US-India strategic ties to grow in 2018

India’s relationship with the United States is expected to continue to grow in the New Year, analysts say. The new US security plan released last week said: “We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in the Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.” Washington also pledged to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia and India. “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia and India.”

After US President Donald Trump gave a leadership role to India in his new “America First Security Strategy”, New Delhi voiced appreciation for Washington laying importance to the bilateral relationship.

“We appreciate the strategic importance given to India-US relationship in the new National Security Strategy released by the US,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said last week. “As two responsible democracies, India and the US share common objectives, including combating terrorism and promoting peace and security throughout the world,” Kumar said.

In November, India, the US, Japan and Australia held a quadrilateral meeting in the Philippines on the sidelines of the East Asia and Asean Summits to discuss the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.

This assumes significance given China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea and attempts to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean. Kumar said: “A close partnership between India and the US contributes to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as to the economic progress of the two countries.”

Trump’s security strategy also stated that the US would continue to push Pakistan to speed up its counter-terrorism efforts. “We will press Pakistan to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts, since no partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partner’s own service members and officials,” it said.

The India-US relationship is going to get stronger and better under the Trump administration in a wide range of areas, including regional security issues, trade and economy, terrorism, a senior White House official has said.

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, U.S.-India relations have improved significantly over the past 10 years. Today the two countries have a $115 billion two-way trading relationship, growing foreign direct investment, and an increasingly shared vision of the region’s strategic outlook that has bolstered bilateral defense interests.

Yet the bilateral trade relationship is modest at best. To put things in perspective, bilateral trade relationship between South Korea and U.S. is two times bigger by volume than that between India and the U.S., while Korea’s GDP is 40 percent smaller than India’s. China, with a similar population to India’s, conducts bilateral trade with the U.S. that is six times larger.

“India is a natural ally of the United States, because of the shared commitment to democracy and to counterterrorism, and because the region is so vital to the US security,” Raj Shah, the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, told a group of India . Shah’s comments came hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump held their second bilateral meeting in Manila on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit.

The two countries are going to have a “strong relationship and it’s going to get stronger” under this president, Shah, the highest-ranking Indian-American ever in the White House press wing, told a group of Indian reporters last week.

“India is a natural ally of the United States, because of the shared commitment to democracy and to counterterrorism, and because the region is so vital to the US security,” he said. Shah said that the US-India relationship should stand on its own leg and “not be contingent” on any other relationship.

By designating India as a major defense partner, the United States committed to continue its work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners. Furthermore, the United States committed to continuing efforts to facilitate the export of goods and technologies for projects, programs, and joint ventures in support of official U.S.-India defense cooperation and India’s “Make in India” initiative.

Subsequently, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, which included recognition of India as a major defense partner. This act legally recognizes a unique partnership designation by the United States to India and codifies in U.S. law the spirit of the June 2016 joint statement.

Now is the time to act. The Trump administration is eager to raise the bar and willing to get past impediments, with an eye towards finding creative and historic approaches to make progress. The administration, with its recently published National Security Strategy, has clearly stated its intent to expand defense and security cooperation with India as a Major Defense Partner. India, for its part, is positioned well to continue the trajectory with the Modi government remaining on firm political footing with no significant change expected over the next few years.

For both governments, continuing to delay major cooperative decisions, holding out for a better deal, and allowing entrenched antibodies to delay further progress, will only ensure we both fall short of the possible. Meanwhile, the world and our adversaries are not resting nor delaying their investments and preparedness.

 

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