The United States has recently decided to raise India’s category to the highest level for export of defence materials of the most restricted kind permitted only to its Nato allies, and nations which are a part of all the four global regimes that control and frame rules for commerce in nuclear and other strategically sensitive materials.
In terms of being accorded an exception to receive dual-use technologies that are highly restricted, India is now in a even higher category than long-term US ally Israel, and in Asia it joins Japan and South Korea. It can now import without seeking specific licences around 90 per cent of the defence equipment and sophisticated technologies that the US may have. The manufacture of such equipment in India is also not ruled out, and that is a major spinoff.
Washington giving New Delhi this new status is thought to underline three key aspects of international security: one, America is satisfied that India’s credentials on proliferation are of the highest order and what is sold to India will not be leaked to any other country; two, India acquiring the most sophisticated American defence and technology wares will not cause regional instability (Israel is probably ruled out on this count); and lastly, that the US is steadfast in its thinking India is fit to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), from which it has been kept out through assiduous Chinese exertion.
In Indian policy circles, it was thought America’s relations with India wasn’t valued as much as it was under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The placing of India on Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 now, pushing it up from STA-2, appears to negate that line of thought. New Delhi will no doubt want that its placement in the highest category is given effect to at the earliest by Washington. Perhaps this will come through when US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis visit New Delhi in September for the “2+2” dialogue. India will do well to keep the focus on the new defence acquisitions it seeks from the United States.
On Thursday, indications also became available that the US will not now sanction India over obtaining defence supplies from Russia, including the S-400 anti-missile system which earlier appeared to have upset the Americans. This is a good sign and admits of a better US appreciation of India’s strategic concerns and its geostrategic sensitivities in a multi-polar world. It is desirable from the Indian perspective that American clarity of this order also applies to India’s autonomy on obtaining energy supplies, including from Iran, with which America’s relations have been tangled since the Shah of Iran was overthrown.
In the end, no country should be able to dictate who India’s friends should be, and those who want India to not remain engaged with the US on compatible terms should also be given short shrift.