The visit of US President Donald J Trump to India last month was met with both criticism and praise. A couple of days before President Trump’s official visit to India, analysts in India and abroad were anticipating discussions between India and the US on issues ranging from the India-Pakistan tensions to domestic turmoil in India. Some of the most anticipated negotiations between the two states was supposed to be about having a ‘comprehensive trade deal’ and how the two nations can enhance their cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region.
Despite expectations of a comprehensive India-US Trade Deal, which failed to materialize, Trump’s visit to India could be marked as particularly reflective of the growing convergences between India and the US in the Indo-Pacific region. In his joint press statement alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, President Trump clearly described the growing collaboration between India and the US within the Indo-Pacific as one wherein the two nations had been expanding their cooperation on counter-terrorism, cyber and maritime security. This expansion in their role pertaining to the security of the region is expected to help the two nations in ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Through initiatives like the ‘Blue Dot’ network, the US is further indicating deepening of strategic and informational networks among the ‘QUAD’ countries of the Indo-Pacific namely, the US, Japan, India and Australia. The ‘Blue Dot’ network can become a key factor in enhancing the interoperability between governments; the private sector and the civil society to promote high quality standards for global infrastructure development. Commenting on the prospects of the ‘Blue Dot’ network, Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director at The Wilson Center says that “the project, led and launched by Washington, is meant to bring the governments and the private sectors of the US, Australia and Japan together. It won’t be complete without India’s cooperation.”
Another important area of discussion in President Trump’s speech was how he and Prime Minister Modi are “revitalizing the quad-initiative.” India, Australia, Japan and the US revived the QUAD or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in November 2017 as part of efforts to keep sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence. The last ministerial meeting of the QUAD countries took place in September 2019.
A couple of days prior to President Trump’s visit, there were deep concerns regarding Trump’s hard balling in trade negotiations with India and how it may backfire. “The administration does not have an integrated policy toward India or anyone.” says Ashley Tellis, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The visit however did manage to achieve some tangible results for India in the defence and security domains, which shall help in becoming key factors for initiating even deeper relations between both the countries in the Indo-Pacific in the near future. The India-US joint statement noted that “a strong and capable Indian military supports peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific”, and “welcomed India’s recent decision to procure MH-60R naval and AH-64E Apache helicopters.” This shall help in “advancing shared security interests, job opportunities and industrial cooperation between India and the US.” The collaboration shall also play a pivotal role in increasing Indian Navy’s credibility and strength in the Indo-Pacific region. The aim of this collaboration is to increase India’s operational strength within the Indo-Pacific region. The new choppers shall help in augmenting India’s capability to hunt monitor and submarines using advanced airborne low frequency sonars for detection. Hellfire missile carried by these helicopters can be used to strike land targets with accuracy. MH-60R helicopters are to replace India’s vintage Sea-King helicopters. The provision of P8I planes to the Indian Navy shall provide them tactical edge on their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
What one can see clearly is that, President Trump seems to be laying the groundwork for a greater Indo-Pacific cooperation between India and the United States and the QUAD countries. Regardless of the result of the 2020 presidential election in the U.S., the bilateral relationship between the two countries enjoy a bipartisan support. Therefore, establishing cooperation in key strategic and defence sectors between India and the US, towards building a more stable Indo-Pacific shall remain a prominent area of strategic convergence and operational coordination. The emerging India-US partnership in the Indo-Pacific is worth nourishing and nurturing that shall help future administrations on both sides develop policy frameworks that cater to the two nations’ tangible strategic needs.
*** The author is a post-graduate research scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) ***