Wednesday, August 11, 2010

India, U.S. review defence cooperation

Ahead of Defence Minister A.K. Antony's visit to the United States next month, New Delhi and Washington exchanged notes on fostering defence cooperation through more equipment sales, greater joint exercises, frequent high-level exchanges and the possibility of inking three military agreements.

Led by Under Secretary of Defence on Policy Michèle Flournoy, a team from the Pentagon interacted with its Indian counterparts to prepare for a meeting of the Defence Policy Group, the joint committee headed by top civilian bureaucrats in the two Defence Ministries, that charts bilateral defence cooperation.

“We also want to get some progress ahead of [U.S. President] Barack Obama's visit [in November],” Ms. Flournoy told journalists here after meeting Mr. Antony, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar.

“Natural partner”

Maintaining that the U.S. viewed India as a “natural partner,” the Pentagon official indicated Washington's wish list. It includes purchasing more American-origin defence equipment, “realistic” joint exercises and stepped up visits by Indian armed forces officers.

Ms. Flournoy described the three military agreements, which the U.S. has been pursuing with India, as “foundational” in nature. This is the same terminology she used while interacting with journalists in the U.S. last month. But during this interaction, she provided more details of why the U.S. wants India to ink the agreements despite its having been cold-shouldered on this count for nearly two years.

The three “foundational agreements” being offered have been inked with many close partners, and this has enabled the Pentagon to offer cutting-edge defence technology. They also allow the U.S. to “share” the next higher level of technology. “It is not a requirement [for closer cooperation]. It is a choice of the government of India,” she clarified.

“Of course, economics is involved,” Ms. Flournoy said, while pointing out that the agreements and weapon purchases from the U.S. would fulfil its strategic aim of ensuring inter-operability in future and investing in a long term relationship.

The U.S. feels there has been “tremendous progress” in the number of joint exercises, but the need is to make them “meaningful” so that they are “reflective of the real world situation.” Asked to explain what that meant, Ms. Flournoy said the exercises must prepare both sides to jointly undertake counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We also have to respond to maritime security and freedom of navigation and against those contesting the accepted rules of the world. We will have to work to prevent that. We have to be prepared in terms of capability.”

In the area of visits, the Pentagon says although “several hundred” Indian military officers have visited the U.S. for courses or interaction, it would like to “broaden the range.”

Asked whether the U.S. was monitoring weapon sales to Pakistan in order not to upset the military balance with India, Ms. Flournoy pointed out that since terrorism came home to Pakistan, there had been a shift in political will, which was reflected in the military operations in South Waziristan. U.S. weapon sales to Pakistan, she said, were focussed on equipment efficiency to support the current counter-insurgency operations.

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