an influential country with an independent foreign policy based on its own interests.

When India joined the US and Japan in military exercises last October, the Chinese Communist Party’s English newspaper Global Times had cautioned against getting roped into an anti-China camp.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no doubt keen to enhance India’s strategic relationship with the US. At the same time he understands there is also a need to preserve the time-tested relationships and to cultivate new ones in the light of emerging geopolitical realities.

With the best of will Modi will find it hard to go the whole hog with the US in realising its five objectives which Carter had spelt out in his speech at the Council of Foreign Relations, namely countering the prospect of Russian aggression, managing China’s rise, strengthening US deterrent against North Korea, checking Iranian influence in the Gulf and accelerating the defeat of Daesh.

At the weekend External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Tehran to cement India’s traditional relations with Iran, after which she was to go to Moscow for the Russia-India-China trilateral. Defence Minister Parrikar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval were packing their bags for visits to China, also for strategic dialogues.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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