The second edition of the India- US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue was held in the US Department of State in Washington DC on 19th December 2019. As the format of the meeting goes, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh met their counterparts US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The strategic relations between India and the US reached a new level with the signing of the COMCASA during the first 2+2 Dialogue that was held in 2018. The conclusion of the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) was one of the most significant takeaways from the second rendition of the meeting. In the absence of the ISA, a big concern that loomed over Indo-US defense trade was the risk of technological leaks. Also, the US defense systems are largely integrated and are faced with difficulties in synchronizing with the Indian defense infrastructure, that imports equipment and weapon systems from various countries. The ISA will now enable the Defense Industrial Collaboration between the two countries by safeguarding classified information not only in the government sector but also in the private domain. It will be crucial for India’s attempt to indigenize its defense manufacturing sector under the ambit of its ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Working together to ensure a rule-based order and commitment to the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific was a major agenda of the meeting. In this regard, not only the Quad and its importance for the region were reiterated, but a new tri-services bilateral defense exercise named Tiger Triumph was launched. The Chinese claims in the South China Sea have become more assertive, especially with the deployment of Anti-Access Area Denial(A2/AD) systems. India and the US both are concerned about the expansion of Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean in the garb of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, both sides refrained from making any reference to China during the meeting in this regard.
Indian ministers and their US counterparts also discussed a wide range of issues with geostrategic importance. Secretary Pompeo said that peace in Afghanistan was crucial for both countries. India also emphasized on the stakes that it holds in Afghanistan and desired for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” reconciliation process in the country. Although Secretary Pompeo, in his remarks, talked about pressurizing Iran and China’s unfair trade practices, Indian ministers avoided making any comments on these issues.
President Trump has been vocal about Pakistan based terrorist groups that have been actively engaged in harming Indian interests. Secretary Pompeo, too stated terrorist activities emerging from Pakistan and conveyed the support of the US in India’s counter-terrorism efforts. He also condemned the “extreme rhetoric and belligerent statements and incitements to anti-India violence by Pakistani leaders”. This was diplomatically very crucial for India. The meeting also focused on the intelligence collaborations since both nations need each other’s assistance in countering terrorism.
Despite a thriving defense trade, common trade still remains a major hurdle in the establishment of an all-dimensional partnership between India and the US. Although a concrete roadmap in cooperation could not be laid out, both sides expressed their willingness to work in this area and reach a common point favorable to both.
In conclusion, the second version of the India-US 2+2 Dialogue proved to be successful as the first one and carried forward the strong partnership agenda between the two nations. The commitments and promises made in this meeting projected that both India and the US need each other’s support and cooperation in the current global geopolitical scenario. The ISA will be significant in achieving the goal of “co-production and co-development” in the defense sector that was laid out in the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) between the two countries in 2015. Securing their stakes in the Indo- Pacific is very important for both India and the US. Formalizing the Quad’s structure and purpose and the launch of integrated tri-services military exercises are some of the steps in this direction. The future cooperation will depend on the degree to which both agree on common issues. For instance, India will try to distance itself from the Iran issue or technological feud between the US and China. Since trade is the chief political agenda of President Trump, it will not be easy to formulate a significant bilateral trade deal. India’s Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative forecasts the vision of India for the region, and its key elements are ASEAN centrality and inclusivity. Indian foreign policymakers have been careful about making adverse statements about China. Similarly, President Trump is very keen on finalizing a trade deal with China. Thus, it will be vital for the prospects of the Indo-Pacific region, the way India and the US will enhance their partnership while creating a cordial relationship with China. Despite the favor of the US to India on the issue of Pakistan, the decisions will not permanently be in favor of India. In so far as Pakistan as an irritant in US-India relations is concerned, the US needs Pakistan to be on board in the issue. The 2+2 Dialogue is another stepping stone in the deepening of the Indo-US strategic relationship and reducing irritants. The mechanism of this dialogue is likely to strengthen bilateral relationships in the coming future.
*** The author is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Canadian, US & Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University ***