U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attend a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 18, 2019. The United States and India held their second "2+2 Ministerial Dialogue" at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday amid a disagreement over India's decision to purchase Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. (Xinhua/Tan Yixiao)
By Fang Xiaozhi
With its continued economic development and military buildup, India has had a growing demand for weapon equipment modernization. Since India doesn’t have the technological and industrial capabilities to produce the weapons it needs, it has to buy weapons and equipment from other countries and has been the world’s largest weapon importer for many years in a row.
The US is the second-largest weapon exporter for India after Russia. For the US, India is an important force in maintaining the political stability and economic development in the Indo-Pacific and South Asian region. Its critical position in the Trump administration’s so-called “Indo-Pacific strategy” has largely decided the strategy’s nature and prospects. Washington attaches great importance to its relationship with India as the South Asian country holds the key to the successful implementation of the strategy, without whose engagement the US military won’t be able to establish an effective military presence in the Indian Ocean.
Arms deal has been taken as leverage for deepening US-India defense cooperation in recent years. Incomplete statistics show that Washington has supplied over USD15 billion of weapons and equipment to New Delhi in the past decade, featuring anti-submarine equipment, maritime oversight, and plateau operations. The two sides also reached a USD3billion arms deal during American President Donald Trump’s first official visit to India on February 24-25this year, pushing bilateral defense cooperation to a new height.
However, due to a string of irreconcilable structural conflicts, the two countries have deep divergences on such topics as global strategic layout, regional security, national security interests, and relation with other major countries, and they have a different understanding of strategic threats and expectations. As a result, there is a limit to what extent the US-India relationship can go.
First of all, India is a major country with strong independence awareness.
The “major country strategy” it has pursued over the years conflicts with America’s global strategy, and the country brooks no American interference in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, regions it regards as its traditional sphere of influence, which clouds the prospects of the Indo-Pacific strategy. For example, India has stepped up patrol on the Indian Ocean in recent years, provided humanitarian aid for South Asia, and doubted the necessity of theUS military baseon Diego Garcialocated in the Indian Ocean. Through these moves, New Delhi is demonstrating its willingness and capability of independently shouldering the responsibility for regional security and expressing its unwelcoming attitude to America’s “Indo-Pacific strategy”.
Second, India and the US hold different positions in several major international issues, such as the WTO Doha Round negotiations, climate change, human rights, and international governance.
Especially, the Trump administration is trying to bring back the manufacturing industry under the “America first” policy, which contradicts with Modi administration’s “Made in India” campaign that aims at international industrial transfer. Not only did Washington vigorously control technology transfer when selling weapons to New Delhi, but it also raised tariffs on Indian goods too, and has constantly accused India of stealing American jobs as many American businesses outsource their services and software to India. These have seriously dissatisfied New Delhi.
At last, India, under US pressure, paid a heavy price for accommodating the US foreign policy.
After the US pulled back from the Iranian nuclear deal and imposed heavier sanctions on Iran, it demanded Indian oil companies to cut back on oil imports from Iran too. But Iran and India are friendly countries without any contention of their own. Giving in to the US’s pressure not only harmed the Iran-India relations, but was also against New Delhi’s diplomatic principle of “strategic independence”, bringing immense damages to its national interests and international image.
Moreover, India has been demanded several times to join the sanction against Russia, Syria and other countries, and the US even pressed it with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act on the grounds of its purchase of the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia, which is truly intolerable for India. Russia is India’s biggest weapon supplier and the two countries have a tradition of friendly ties. New Delhi has declared repeatedly that it will by no means give up the long-standing military cooperation with Moscow, which will be the key consideration in its handling of the US relation.
(Fang Xiaozhi, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies and International Security, Fudan Institute of Belt and Road & Global Governance)