The global strategic milieu has been altered after a global shift. In this new world order, alliances are changing and collaboration among states is inevitable. Many are adopting measures to preserve their security and sovereignty; unipolarity is giving way to multipolarity. In the US’ case, it is wooing India as a grand strategy to secure its National Security interests. The US is attempting to counter China’s rising influence, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. It is a clear strategic convergence between India and the US.
The major step in their relationship came with the signing of the ‘Framework for Defence Relations’ in 2005, and a about a decade later, the US declared India a ‘Major Defence Partner’. Recently India was given “Strategic Trade Authorisation-1” or STA-1 status, which is, after the ‘Next Step in Strategic Partnership’ (NSSP) and the ‘123 Agreement’, a defining moment that will boost their strategic partnership.
As per the US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, “India would be moved into Tier 1 of the Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorisation license exception”. This regulatory change will enhance the bilateral defence trade relationship and result in a greater volume of U.S. exports to India. The status has brought India on par with other influential NATO allies like Japan and South Korea. China, Pakistan, and Russia are not part of 37 countries that currently have STA-1 status.
Over the past decade, 15 billion dollars worth of weapons trade has been conducted between both nations. However, in light of their STA-1 status, India now has access to top tier weapons systems like AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, armed drones and fighter jets like the F-35 and the Stealth bomber
Traditionally, the countries in the STA-1 list are members of the four export control regimes but US declared India in its federal notification. India is a member of three out of the four multilateral export regimes; MTCR on June 27, 2016, the Wassenaar Arrangement on December 7, 2017, and the Australia Group on January 19, 2018. Trump administration made an exception for India, which is yet to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
The STA-1 status will make it easy for Indian and US companies to trade in Military hardware, while many technological items will not require licenses either. According to Richard Rossow, Senior Advisor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, “STA-1 status opens India to the simpler importation of products with strategic importance including protection equipment like body armour and tear gas; materials related to nuclear power development; explosives detection and disposal”. He added that “India seeks to develop an indigenous defence manufacturing industry, being able to import equipment used in creating specialty alloys, lighter frames, minimising radar visibility, etc”.
Dhruva Jaishankar, Foreign Policy Fellow at Brookings India said that “the biggest constraint on India-US military-industrial cooperation was US export control policy, which was a combination of international regimes, US law, and US regulation. These have gradually been amended, and India has been increasingly accommodated”.
These recent moves have enabled the US and India to start a joint venture related to the development of fifth generation warfare. Additionally, over the past decade, 15 billion dollars worth of weapons trade has been conducted between both nations and this number is only going to increase as time goes on. For the Trump administration, it is a rare success in their recently flawed foreign policy that can generate great revenue, while India now has access to top tier weapons systems like AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, armed drones and fighter jets like the F-35 and the Stealth bomber.
The two democratic countries are likely to sign the bilateral agreement for Secure Military Communications on Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The pact is meant to provide a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that would facilitate “interoperability” between their forces and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secured data links. Indian Armed Forces are currently dependent on less secure communication systems on platforms like C 130J and P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft.
Hence, such collaboration will certainly disrupt the equilibrium of South Asia. The move is the continuation of the USA policy of discrimination. It is a great concern for Pakistan that the US is easing export controls for high-tech product sales to India. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the country calls on all states to carefully review their strategic export control policies that directly impinge on the national security of Pakistan, and undercut the stated goals of preserving strategic stability in the region.
The US has close relations with India, yet they have been pressurizing Pakistan regarding Afghanistan, security aid and military training programmes. Michael Kugelman, an expert of Pakistan affairs, believes that this move could squander what little goodwill and trust remains in the military-to-military relationship. Pakistan should fully utilise its diplomatic channels, policymakers, think tank experts and lobby groups not only to halt the arms race in the region, but also rebuild their relationship with the US. Hopes are high that the new government will designate a competent person to be Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, who will help defend our National Interests and help with our foreign policy goals.
The writer is a freelance columnist
Published in Daily Times, August 16th 2018.