From September 6-8, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis held the inaugural India-US Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue. The talks were mostly dominated by defense agreements and alliances, and raised serious concerns for the whole South Asian region.
India has been designated a Major Defense Partner (MDP) of the US, which has committed the US to expand the scope of military cooperation with India. The rapid growth in bilateral arms trade and the qualitative improvement in levels of technology and equipment offered by the United States to India in recent years is evidence of this ever-growing cooperation.
The signing of a Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) will facilitate access to advanced defense systems and enable India to utilize optimally its existing US-origin arms platforms. The two countries announced that they were ready to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex that would support closer defense-industry cooperation and collaboration between India and US.
All of these developments will enhance India’s military supremacy in the region but will destabilize regional security. It might force neighboring countries to increase their defense budgets.
India has a track record of hostile attitudes toward its smaller neighbors. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are all under pressure to increase their defense budgets in the name of deterrence. Meanwhile the whole region including India itself is suffering from the curse of poverty, with many people facing a lack of adequate food, clean drinking water, toilets and sanitation, health care and basic education. If an arms race starts, it might have adverse impacts on the social sector of the whole region, including India.
During the Soviet era, India was a close ally, receiving maximal assistance from the USSR in the early years of independence, but when Moscow was no longer in a position to help New Delhi, India changed affiliations and started tending toward the US. Currently, India is the second-biggest beneficiary of US assistance after Israel. But will the US be in a position to assist India forever? The US economy is not in very good shape, and tending toward decline.
The US may not be strict toward India on its imports from Iran, knowing that India depends on that country for its energy needs. But if this is accepted as a valid reason, it will open new avenues for sanction waivers for other nations as well, especially Japan and in Europe.
If India is allowed to go ahead and acquire S-400 missile systems from Russia, how one can justify the case of Turkey? The US has refused to deliver F-35s to Turkey, which also wants S-400. The US unilaterally canceled military training for Pakistan’s armed forces (not the first time the US has acted unilaterally). As a result, Pakistan may collaborate with other friendly countries and the US should not have any objection.
The Coalition Support Fund (CSF) is based on the amount of money Pakistan spent fighting against terrorism, and it wanted to be reimbursed. Being a partner with the US in the “war on terror,” Pakistan was fighting a US war. The unilateral cancellation of US$300 million in CSF reimbursements may also have a very negative impact on Pakistan’s fragile economy. It might also harm its capacity to fight against terrorism.
The US is prepared to give India a role in Afghanistan, which may not be a rational approach. Unlike Pakistan, India is far away from Afghanistan and has no cultural, historical, religious or ethnic links with it.
The US political system is well structured and there are checks and balances at many levels. I hope that the the US Congress, academicians, intelligentsia, think-tanks and civil and military bureaucracy think rationally and come up with better options for peace and security in South Asia.