Issue Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the United States for the fourth time.
Significance of the visit This visit assumes significance as Mr. Modi will be addressing the US Congress for the first time.
Outcome of the visit Defence, Security, Nuclear, etc.
Way Forward Although concrete results will take a while, there is no denying the new sense of strategic purpose between Delhi and Washington.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the United States for the fourth time, since he assumed office in 2014. This is the seventh, and probably last time he held bilateral talks to President Barack Obama, who will demit office after the November elections.
Significance of the visit
- This visit assumes significance as Mr. Modi will be addressing the US Congress for the first time.
Outcome of the visit
- US formally declared India as a “Major Defence Partner” during the PM’s visit and it could help launch a very consequential phase in India-US strategic partnership.
- That prospect takes us back to the early 1960s again. After India’s border conflict with China in 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President John F. Kennedy began a conversation on an expansive defence partnership. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 and Nehru’s own death in 1964 saw the evaporation of those plans.
- In declaring India as a “Major Defence Partner”, Washington will give Delhi the same level of access to defence technologies that it grants America’s closest allies and partners.
- US also committed support for the Make in India projects in the defence sector that will help modernise India’s arms industry.
- The recognition of India as a Major Defence Partner (or, a “major partner of equal status”) of the U.S. becomes a clarion call for deeper and more substantive defence ties, especially given the understanding that India will receive licence-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies for defence production. This signals an even more dynamic phase in defence cooperation and indicates the long road covered in taking defence ties forward in the last few years.
- The tying in of the co-production and co-development of technologies covering naval, air and weapons systems under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative with the Make in India mission is another positive development.
- Modi and Obama have resolved that Delhi and Washington must look to each other as “priority partners” in the Indo-Pacific.
- Beyond the bilateral and regional, the two leaders have also set out an ambitious framework long-term partnership in maritime, air, space and cyber domains.
- A significant outcome from the meeting is the directive from the two leaders to their security establishments to “identify specific new areas of collaboration”. Although short of detail, this mandate could generate the momentum for a big leap forward in addressing the shared challenges from violent extremism in the region.
- At the U.S-India Business Council, the “reform to transform” message was well-articulated by the Prime Minister.
- There has been apprehension expressed in Washington about the pace of reform of the Indian economy and the lack of ease of doing business.
- PM sought to reassure American business and investors by outlining measures taken by his government to effect further liberalisation of the Indian economy.
- Modi and President Barack Obama announced that India’s nuclear plant operator, NPCIL and the US vendor, Westinghouse are now ready to begin the preparatory work on the construction of six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh.
- That this will be first Indian nuclear reactor contract with the US in more than half a century tells the tale of prolonged nuclear turbulence between Delhi and Washington.
- Way back in the early 1960s, the US stepped forward to build India’s first nuclear power plant at Tarapur. When it came on line in 1969, it was the first nuclear power station in Asia. The Tarapur station symbolised the expansive high technology cooperation between India and the US in the 1950s and 1960s. The nuclear warmth between India and the US would soon turn into four decades of nuclear hostility. Not long after the Tarapur power station came the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that Delhi could not afford to sign under any circumstances.
- India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 put Delhi at seemingly permanent conflict with Washington.
- India became the principal target of the US’s domestic non-proliferation law and the newly set up Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that set global terms of nuclear trade that were so inimical to India. The denial regimes did not stay nuclear; but extended to all major advanced technologies, including space and more recently cyber.
Support for membership in various group
- President Barack Obama supported India’s membership of the NSG. That the U.S. champions the cause of India’s application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and beckoned to NSG Participating Governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG Plenary later this month is yet another indicator of the robust state of the relationship.
- Obama also welcomed India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime and backed its claim to join the Australia Group on chemical weapons and the Wassenaar Arrangement on conventional weapons and dual use technologies.
- PM’s statement that a strong U.S. partnership will “ensure security of the sea lanes of commerce and freedom of navigation on seas” all the way from “Asia to Africa and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific” will be read by Beijing with some concern; India should either reassure China or be prepared for a counter-move from Beijing on this count.
- The stress is on “long-term”, whether it is cooperation in clean energy, including nuclear power, greenhouse gas emission controls, renewable power, or in combating the threat of terrorists accessing chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological materials. The commitment to enhance cyber collaboration and cyber security cooperation defined in the joint statement must be consolidated with a well-structured programme of implementation.
- There were advances on nuclear, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation during the PM’s visit to Washington. Although concrete results will take a while, there is no denying the new sense of strategic purpose between Delhi and Washington.