US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit had promised more than it delivered. Or so it appears from the publicly released outcomes of his visit. At the last moment, India appears to have hung back from inking an agreement to allow access to each other’s military bases. But the decade-long magnetism for each other in the security sphere remains undiminished. Plans remain on course to jointly develop an aircraft carrier, a Bill in the US Congress seeks to bring India on a par with NATO in the transfer of sensitive defense technology and equipment while South Block is weighing an American proposal to assemble fighter planes in the country. Defense trade also remains vibrant and Indian orders have helped keep the American military-industrial complex humming.
The defense agreements, the proposed legislation and plans to assemble American fighter planes in India add up to a sharp turn in India’s foreign policy. The implications of marching step-in-step with the Americans will resonate far and wide in India’s extended neighborhood. Moscow has already sent a warning shot by threatening to stop cooperation in nuclear submarines if the Indian tango with the US gets too intimate. China is already miffed with a US-India joint statement -the honorarium for Barack Obama gracing the Republic Day celebrations – that all but speaks of a lockstep by the two in South China Sea. As a result, Chinese plans for massive investment in India have disappeared in thin air.
While the US policymakers are forthcoming on their expectations of a quasi-military alliance with India, there is a deafening silence from the Indian side. Parliament should have dissected and analyzed the policy implications like the spirited debates that took place on the Indo-US nuclear agreement. The Congress and the BJP are convinced that Western help is indispensable for India to achieve big power status. They differ only on the extent of flexibility in such a partnership. A public debate and willingness to enlist the public endorsements would only deepen the sustainability of our security policies.