Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] 2+2 = ?: On India-US defence relationship


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: COMCASA, 2+2 dialogue

Mains level: Renewed vigour in India-US relationship and its advantages for India


Successful 2+2 dialogue

  1. The India-U.S. defence relationship has been given a significant boost with the three agreements signed after the inaugural 2+2 Dialogue in Delhi
  2. These are:
  • the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)
  • “hotlines” between the Defence and Foreign Ministers of both countries
  • the first tri-services military exercises between the two countries

Importance of COMCASA

  1. COMCASA is the third of four “foundational”, or enabling, agreements signed by India after more than a decade of negotiations
  2. It is perceived as an inevitable consequence of a large amount of U.S. defence hardware it has been purchasing
  3. This will increase, going forward, given the U.S. decision to include India in the top tier of countries entitled to Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA-1)

Limiting China’s expansion

  1. Both sides agreed to cooperate on fighting terrorism, advancing “a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” and promoting sustainable “debt-financing” in the region
  2. The last two points are clearly aimed at Beijing’s role in the South China Sea and the Belt and Road Initiative projects, respectively

Concerns that remain

  1. While trade was addressed, India did not receive a clear-cut assurance of its GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) status being restored, or of waivers on steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by Washington
  2. U.S. officials said clearly that they expect India to increase imports of American oil and gas as well as aircraft in order to wipe out the trade surplus India enjoys
  3. The U.S.’s other demand, to “zero out” oil imports from Iran by November, is simply unreasonable
  4. It would hurt India dearly not only because of costs at a time when the dollar is strengthening and fuel prices are going up but also in terms of its substantial engagement with Iran
  5. No public statement was made on what the U.S. will do on India’s investment in the Chabahar port once its full sanctions kick in on November 4
  6. American officials also gave no firm commitment in their statements that India will receive a waiver to purchase Russian hardware, beginning with the S-400 missile system

Way Forward

  1. The 2+2 discussions, held after two previous cancellations this year, brought much-needed focus on the India-U.S. relationship after months of drift and occasional discord
  2. India appears to have taken a leap of faith on its own concerns, expecting that the Trump administration will come through on waiving sanctions and being more flexible on trade issues
  3. Delhi must work with Washington in the next few months to ensure that the benefits from the 2+2 dialogue don’t add up only on the other side
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