A close US embrace can have costs

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

COMCASA will doubtless bring critical defence strengths — essentially communications “interoperability”.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the joint press conference after the India-US 2+2 Dialogue, in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

With the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) agreement with the United States last week, during the visit to New Delhi of US defence secretary James Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo for the “2+2” dialogue with India’s defence and external affairs ministers, India has signed three of the four “foundational” agreements with the US. Essentially, this means India is now a very significant military (and political) partner of America, effectively just short of a Nato- type relationship. BECA, the last of the four critical defence supplies agreements, will probably be sealed soon, without any serious hurdles remaining, if the current thinking persists in New Delhi.

Nations like Pakistan and Egypt have been there only to realise such a close embrace didn’t in the end save them from Washington’s displeasure at specific moments in regional/international affairs. What, in the end, counts is a country’s innate strengths, not just a piling up of ultra-sophisticated military hardware from any one side.

COMCASA will doubtless bring critical defence strengths — essentially communications “interoperability”. It will also bring real-time information of military significance, including intelligence, to the battlefield.

However, precisely because of being locked into the US military communications and sensors systems, in time to come military wares from other sources, especially Russia — with which the US has evolved a relationship of hostility even in the post-Cold War era — will be strangulated. This may give America a virtually monopoly over India’s defence market.

In August 2016, on a visit to India, then US secretary of state John Kerry had underlined it was a strong relationship in the defence arena that was critical to forging strategic and commercial ties of value to the US. Under the Obama administration, India was in the process of being designated a “major defence partner” of America. But Mr Kerry’s words ring true.

The problem of being strategically locked in on any one strong side of the international security game in a multipolar world, when promiscuity in ties is the norm, is the demand by the mega-power of exclusion or near-exclusion from other quarters with which a mutually beneficial relationship can be nurtured. In India’s case, this means being alienated from countries like Iran and Russia, both of which lend a deep strategic dimension to India’s orientation in the world.

In order that domestic concerns may be allayed, India ensured insertion into the joint statement signed during the “2+2” dialogue emphasis on this country’s “autonomous” space. The statement said the “two countries are strategic partners, major and independent stakeholders in world affairs”. This appears to be so much for effect as it appears to exaggerate this country’s real position on the international scale.

We are getting locked into an embrace. But we need to maintain clarity in the politics of the region and the world.