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Special Content


Issue no 15, 08-14 July 2023

India-US Strategic Partnership

From Ambition to Action

 

INTERVIEW

EN TEAM

 

The historic meeting between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden during the former's Official State Visit to the United States, holds immense significance, as it ushers in a new era of collaboration between two global powerhouses. The outcomes of their meeting have set the stage for groundbreaking initiatives in defense and technology, reflecting the boldness of ambition demonstrated by both nations. The joint statement issued after the meeting stands as a testament to their unwavering commitment to the agreements reached upon. Shri Pankaj Saran, former Deputy National Security Advisor, sheds light on the transformative change in US policy, the shift in strategic considerations, and the gravity of collaborative propositions.

 

Q: What are the main highlights of the meeting between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and US President Mr. Joe Biden?

A: This meeting signifies a new chapter in India-US relationship, with key takeaways focusing on two major areas: defense and technology. Another important aspect worth noting is the boldness of ambition demonstrated by both sides. While India and the US have held summits in the past, this particular summit showcased a deliberate decision to significantly enhance their partnership in strategic sectors, particularly technology. The joint statement issued during the summit is particularly noteworthy for its extraordinary and comprehensive approach, placing emphasis on technology right from the beginning, which is unprecedented. The second truly remarkable aspect lies in the exceedingly ambitious plans for defense cooperation, expanding across its widest dimensions.

 

Q: Does the announcement of groundbreaking initiatives in technology, defense, or even space signify a tangible shift in US policy towards sharing cutting-edge technology with India? What factors could have influenced this transformative change?

A: Undoubtedly, there has been a notable shift. I think the preparations for this began many months ago because there was a growing sense of strategic convergence and rethink in the American establishment about the next phase of the relationship. Similarly on the Indian side also, there was a much sharper focus on what India needs from the United State to fulfill its own national development goals. Moreover, there were other geopolitical developments around the world. All these factors catalysed this takeoff of the IndiaUS partnership to the next level as evident from some of the agreements on the defence and technology sectors that have been talked about but never been done in the past.

 

Q: Does the clear mention in the Joint Statement regarding the shared opposition to cross-border terrorism signify a shift in US policy towards Pakistan considering that the US has many a times referred to Pakistan as an "important partner in the region" in the context of counterterrorism?

A: Pakistan, in the grand scheme of the current Indo-US relationship, holds minimal significance. It has been overshadowed by far more crucial developments from India's perspective. Therefore, Pakistan does not occupy a prominent position in our strategic considerations, nor does it serve as the cornerstone of the India-US partnership as it stands today. While terrorism was acknowledged in the joint statement, it was merely a fraction of the statement's overall significance. The US-Pakistan relationship exists, and we acknowledge it, albeit with vigilant observation. However, the stakes within the India-US relationship are incomparably higher than those involving Pakistan.

Q: PM Modi and President Biden have placed immense emphasis on the establishment of a Trusted Network/ Trusted Sources Bilateral Framework. How do you interpret the gravity of this proposition?

A: Essentially, what lies at the core of this proposition is the urgent need for a far deeper integration of the high-tech and defense sectors between India and the United States. It is imperative to forge a resilient supply chain that will solidify mutual trust between both nations. This imperative arises directly from the existing monopoly China holds over these supply chains. The objective here is to establish an alternative supply chain to China, one that serves the interests of both the US industry and India. Our aim is to create a dynamic and self-sustaining supply chain, which we can refer to as a "virtuous cycle." To achieve this, we intend to utilise technology from Western countries while also prioritising the rapid development of our own nation. Now we have a choice - when we need the technology, where to get the technology from. Various sources of technology exist worldwide, including the United States, Europe, Russia, and China. However, from an Indian standpoint, the crucial question lies in identifying the technology source that not only instills comfort and security but also safeguards national interests and bolsters our own capabilities. In this context, the concept of "trusted" supply chains between India and the US assumes paramount importance.

Q: How do you anticipate China's reaction to latest agreements and collaborations between India and the US relating to the defence sector?

