US-Indian defense cooperation: How much it will impact China

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Gao Feng

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

According to “Jane’s Defense Weekly,” on Oct. 3, India and the United States enhanced their bilateral strategic and defense relationship during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Washington.

In the joint statement issued after the summit between Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama, the two countries agreed to prolong the 2005 New Framework for the U.S.-Indian Defense Relationship and jointly develop and manufacture advanced U.S. weapons systems in India beginning in 2015. The two sides also decided to conduct more military-to-military dialogues and expand the scale of joint exercises, especially naval exercises, to implement broader defense plan and activities.

India is currently the biggest arms importing country in the world. Before the United States opened arms sales to India, India mainly purchased arms from Russia. After taking office, Modi reiterated the importance of developing India’s own independent national defense system. The U.S. pledge to deepen defense and weapons manufacture cooperation provides one more major source of technology for India’s domestication plan. Furthermore, the cooperation between the two countries will also strengthen the U.S.-Indian relationship and help India gain the status of a major player in international politics. Thus, based on the strategic intentions of the defense cooperation between the United States and India, the impact of the expansion of India’s technological and equipment sources will first be felt in Russia’s arms sales to India.

I think that by choosing to strengthen relations with India at this time and in such a high-profile manner, the United States aims to balance its relationship with India against the subcontinent’s tightening relationship with China and Russia. At the same time, India can use this situation as a bargaining chip against Russia, its historical source for military equipment. It is a well-known fact that India is almost out of patience with Russia’s poor quality and high price equipment export strategy. The opening of multiple channels of technology may add to Russia’s sense of crisis, forcing the country to be more responsible in its defense cooperation with India.

Russia’s only comfort is that despite the high-profile communication, there is no substantial contract in place yet, although it is still a heavy hit for Russia, which now finds itself between the two fires of Eastern Europe and Syria. The diversification of India’s security diplomacy puts Russia in a more isolated situation. Russia may have to ease up on its strategy towards India in order to stand out from its competitor, the United States.

A major topic in U.S.-Indian senior-level communication is the threat of China, which has become a significant element maintaining the close relationship between the two countries. The United States hopes to use India to effectively contain China in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, while India hopes to develop its own military and national defense by making use of the China-Threat Theory. However, with the Sino-Indian border issue in a period of relative calm, it is believed that India may not be willing to be a pioneer for the United States to challenge China in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Thus, the United States must consider the tradeoff between investment in and reward from India.

The leaders of the United States and India also set forth to enhance infrastructure construction and economic development in the channel connecting South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia to challenge China’s “Maritime Silk Road” in the Indian Ocean and offer alternatives to China’s friendly posture towards Central Asian countries. But, compared with the huge investment plan promised during the Chinese leader’s visit to India in September, this declaration appears too weak. India needs real money to accelerate its economic development, and it is difficult for the United States to provide it now. India can try to gain the best benefits by alternately proffering its political and security advantages to China and Japan.

Currently, India is intentionally increasing its strategic significance by adopting the odd tactic of either joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or drawing close to the European and U.S. system. No matter whether through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization controlled by the United States or through the treaty organization formed by the United States, Japan, India and Australia which is currently being planned, the United States hopes that India will take a firm stand. This, obviously, is not in line with India’s security and economic strategic needs.

The more pronounced the contradiction between the United States and China and Russia becomes, the narrower India’s vertical integration space will be. India now faces the conundrum of knowing where to stop.

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