The strategic status of the Asia-Pacific Region is rising due to its significant role in the global economy. It has the third-largest body of water in the world, comprising of dynamic sea lanes. The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world. According to the Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits through the Indian Ocean. 40 percent passes through the Strait of Hormuz, 35 percent through the Strait of Malacca, and 8 percent through the Bab el-Mandab Strait.
US Interests in South Asia are centred on securing its supremacy in this important geo-strategic and geo-economic region. The US wants to contain China and Russia, who have been spreading their influence across Asia, notably in Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Consequently, the US has recognized India as a major defence partner in order to curb the influence of two powerful states.
On September 6, 2018, India and the United States of America have initiated a new two plus two (2+2) Ministerial dialogue to enhance strategic coordination and expand their supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region. U.S. strategy for the region is to assist India in building up its maritime capacity in the Indian Ocean and to sell them weapons and sophisticated technologies, in order to counter the effects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The recent 2+2 dialogue joint statement is focussed on ‘strengthening defence ties and promoting security cooperation’ while commercial dialogue has been put to the side. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary James Mattis also highlighted cross-border terrorism and India’s bid for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group as topics of conversation during the meeting. Both states also talked about increasing their cooperation in Afghanistan, as well as the different strategies they could pursue in Asia Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Middle East. Both countries also agreed to reach out to Australia and Japan to start a quadrilateral dialogue between the four nations, over improving security and defence cooperation.
The US is basically using India to revive its command over the Pacific Ocean. To strengthen their mutual relations, both US Ministers offered to hold a tri-services joint exercise with the US, off the eastern coast of India, in 2019. The US agreed to train Indian Air, Land and Naval Forces, as well as increase bilateral trade between the two countries to up to $500 to 600 billion, from its current value of $125 billion. The US Department of Defence also vowed to help India address the procedural complexities involved in this exercise and to help Indian firms learn and collaborate with US Defence companies.
The US and India agreed to set up a direct hotline between their respective foreign and defence ministers, which includes the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, which will facilitate India in obtaining critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication networks to ensure interoperability between the US and the Indian armed forces
Subsequently, in the 2+2 meeting, the two countries successfully maintained a mechanism. They agreed to set up a direct hotline between the foreign and defence ministers, which includes the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). COMCASA will facilitate India in obtaining critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication networks to ensure interoperability between the US and the Indian armed forces. The two states also laid the foundation for the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which will be fully operational over the next few months, while the US also gave India the STA-1 status, which will make it easy for both countries to conduct trade in Military hardware and technologies.
On the other side, both countries have united in imploring Pakistan to do more to eradicate terrorism and the alleged safe heavens provided to extremist organizations. They are doing this while ignoring the fact that the increasing militarization of India is a big factor in the deteriorating security situation in the region, with their strong stance on Kashmir and the LOC a large threat to stability.
Pakistan for their part has focused on defensive policies, and in order to counter threats from India, they have formed a strategic partnership with China and Russia. They even provided the Indians with a proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime, proving that they are a responsible nuclear state with its eyes set firmly on the development of CPEC and nothing more. However, India and the US’s desire to curb Chinese influence has ignited an arms race, and it seems for the sake of their dangerous national interest, regional peace and stability cannot be compromised. Such discriminatory alliances only instigate instability and undermine the global Non-Proliferation Regime.
Instead of such perilous partnerships, new economic alliances and partnerships should be initiated, which can rehabilitate economic prosperity, and resolve deep-rooted conflicts. It is imperative that superpowers play a constructive role in ensuring peace in the entire region, so that there is more room for growth and prosperity in the future.
The writer is a freelance columnist
Published in Daily Times, September 18th 2018.