India and the US will discuss a new military partnership ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to that country next week, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter said on Saturday.
He would meet with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to “identify new ways to cooperate”, Carter said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Modi, currently on a tour of five countries, will be hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington DC on June 7 and 8.
“The US and India are committed, as part of our growing security partnership, to co-development and co-production of our military capabilities. That is something we have not had since the birth of the modern Indian state. We had two systems which grew up apart. We are trying to bring them together. We have a large number of projects on which we are working. We are planning to talk on an aircraft carrier to upgrade the Indian fleet,” Carter said.
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He added: “On our side, another thing the US is working very hard on is in changing India’s status in US’s export control system which is somewhat outdated and belongs to the previous era. We are working on a host of research projects of military importance. The point is Prime Minister Modi’s Make In India policy and our technology policy should come together.”
Carter spoke about America’s continuing interest in the Asia-Pacific region and its security. The Shangri-La Dialogue, organised by the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is an annual forum at which Asia Pacific defence ministers meet to discuss security cooperation in the region.
“If we continue to cooperate on security, I posit, we would one day be discussing a US-China-India multilateral maritime exercise, a Japan-Republic of Korea joint disaster response in the South China Sea, and an ASEAN-wide security network,” Carter said. China’s “expansive” ideas in the South China Sea remained in focus at the meet.
“The US-India military relationship”, Carter said, “is as close as it has ever been. Through our strategic handshake — with the United States reaching west in its rebalance, and India reaching east in Prime Minister Modi’s Act East policy — our two nations are exercising together by air, land, and sea. And there’s also a technological handshake: we’re moving toward deeper and more diverse defence co-development and co-production, including on aircraft carrier design and construction.”
The US-Japan-India and US-Japan-Australia relationships too were growing, helped by joint military exercises, Carter said. “Through joint activities like the Malabar Exercise, the US-Japan-India trilateral relationship is starting to provide real, practical security cooperation that spans the entire region from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific.”
Manohar Parrikar, who participated in a seminar on managing military competitions in Asia, spoke of the importance of understanding varying national perspectives. Replying to a question, the defence minister said, “India’s Maritime Security Dialogue with China and many other countries will give a better perspective on each other’s view. It is in an initial stage but we are interested in China on maritime security.”
Asked about the proposal to grant India non-NATO ally status, Parrikar said, “The question should have been posed to Carter, but India definitely considers it an important development. It will give better depth to the Indo-US relationship. It will help in fast-tracking the relationship.”
Parrikar spoke of territorial disputes and their resolution without the use of force. Terrorism, he said, remained the foremost challenge in the region.
Asked about the militarisation of the Indian Ocean, Parrikar said, “Apprehensions are not correct. India is a responsible country and there is nothing to worry about it.”
On Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan’s recent boast about his country being able to “target” New Delhi with nuclear weapons in five minutes, the defence minister said, “India doesn’t want to hit anybody with nuclear weapons. Such irrational statements should not flow out of Pakistan. For Pakistan there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. Their good terrorists are promoted to operate in Afghanistan and India.”
When Prime Minister Modi went to Pakistan, a “window of opportunity opened,” Parrikar said. “That window is closing. Pakistan needs to develop trust and sincerity in its approach.”
In his speech, the minister described the Asia-Pacific region as “Indo-Pacific”. Asked why, he said, “when we talk about the Asia-Pacific we talk of the area from Suez to the shores of the Pacific. It’s the east and the west side of India that is the part of the Asia-Pacific, so I indicated the region as Indo-Pacific.”
Rahul Roy Chaudhury, a defence expert at IISS, said Parrikar had used the term “Indo-Pacific” to distinguish between the Southeast Asian and Arabian Sea/Gulf waters of Asia”.
Parrikar noted that as much as half of India’s trade passed through the South China Sea. Although India was not a party to the territorial dispute in that region, it remained committed to the freedom of navigation and overflight in conformity with international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said. “It is in everyone’s interest, including China’s, to maintain regional peace,” he said.