A legislation introduced in US House of Representatives this week to advance defence ties with India, if passed, would be a major breakthrough in the bilateral relationship, an American industry leader said on Friday.
If passed by the US Congress and signed into a law, the United States-India Enhanced Cooperation Act would ensure that it treats India as a “Major Defence Partner” when it considers approval of defence sales to India. It was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Joe Wilson.
The co-sponsors of the legislation are Congressman Ami Bera, George Holding and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
The legislation builds on India’s Major Defence Partner status, which is currently limited to the Department of Defence’s jurisdiction. It seeks legislative changes in the Arms Export Control to bring India on par with major American allies.
“This legislation would be a major breakthrough for the US-India defence relationship,” John Chambers, chairman of the US-India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), said.
USISPF said that this legislation is important because it is the State Department that gives final approval on all defence trade, sales, cooperation and assistance matters given its legislative authorities embodied within Title 22 in the US Code of Federal Regulations, the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act.
“As chairman of USISPF, I support this move because it would ultimately further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The future is bright for the US-India relationship, and we hope this legislation is enacted soon,” Chambers said.
USISPF president and CEO Mukesh Aghi said the legislation sends a strong signal that India remains a “top priority” for the US Congress at a time when many are concerned about the direction of US-India defence relationship.
The US-India defence ties has gained momentum over the past few years.
In December 2016, the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) was passed and signed into a law with support from the US Congress and its Armed Services’ Committees.
The NDAA for FY-2017 included special language recognising the unique US-India defence relationship that designated India as a “Major Defence Partner” of the US.
The language seeks unique consideration for trade and technology sharing with India and seeks increased attention and support to advance this relationship in the areas of defence trade and technology sharing.
Although powerful in its own right, NDAA-17 has no legal bearing on the State Department’s body of legislation; nor does it compel it to view defence ties with India more favourably.
To fulfil the spirit and intent of NDAA-17, the legislation would introduce similar language into Title 22, thereby completing the circle of support to advance this emergent bilateral defence relationship.
It bolsters the national security and ensures full alignment between the Department of Defence and the State Department.
“Such a change will institutionalise the gains made in the relationship and provide a more stable foundation upon which both countries can solidify this unique defense partnership,” USISPF said.