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US-India defence relationship reflects alignment on security issues of mutual concern

This week, the US and India held the third annual 2+2 ministerial dialogue in New Delhi, demonstrating the strength of the bilateral relationship even during these unprecedented times. The dialogue comes at a consequential moment for our two countries as we forge ever-closer ties to promote a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Fifteen years after the signing of the US-India Defence Framework, the pace of our growing defence cooperation is such that we are achieving new milestones every year. This year is no exception as we announced the conclusion of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, the last of four defence “enabling” agreements, which together facilitate closer military cooperation and interoperability.

The elevation of the US-India defence relationship to a “Major Defence Partnership” in 2016 was a milestone that set our bilateral defence cooperation on a new trajectory. In the years since, we have increased the scope and complexity of exercises, expanded mutual logistics support, and established secure communications between our forces, facilitating closer collaboration on shared security interests, particularly in the maritime domain. We saw evidence of this deepening partnership this past July as our navies conducted a combined naval transit of the Indian Ocean, and last November as we completed our first-ever tri-service exercise, Tiger Triumph. In February, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi announced a vision for a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, a sign that the bilateral relationship had reached new heights.

This upward trajectory should not come as a surprise. As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India have a special role among free societies. The United States and India share a similar vision of the Indo-Pacific based on a shared commitment to a rules-based order that respects the sovereignty of all countries and ensures freedom of navigation and overflight. The recent acceleration in the US-India defence relationship reflects our alignment on security issues of mutual concern, and a recognition that only by working together — and with like-minded partners — can we address the formidable challenges we face today and those we expect in the future.

This alignment exists not only in concept, but in our strategy. The 2018 National Defense Strategy identified the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” as the central challenge to prosperity and security, and called for expanding alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. The same year, Prime Minister Modi announced India’s Act East Policy, which calls for greater Indian involvement in promoting “SAGAR” — the Security and Growth of All in the Region. In poetic fashion, sagar is the Hindi word for ocean — a fitting allusion to India’s status as the largest economy and military in the Indian Ocean region. We welcome this expanded role for India in promoting regional stability and defending the principles that have helped so many in this region to rise and prosper.

Under this policy, India has deepened bilateral defence relations with Southeast Asian countries, while preserving ASEAN centrality. India has also strengthened its ties to like-minded countries, such as the United States, Japan, Australia and France. Earlier this year, India signed Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreements with both Japan and Australia, facilitating shared logistics between its militaries — a critical enabler for cooperation across such a vast region. And just this month, India invited the Royal Australian Navy to participate in the annual US-India-Japan Malabar naval exercises in November. The increased scope and pace of Quadrilateral activities reflects a clear strategic convergence among the four countries, and a strong reminder of the importance of fostering a resilient network of like-minded partners in a complex region.

Looking to the future, there are many opportunities for further growth in the defence partnership. We are expanding dialogue on emerging threats in the cyber and space domains, and will continue seeking broader collaboration between our defence innovation communities. We are also looking to expand cooperative capacity building efforts with partners across the region to ensure they are equipped with the tools they need to protect their sovereignty. To this end, we support India’s greater involvement in promoting maritime security in Southeast Asia, including upholding international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Finally, we hope to deepen our interoperability with India through the sale of even more high-end systems such as unmanned aerial systems, fighter aircraft, and air and missile defence capabilities.

Under the 2+2 framework, the US and India are strengthening one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century. Just as investments in previous years have set the foundation for the accomplishments we can claim today, our ongoing efforts will carry forward the momentum for even stronger ties in future years. At its full potential, our partnership can serve as a source of strength and inspiration for the region and the world, highlighting the benefits of freedom and inclusion over approaches that rely upon coercion and intimidation.

Source: The Indian Express

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