While the move takes defence and strategic ties between the two nations to a whole new level, a word of caution.
In an acknowledgement of India’s growing ties with the United States, the US Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that puts the South Asian power in the same bracket as Washington’s Nato allies, Japan, Australia and South Korea. As a non-Nato ally, New Delhi may soon benefit from fast-tracking of the sale of US military hardware to this country, once various foundational and security agreements are in place.
The bill will go into effect after it is endorsed by the House of Representatives, and ahead of that final seal of approval, the US defence secretary is required to lay out the details of the extent of military cooperation between the two militaries, both in training and operations, particularly in the western Indian Ocean as much as the Indo-Pacific. This is where China’s growing footprint poses a challenge for New Delhi as much as it does for Washington.
That, and China’s open espousal of Pakistan's cause, which challenges India’s writ in South Asia as well as in Afghanistan, where India has invested in goodwill as much as infrastructure to keep a line open into Central Asia via Iran's Chabahar port, was clearly the driving force behind India allowing itself to be drawn into Washington’s embrace. But will New Delhi have enough room to breathe, to manouevre? And does it want to be built up as a counterweight to China, to be Washington’s cat’s paw in the region?
Clearly, the strategic shift that began under Atal Behari Vajpayee that saw Delhi shed its antipathy to allying with Washington after years of being seen as a Soviet ally, and under Dr Manmohan Singh's government when India forged a tricky civil nuclear agreement in 2005 with the US, has come full circle under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is today a greater convergence of interests in a multiplicity of fields that range from defence, counter-terrorism and maritime security. It's been a long time coming. The Donald Trump administration conferred strategic trade authorisation status to India in July last year. In 2016, the Obama administration recognised New Delhi as a major defence partner, opening doors to the purchase of sensitive technologies.
But as India now openly steps into Washington’s camp, it’s much-vaunted multilateralism, an euphemism for keeping alive ties with Russia (which has grown ever closer to China) as well as Iran, could be dead in the water. India has already scrapped petroleum supplies from Iran. US President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on India's high tariffs on American goods shows what the other quid pro quo could be — India may have to water down tariffs as well as adjust GST.
While the move takes defence and strategic ties between the two nations to a whole new level, a word of caution. India must not weaken ties with old allies at the expense of the new. The tag of non-Nato ally, remember, was also conferred on America’s once-preferred ally: India’s arch-rival Pakistan.