ndia took a step forward in its bilateral ties with the United States Tuesday with the signing of some significant defence and security pacts. That the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Mark Esper took a joint trip to New Delhi to sign the agreements is proof of the importance that the US attaches to these deals. The strengthening of the defence and security ties at a time when India is engaged in a standoff with China lasting about six months now adds to the significance of the present deals.
As is pointed out by Pompeo, the relations between India and the US are growing steadily in the past many years. The disintegration of India’s close ally, the Soviet Union, in the 1988-1991 period, which also marked the end of the Cold War, created conditions for India to re-shape its foreign policy. The Narasimha Rao government played down on the nation’s Socialism pursuit, embraced the West’s slogans of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization and changed the course of Indian diplomacy too to noticeable levels. The AB Vajpayee-led government followed suit, the UPA governments too took India’s engagements with the US to new levels. While both the Narendra Modi-led NDA governments tried to edge closer to the US, the Americans were seen caught between traditional ties with Pakistan and the newfound surrender from India somewhat confusing. If we look back while professing friendship with India, Prez Trump has always taken steps that have clearly damaged interests of India, whether in the matter of US visas or trade with that country. The most recent Trump speak was about India being a ‘filthy’ country with bad air quality. On the other side, the whole world is turning away from the ideas of liberalization, privatization and globalization and opting for safeguarding home markets and industries. In this backdrop, India is still pursuing a path that has already been eschewed by the leading nations across the globe. Even if India tries, dependence on China’s supply chain cannot be easily cut off since we have successfully destroyed our indigenous manufacturing abilities. From firecrackers for Deepavali to power plants producing electricity, India is using everything made in China. Banning a few Apps is fine for political optics but not for holding the economy in order.
This is the fourth time that Pompeo is visiting India in the course of the past nearly four years of the Trump administration. Both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama visited India and signed several bilateral agreements. So far no good. Nothing has come out of all those deals. This recent signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geopolitical Cooperation in New Delhi could mark a watershed in the ties between India and the US. This will facilitate sharing of latest military technology as also classified satellite data apart from having mutual access to geospatial maps. Among other benefits, it is being told that the pact will help India aim missiles and drones on enemy targets with more precision.
These pacts are seen in the backdrop of the Chinese designs along the LAC. A full-fledged military cooperation is far from what’s done now and will have its serious implications. Such a military tie might require a national consensus as this would involve India too entering the field to fight future American military expeditions. Body bags can come in and public sentiments could turn against the government. Also, China being India’s close neighbour, any US offensive against China could put India in the firing line first. The US is readying to challenge China in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific. The Quad alliance involving Japan, Australia, India and the US is getting strengthened with a naval drill styled as Malabar Exercise in the Arabian Sea next month, as a follow up to a Quad meeting in Tokyo sometime ago.
Notably, all these might not suffice India to take on China in a real war, the chances of which are strengthening by the day. In such an eventuality, the Indian government is mindful of the possibility of a two-pronged war in which India will have to defend its territories on the western side and the longer northern stretch simultaneously as Pakistan too might step in and try to take advantage. Such collusion between China and Pakistan cannot be ruled out in view of the strong ties both those two nations have been enjoying in recent times.
China’s economic might was built mainly in the past two decades after the turn of the century. If at all India with its limited economic abilities had made a matching try, spending billions more into defence purchases, it would have seriously affected the nation’s economic well-being and the nation’s welfare steps for the large army of the poor. The former governments cannot be blamed for holding on to such a line of thinking.
While this BECA may seem attractive to some, there are others who may point out the US-India Nuclear Treaty of 2008 as another example of utter failure. The signing of that pact had not only threatened the very survival of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-1 government but brought along multiple charges of bribery and horse trading in its wake. Yet, in spite of all the noise and fury, nothing has come out of that deal. The present deal, signed by an American administration barely days before the Presidential election in the US may have political intonations that could negate the interests of India. Reports claim Prez Trump, who was keen on garnering support of the people of Indian origin living in the US, is now desperate and this agreement being signed in the last week of his being in office is to bolster that support that is plainly dwindling for him. It may be claimed that Prime Minister Modi could be in the know of something very vital about the US elections and that makes him super confident about Trump getting re-elected and so has gone ahead with this deal. The ‘Howdy Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ programs could be the torch bearers of this understanding.
Still, any change that may result in the US election could prove not only as a major diplomatic debacle for India but may also affect its security concerns in relation to China. And again, even if Trump returns, his attitude towards India will most likely be retained as seen in the past four years.