India to be a Major Defence Partner of the United States

Will the privilege reap desired dividend?

Business & Politics

News - Biz@India

December 15, 2016

/ By / New Delhi



Outgoing US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter with Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi

Outgoing US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter with Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi

In pursuit of enhanced collaboration, the United States bestowed the privileged status of ’Major Defence Partner’ on India. The status was accorded by outgoing United States Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter, after a week-long visit to India.

The US Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, finalised India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner of the United States. This was announced in a joint statement of the two nations on Carter’s visit to New Delhi.

“The designation of ‘Major Defence Partner’ is a status unique to India, and institutionalises the progress made to facilitate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level at par with that of the US’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future,” a joint statement issued after the talks said.

The finalisation pertains to the United States licensing rules and stipulations on which non-papers (A discussion paper which is not to form part of formal business) were exchanged by both sides.

This status is bestowed upon the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries and the United States treaty allies, such as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.

What has prompted US to bestow such a status on India?

Several factors have contributed to this. Among them is the need to counter the rise of China’s influence in Asia and the Pacific, to get hold of a larger pie of India’s defence spending and improve its economic revival faster.

Both sides engaged each other on Major Defence Partner status to India for some time.

During his official visit to the US, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President Barrack Obama signed a joint statement as ‘enduring global partners in the 21st century’.

They expressed their desire to explore agreements which would facilitate further expansion of bilateral defence cooperation in practical ways. In this regard, they welcomed the finalisation of the text of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which has been inked recently.

Importantly, it noted that the US–India defence relationship can be an anchor of stability, and be given the increasingly strengthened cooperation in defence.

In pursuit of this ongoing effort, Parrikar had given a non-paper to Carter during his visit to Pentagon in August. However, New Delhi and Washington had differences over the level of technology transfer and cooperation permissible under the Major Defence Partner status.

India was seeking benefits granted to the closest allies of the US, such as Australia and the UK, which the Pentagon was hesitant on conceding. The two sides did not specify details of the benefits that will be accrued to India under the designation.

Containing the Middle Kingdom

Ties between the United States and India have been on the rise for many years now. They intensified under President Barack Obama as his Asian strategy sought to balance the rise of China.

Being the most populous country in the world and the third largest in area, China also has the largest number of neighbours numbering 14, with whom it shares 22,000km land borders. These include North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. China continues to have the biggest outstanding border issues with India. India and China have fought a border war in 1962.

The most recent irritant is Beijing’s aggressive island-building programmes in the South China Sea. Also, claims over large areas of that critical body of water by China have annoyed many nations in the region.

On his arrival in New Delhi, Carter told reporters that China’s actions had alienated countries in the region and said that the US must maintain a military capability advantage over China, while seeking cooperation where possible.

Besides India, the US also shored up its military alliance with Japan. As part of this move, Carter, who was in Japan, announced that Washington will give back to the Japanese government nearly 10,000 acres of land on Okinawa that United States Marines use for jungle warfare training. The return, which is to be completed by December 22, has been in the works for 20 years and is the largest by the US forces in Japan, since it returned control of Okinawa in 1972.

Carter met his Japanese counterpart, Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with whom he had discussed United States–Japan ties.

Looking forward to greater United States cooperation, India invited Carter who became the first US Defence Secretary to visit the Indian Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam in December 2015, for the annual naval exercise, MALABAR, that expanded to include Japan as a permanent member. India participated twice with a ship in the biennial Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise — in 2014 and in 2016 — hosted by the United States Pacific Command after observing the exercise since 2006.

Business concerns: A corner stone

While geo-strategic interests do play a crucial role in bilateral defence ties, business interests form its core.

No wonder, whether it is the Republican or the Democrat administration in the US, India cannot be ignored for the simple reason that it provides ample opportunity for defence imports.

India is the world’s biggest importer of arms, having received 14 pc of all global deliveries in 2011–2015.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in its latest report points out that India’s biggest supplier is Russia, which provided 70 pc of those arms transfers.

The US lags behind in second place, responsible for only 14 pc of Indian imports. In 2012, the US lost out on a major competition for India’s fighter jets to the French.

Similarly, ‘2016 Jane’s Defence Budgets Report’ observes that India is among the world’s top five defence spenders with a military budget of USD 50.7 billion. It further estimates that India is set to overtake the UK with the third-largest defence budget by 2018 as a result of its modernisation drive.

With an eye on increasing spending by India on arms purchase and manufacturing, the US is keen on increasing its participation. Carter and Parrikar also reviewed the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) intended to promote opportunities for co-production and co-development of weapon systems and platforms.

We have to wait and watch how the privilege bestowed on India as Major Defence Partner fructifies into prosperity for both sides, under the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump, whose presidency will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017.

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