Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and United States Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter Thursday finalised India’s designation as a Major Defense Partner of the United States. This was announced in the India-US joint statement on Carter’s visit to New Delhi.
The designation as a Major Defense Partner, the joint statement noted, is a status unique to India and institutionalises the progress made to facilitate defence trade and technology-sharing with India to a level at par with that of the United States’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Washington in June, the United States said it recognised India as a Major Defense Partner. The joint statement issued then had acknowledged the US-India defence relationship as a possible “anchor of stability”, with the United States saying it will “continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners”.
Parrikar had given a non-paper to Carter during his visit to Pentagon in August, following which the two sides had negotiated the exact contours of this designation. There were differences between the two sides about the level of technology transfer and cooperation permissible under the Major Defense Partner status.
India was seeking benefits granted to the closest allies of the US, such as Australia and the UK which the Pentagon was hesitant to concede. On Thursday, the two sides did not specify details of the benefits that will accrue to India under the designation.
India’s Major Defense Partner status has, however, been made a part of the India Amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act, 2017 (NDAA), approved by the US Congress to allocate funds annually to the US military. This Bill is expected to be passed shortly which will put a formal, official stamp on India’s status.
Under the India Amendment in the NDAA 2017, the US government will, consistent with its conventional arms transfer policy, inform the review of requests to export defence articles, defence services, or related technology to India under the Arms Export Control Act, and inform any regulatory and policy adjustments that may be appropriate.
Besides recognising India’s status as a Major Defense Partner, the India Amendment will designate an American official to ensure the success of the Framework for the United States-India Defense Relationship which was signed last year, to approve and facilitate the transfer of advanced technology, and to strengthen the effectiveness of the US-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative and the durability of the India Rapid Reaction Cell in Pentagon.
While the Obama administration had committed to each of these actions, there were concerns that the incoming Trump administration could do away with these India-specific provisions. New Delhi had, therefore, been insisting on some institutional mechanisms to safeguard the gains made over the past two years. The passage of the India Amendment will make it obligatory for the Trump administration to adhere to these commitments.
Carter’s farewell visit to India is his seventh interaction with Parrikar, and the two sides “applauded the deepened scope of India-US military-to-military ties, which includes a dramatic increase in defense trade”.