A: I have two responses to your question. Firstly, we cannot allow ourselves to be constantly fearful of another nation while pursuing stronger relations with the United States or any other country. We cannot afford to look over our shoulders every time we make progress in a specific sector with a particular nation. That is my initial point and my initial response. Secondly, when it comes to advanced defense and military technology, China has also imported such technology in the past from various sources, including Russia. Therefore, it is entirely justified for India, as a matter of national defense requirement, to seek the best available technology to strengthen our military capabilities. I do not foresee any issue with this approach because the alternative would be to develop the technology ourselves. While we are indeed working towards that goal, it will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we need access to such technology due to the growing threats from our adversaries. Speaking specifically about China, I believe that, in many ways, it is China's actions that are responsible for the progress being achieved in the defense sector between India and the United States. India recognises the imperative of enhancing its defense and military strength, leading to the significant agreements reached on engines, drones, and other aspects that reflect this commitment. Strengthening India's military capabilities has always been an enduring ambition, but what is truly new is the willingness of the United States to offer us this advanced technology.

 

Q: The US has a highly stringent export control regime. Do you believe that obtaining congressional approval will be feasible for the current Biden administration and India, especially considering the upcoming elections in both countries?

A: From what I understand, there is clear political commitment from the President, the White House, and the National Security Council in the United States to advance collaborations in these areas. This marks not only a starting point but also a breakthrough, considering the political nature of technology denial and sharing. The decision to share technology today is a political one. Undoubtedly, there will be obstacles during implementation, but that should not deter us from pursuing this cooperation. It is natural to encounter differences or difficulties along the way, but I firmly believe that this time, it is genuinely happening, and we will indeed gain access to the kind of technologies that India has long sought, directly bolstering its military strength.

 

Q: It's quite intriguing that we have chosen to join the Artemis Accord. Does this signify a shift in our policy? Until now, we have predominantly adhered to UN-led roles in the space sector. Will this decision not impact our reputation as proponents of multilateralism under the UN umbrella?

A: Absolutely not. The Artemis program has been on our radar for a considerable time, and our interest in it remains unwavering. Hence, I don't see any contradiction between the two. While we will fulfill our obligations within the United Nations and uphold the principles of multilateralism, it is essential to acknowledge that the UN and its multilateral frameworks have often proven ineffective in providing timely assistance when it was most needed. With the recent announcement of our space policy, the privatisation of the sector, and the substantial investment and job opportunities it entails, there is a growing impetus to not solely rely on these formal institutions for tangible results. Instead, we are embracing bilateral arrangements to expedite progress in areas where we have been lagging. The decision to join the Artemis Accord aligns with this proactive approach, bolstered by the invaluable support extended by the United States. India's ambitious aspirations for advancements in the space sector, as well as other sectors, are complemented by America's genuine willingness to assist in realising these ambitions. Therefore, I see no contradictions or issues at hand. We will actively participate in the Artemis program while fulfilling our obligations within UN frameworks. The Artemis program itself is robust, and we should wholeheartedly move forward with it.

 

Q: Ahead of the US visit, PM Shri Narendra Modi reiterated the demand for reforms in the UN, particularly emphasising India's candidacy for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. With the deepening trust between India and the US at the political level, do you believe we are making progress towards realising this ambition?

A: While I don't believe this visit will directly expedite or bring us closer to obtaining permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council, there are numerous other factors at play in that regard. However, what the United States has done during this visit is recognise India as a major global player, treating us with the respect and acknowledgement that such a status entails. India's competence and role span across various sectors, and this visit signifies that America is ready to acknowledge India's significance as a major player on the world stage. However, in terms of formal membership in the Security Council, I don't foresee this visit making a significant difference. The United States does support India's Security Council membership, but the process itself is separate and ongoing. Nonetheless, the achievements we have made in our relationship with the US during this visit hold great significance on their own merits.

 

Q: Lastly, will this achievement also enhance our cooperation in intelligence, particularly in the maritime and land domains?

A: Absolutely. I was particularly impressed to see references in the joint statement regarding cooperation in defense and intelligence sharing. Notably, there is a mention of both sides collaborating on underwater domain awareness, which holds significant importance for maritime security. Therefore, I anticipate greater cooperation in the intelligence and security sphere, encompassing various areas such as maritime, land, space, and air. The increased trust between India and the US will undoubtedly manifest in these domains as well.

 

Views expressed are personal.