Context: As the third India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue concluded recently, New Delhi’s diplomatic skills will be tested, as the country is now a part of the U.S.’s security architecture.
More on the news:
- The build-up to the talks was extraordinary, as in the words of the U.S. Defence Secretary - “India will be the most consequential partner for the US in the Indo-Pacific this Century”.
- The strategic focus: During the talks, the U.S. made an all-out attack on China and the threat it posed to democratic nations.
- The centrepiece of the dialogue was the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation.
- This marked India’s entry as a full member into the select category of nations entitled to receive highly classified U.S. defence and intelligence information.
Strengthening India-US ties, but at a price:
- Challenging India’s strategic autonomy: Though, access to this kind of highly classified information is an advantage, it must be recognised that the information comes with a price - such as a two-way exchange of information.
- Anti-China stance:
- The primary push for getting India to sign the foundational agreements was the threat posed by China and by signing the agreement India has shown its willingness to become part of the wider anti-China ‘coalition of the willing’.
- Compromising neutrality: By signing on to BECA at this juncture, India has allegedly compromised its previous policy of neutrality, and of maintaining its equi-distance from power blocs.
- A pragmatic deal?:
- In keeping with the current state of global disorder and an ideologically agnostic attitude is better suited to the prevailing circumstances of today.
- However, the danger is that it could equally be viewed as highly opportunistic.
- Recent shifts in trajectory: For instance, after having distanced itself from the Quad for years, on account of its security and military connotations and anti-China bias, India has more recently waived its objections.
- Quad has become more anti-China in its orientation: The invitation to Australia to participate in the Malabar Naval Exercises this year, to which the other two Quad members had already been invited, further confirms this impression.
- Neighbours stepping out of India’s sphere of influence:
- While, both China and the U.S. separately, seem to be making inroads and enlarging their influence in India’s neighbourhood, India seems to be losing grounds.
- For example, the Maldives has chosen to enter into a military pact with the U.S. to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indian Ocean region.
Challenges: Against India’s interest: Too close an identification with the U.S. at this juncture may not be in India’s interest.
- Impacting China-India relations: Since 1988, India has pursued a policy of avoiding conflicts with China. This will become increasingly problematic as India tilts towards the U.S. sphere of influence.
- For example, even after Doklam (2017) India saw virtue in the Wuhan and Mamallapuram discourses, to maintain better relations.
- Impacting India-Russia relations: India-Russia relations in recent years have not been as robust as in the pre-2014 period. It is difficult to see how this can be sustained, if India is seen increasingly going into the U.S. embrace.
- This is the time, when Russia-China relations have vastly expanded and a strategic congruence exists between the two countries.
- Maintaining close ties with Afghanistan: India must try and play a role in Afghanistan without getting sucked into the Afghan quagmire. India must shift its policy, considering the tremendous investment it has made in recent decades to shore up democracy in that country.
- Balancing the opponents: With its full membership, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which has China and Russia as its main protagonists and was conceived as an anti-NATO entity will test India’s diplomatic skills.
- Rale of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM): From which India has increasingly distanced itself and still plays a key role in strengthening ties from the African and Latin American group.
- Maintaining ties with Russia: This is one relationship which India will need to handle with skill and dexterity, as it would be a tragedy if India-Russia relations were to deteriorate at a time when the world is in a state of disorder.
- Holding grounds in West Asia: While India has been complacent about improved relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it needs to ensure, through deft diplomatic handling, that the latest UAE-Israel linkage does not adversely impact India’s interests in the region.
Though, India has made its choice which can only exacerbate already deteriorating China-India relations, it may pay India better dividends if policy planners were to pay greater attention at this time to offset its loss of influence and momentum in its immediate neighbourhood (in South Asia), and in its extended neighbourhood (in West Asia).