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RSTV- The Big Picture : Modi, Trump talks: What does this mean to Bilateral Ties and Asia Pacific Security
Published on Sept. 4, 2017, 10:22 a.m.

Modi, Trump talks: What does this mean to Bilateral Ties and Asia Pacific Security


TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora.

India and USA will start two by two ministerial dialogue to enhance peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region. This was decided after US president talked with Indian PM on 71st independence day of India. The new two by two dialogue will be conducted between India’s external affairs minister and defence minister and their US counterparts.

Aim behind it

This decision is expected to enhance strategic coordination between the two nations. There is already a good standing cabinet-level dialogues on defence and foreign policy but the 2+2 links military and political priorities in the same conversation.

This will help  to coordinate more closely on Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, developments in the Asia Pacific, and hopefully also on the Middle East (West Asia for India).

How it will help?

The Indian bureaucratic functioning is such that no military to military links are allowed on their own. MEA interjects or tries to preside over the relations. MEA currently decide the scope of relations. This defeats the purpose of building up relationships for long term. This has spawned frustration at Indian and US military end. There is no larger vision driving the interaction from the Indian end, which has stalled the strategic relation.

The success of two by two ministerial dialogue will depend upon greater coordination by defence ministry and MEA.  Time and again it is said that there is insufficient coordination between these two ministries. The bureaucracies of these ministries have to come together and make decisions and take initiatives. It is not possible on political levels as they cannot independently think of initiatives and policies unless it is addressed by proper bureaucratic work.

The timing of announcement

The timing of the dialogue is important with the US taking the initiative to announce it. India has such dialogue with Japan and Australia but now with USA means that the intention is to coordinate the security policies.

However, the dialogue must focus on Asia pacific region as well as western India. Unless there is real meeting of minds on Pakistan and its role and the China-Pakistan nexus, this direction would seemingly push India in supporting US policies and interest in Asia Pacific region or in western pacific region which would be useful to Americans than to Indians.

It is not yet clear if India will be able to manage American thinking and policy towards Pakistan and China. The Afghanistan policy of US will determine its relationship with Pakistan.

What it means for US and India?

USA wanted to build this kind of relationship for a long time when the strategic dialogue was started. For Americans, the defence relationships are fundamentally transactional. Their economy gets a boost with militarily enhanced relationships.

Also, India’s fixation with Pakistan defeats the larger strategic gain which is China. US will try to take India into its Indo-pacific region for its benefits but not concern much about Pakistan harassing India through cross-border terrorism.

US cannot have a free hand in the western part of India as there is not convergence of interests over there. But US wants India to demonstrate that it believes in strategic relationship by being closer to them in general policies like indo pacifics. Thus there has to be a balance between these two things.

Hence, it is not that they are interested in getting into convergence with India’s security priorities. They are mixing up with things important to India along with their economic and strategic interests.

India has to be very cautious while dealing with USA. Like during nuclear deal negotiations, when India made its interests paramount, it has to maintain the same attitude while dealing further with USA, specially in dealing with strategic alliances.

The US strategic goals and policies on seas is clear. India has been having naval exercises with USA for a long time. Thus it is known what role America is willing to play but they haven’t laid out their strategies with regard to the land frontier challenges that India has.

For USA, such strategic partnerships are not new. It has a similar agreement with Japan as it is their ally. Japan-China relationship is in fraught and USA can be pulled into a conflict. There is a North Korean issue which impinges on China, USA and Japan relationship. China-Japan relationship impinges upon US responsibilities in the region so they have to make sure that they remain on the same wavelength all the time. However, same is not the case with India.

Challenges in Indo-USA relation

The structural issue in Indo-US relations have not been yet solved. The deliveries in the relationship are not as per the standards and commitments. Hence a new model has been initiated for the dialogue to be carried out in more structural way. Fundamentally the relationship is doing well. On ground level it has to make the impact now, just in the manner in which India-Japan’s 2+2 treaty is working.

India should not look at external help to protect its sovereignity and security. The fact is that the nation receives more respect when there is a clear vision, strategy and game plan to deal with the threats perceived by nation. The problem is that India has not been exactly clear in terms of what and how it wants to deal with its threats and utilise the capabilities and resources.  The ministry of defence is currently structured to fight the war of 19th century in the 21st century. There is still no integrated command despite its recommendation and need.

Way forward

India’s strategic restraint is commendable in the doklam standoff. The Chinese have been using their media for domestic and international consumption to which India has not been responding seriously. This shows India’s confidence on its borders. On the other side, India improved its critical relationship with Vietnam and Japan. With Vietnam, India has decided to move its brahmos missile and prithvi missiles there.

Also, there is uncertainty where America and Trump are headed. So it is not right to be 100% confident about the initiatives taken now will be sustained.

The joint statement by Indian PM and US President talked of convergence of interests in Asia pacific region but no reference to joint strategic vision document on Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean that was signed with previous US president Obama. American current foreign policy is dominated by military. The state department has lost lot of its importance. Internally also, the pentagon is divided into central command (favoring Pakistan) and Asia Pacific command (leaning towards Indian interests because it is far more sea based.)

One caveat is that there shouldn’t be an impression that indo and US are building a kind of alliance against China-Russia alliance. India has to keep in mind the importance of relationship with Russia. Now India has to see how it can develop ties with US and maintain good relation with Russia and not allow any mixed signals to go Russians that India is going into Amercian camp. This will have problems with BRICS and other alike initiatives undertaken.

Connecting the dots:

  • “India and USA share a sweet-sour relationship when it comes to strategic and economic relationship.” Discuss.