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Binding friendship

Major defence partner status for New Delhi marks the institutionalisation of India-US defence cooperation.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 12, 2016 12:01:17 am

How times change. During the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, the US had cast its lot firmly against India, when it even chose to send its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. Thirty-five years later, the same US want to have the same fleet to sail alongside Indian naval ships. If there was any doubt about the shift, one need not look further than the announcement last week, when visiting US defence secretary, Ash Carter and defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, announced the finalisation of the “Major Defense Partner” status bestowed upon India by the US. This follows the signing of the defence logistics agreement between the two countries earlier this year, and caps what have been two momentous years of defence partnership between India and the US.

Although it had been first mooted two years ago, the two sides were keen on formalising the “Major Defense Partner” status after the US presidential election results came in last month. The Obama administration and Modi government have displayed an unexpected level of bonhomie in the past 31 months – five president-prime minister meetings, three bilateral summits, 45 working groups, 100 new initiatives, and seven defence secretary-defence minister meetings. Carter is a known Indophile and his personal chemistry with Parrikar has put defence at the centre of India-US relations. With the incoming Trump administration being an unknown quantity, the Obama administration and New Delhi were concerned about these personalised initiatives being put on the back burner. They have now ensured that bilateral defence cooperation is institutionalised and enshrined in American law. The India amendment, as part of the 2017 American defence budget, has been passed by the US Senate and signed by President Obama.

“Major Defense Partner” is based on the concept of the US treating India as its closest ally and partner for the purpose of technology transfer. The two sides are looking for certain big defence development projects to take off, as it eases US licensing requirements for India, particularly from the US commerce department on dual-use items. New Delhi must realise that the new status does not provide a blanket exception nor circumvent multilateral export control regimes. In fact, the status hopes that India will become part of all the four export control regimes at the earliest. While the US side has clarified its position to the US Senate and the Congress, the Indian side has not made any of the details public. With Parliament in session, a statement from the defence minister, clarifying the status will be in order to place things in context.

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