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Will US visit signal the end of non-alignment The Statesman 20 Jun 2023
PM Modi’s visit this week to the US will be historic. The interest it has generated within the US as also the pomp and show being accorded, including a state dinner, culminating with an address to the Congress, indicates that the US administration views the visit as special. It has been unofficially reported that all departments have been instructed to make this visit a success. The number of high-level US visitors to India in recent days adds credence to this input.
With agreements pertaining to sale of major equipment, transfer of technology and joint ventures expected to be inked, India’s military integration with the US will move forward leaps and bounds. Simultaneously will be a decrease in military cooperation with Russia. Also is the expected joint statement which will mention an open and free Indo-Pacific, increased cooperation within the QUAD, criticizing Chinese hegemonistic attitude and bullying as also ‘violations of a nation’s territorial integrity.’
There would be other relevant issues including climate change also being mentioned. It is unlikely that China or Russia will be named directly but reference to them will be evident. The US intent is to provide India the capability to challenge Chinese domination in the region. US military cooperation including transfer of technology is unlikely to come with major end user agreements and monitoring as with some nations.
Increased military collaboration is a signal of closer integration in countering joint threats, not necessarily as a military ally. It is also a signal of India moving into the western camp, reducing cooperation with Russian, though officially India claims strategic autonomy in its diplomacy. Indo-Russia relations were marked more by military and energy collaboration rather than trade. As per the Indian embassy in Moscow, trade between the two nations was barely USD 8.1 Billion in 20-21, while with the US it was USD 190 Billion.
In diplomacy, a weak India banked on Russian support in the UN whenever it faced hostility. Russia in turn controlled the Indian defence market and partially its foreign policy. Over a period of time, there were other nations which stood by India, including France and the US. Now, there are almost none which can accuse India in the UNSC and get away. Every time China tried on Pakistan’s behalf, it failed.
Russia was also the go-between playing a silent game in healing Indo-China differences. Currently Russia claims neutrality. Its Ambassador, Denis Alipov, recently stated, ‘This (dispute along the LAC) is entirely a bilateral matter between India and China and we don’t interfere with that.’ India displayed neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine conflict, more because of its dependence on Russia for military weaponry and energy resources, rather than age-old ties. The Russian pretext for its actions in Ukraine could be replicated by China in the case of Taiwan or even along the LAC.
Hence, PM Modi stating that this is ‘not an era of war’ was intended at conveying that wars are unacceptable and differences should be resolved by dialogue, hinting towards China. India changing the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) leader’s summit to virtual mode was a sign of reducing anti-US statements in the summit. The growing China-Russia proximity is an added cause for India to gravitate towards the US.
India currently is concentrating on self-reliance in the defence sector. One of the takeaways from the Ukraine conflict is impacting weapon supply chains in a crisis. The supply of the S 400 missile systems and critical spares from Russia have been impacted by the war and resultant sanctions. Ukraine, which supplied India with ship engines has been unable to fulfil its obligations. India faced similar restrictions during the Kargil war from both Russia and the US, lessons of which we failed to imbibe. India will also attempt to exploit the conflict by establishing facilities for repairing Russian equipment in the region with Moscow’s approval, as Russia remains under sanctions.
For self-reliance, India needs technology which would largely flow from the west. With the US taking the lead other nations would follow. The US has proposed adding India to NATO plus to basically open up transfer of key weapon technologies. Germany and France are already in talks to participate in major Indian defence modernization programs. Israel is a close defence partner. Increased western weapon systems imply closer integration in their employment as also tactics.
After initial hesitation the west comprehended India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis and has also exploited India’s ongoing relations with Russia on critical occasions including export of Ukrainian grain and stalling Russian actions on Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. The recent phone conversation between the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, and the Indian NSA, Ajit Doval, on seeking support for Ukraine’s peace formula emphasizes global acceptance of the Indian viewpoint.
Closer Indo-US ties also benefits the US. India is a regional power and its cooperation is essential for keeping Chinese pressures at bay. India remains the fastest growing economy. Though India has no intention of antagonizing China and worsening an already depleting relationship however, it has the ability to support ASEAN nations in building their capacity to challenge China.
India’s soft power enables it to challenge China in the Pacific as also Africa, benefitting the west, which is working to contain China. India should now use its influence to alter US views in its immediate surroundings, mainly Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The growing Indo-US relation and the gravitation of India into the western camp was summed up by the Indian ambassador to Washington, Taranjit Singh Sandhu. He stated, ‘today, we are talking about the stuff which was unimaginable…now you’re talking about critical and emerging technologies, and data and AI that include semiconductors, quantum 5G, and 6G telecom sector. Technology also reflects trust and confidence between the two sides. And I think this aspect is the one which is going to really show the deepening of our relationship.’
India may claim strategic autonomy as also remain in global forums alongside Russia and China, however it is moving deeper into the US camp. It may not become a military ally but will be a strategic partner. The US has succeeded in wooing India and drawing it strategically away from Russia.