India and USA have reaffirmed their commitment to promote regional stability and rule of law at the fourth 2 +2 Ministerial Dialogue held in Washington recently.
Outcome of the dialogue
- India’s Defence and EAM and their US counterparts undertook a comprehensive review of cross-cutting issues in the India-US bilateral agenda related to Foreign Policy, Defence and Security.
- PM Modi and US President Biden also held a virtual meeting before the 2+2 dialogue where both leaders discussed the destabilizing impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
- Modi also pointed out that India placed importance on the safety of the civilian population in Ukraine and the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid to them including medicines and relief materials.
- Both sides also expressed their commitment to strengthening the bilateral relationship through cooperation.
Major Outcome: Both agreed to differ on Ukraine
- India stood firm in its stand despite what appeared to be growing pressure from the US.
- New Delhi continued to promote dialogue to end the war.
- It didn’t criticise Russia directly but chose some strong words about the need to respect the sovereignty of each nation.
- In a candid remark, Mr Blinken agreed that India’s relationship with Russia has developed over decades at a time when the United States was not able to be a partner to India.
What is the 2+2 talks between India and allies?
- The 2+2 dialogue is a format of meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of India and its allies on strategic and security issues.
- A 2+2 ministerial dialogue enables the partners to better understand and appreciate each other’s strategic concerns and sensitivities taking into account political factors on both sides.
- This helps to build a stronger, more integrated strategic relationship in a rapidly changing global environment.
- India has 2+2 dialogues with four key strategic partners: US, Australia, Japan, and RUSSIA.
Inception of the idea
- The inaugural 2+2 dialogue with Australia was held in September 2021 when Jaishankar and Singh met with their counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton in New Delhi.
- India held its first 2+2 dialogue with Russia in December last year, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited India.
- The first India-Japan talks in the 2+2 format were held on November 30, 2019 in New Delhi.
Dialogue with the US
- The US is India’s oldest and most important 2+2 talks partner.
- The first 2+2 dialogue between the two countries was held during the Trump Administration.
- It hosted then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and then-Secretary of Defence James Mattis and the late Sushma Swaraj and then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi in September 2018.
- The second and third editions of the 2+2 dialogues were held in Washington DC and New Delhi in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Defence and strategic agreements
- Over the years, the strategic bilateral relationship with its partners, including the dialogues held in the 2+2 format, have produced tangible and far-reaching results for India.
- India and the US have signed a troika of “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation, beginning with the:
- Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016
- Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) after the first 2+2 dialogue in 2018, and
- Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020
Deterrents in the dialogue
- Bullying India: For the first time since the Biden administration came to office, the US has raised the issue of India’s human rights record in a public forum.
- No defined protocol: There is little doubt as to how beneficial this mechanism has been.
- Progress in Indo-Pacific: On one side, the ‘two plus dialogue’ is expected to abate, if not resolve, highly problematic issues such as Chinese aggression.
- Russia factor: This time, the US is sceptical of India’s mammoth oil import from Russia. Another problematic pointer is India’s voluminous weaponry sanctions from Russia.
Holding 2+2 with Russia
Russia is one of those countries with which a 2+2 format talk “fits perfectly” in India’s foreign policy.
- Traditional partners: Having a 2+2 with Russia also means that India is “not in anyone’s camp” and that bilateral ties between Moscow and New Delhi are “traditional and comprehensive”.
- Strategic partnership: India and Russia have shared a strategic relationship since October 2000, which later got upgraded to ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ in December 2010. To be sure, the India-Russia 2+2 does have a particularly strong signalling component when seen against the backdrop of the S400 controversy.
- Non-Alignment: Holding the 2+2 talks with Russia is much needed. This gives out a strong message to the world that India sees everyone to be on the same level.
- National interests: This is visible messaging that India cannot be compelled to choose partners. India pursues an independent foreign policy serving its national and non-allied interests.
Onus lies on the US
- It’s clear that there is a lot more ground to cover for the US to replace Moscow as India’s largest partner.
- Washington acknowledged that Russia is India’s biggest defence supplier – accounting for more than 50% of its imports.
- In contrast, the US was India’s second-largest supplier between 2011 and 2015 after Russia, but fell behind France and Israel in the period between 2016 and 2021.
- India continues to import from Russia because it gets good value for money, and, crucially, transfers of technology in some areas.
- The US needs to give commitments on technology transfers to be able to get a bigger share of India’s defence imports.
- India and the US don’t set ‘red lines’ and are pushing for “an honest dialogue”, the ongoing 2+2 dialogue is an opportunity for both India and the US.
- The US also understands that India is one of the few countries that could leverage its relationship with Russia to bring the two warring parties to the negotiating table through a ceasefire and diplomatic resolution.
- For Delhi, it is a season for careful and adroit diplomacy.