New Delhi: Defence minister Manohar Parrikar and US secretary of defence Ashton Carter on Thursday finalised India’s designation as a “major defence partner" of the US. This was announced in the India-US joint statement issued at the close of Carter’s visit to New Delhi. Thursday’s meeting between Carter and Parrikar was the seventh since the Narendra Modi government took office in May 2014.
Carter is on his farewell visit to Asia as the eight-year-old Barack Obama administration prepares to hand over charge to the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
A US Congressional conference committee had on 30 November asked Carter and secretary of state John Kerry to take steps necessary to recognise India as US’s “major defence partner" in a bid to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.
The provision also asked the defence secretary and the secretary of state for an assessment of the extent to which India possesses capabilities to support and carry out military operations of mutual interest of the two countries. The US administration’s move to designate India as such now needs to be formally passed by the Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate—before US President Barack Obama can sign it as law.
So what does it mean to be a “major defence partner" partner of the US?
According to a joint statement issued by the two sides on Thursday, the designation “is a status unique to India".
It “institutionalises the progress made to facilitate defence trade and technology-sharing with India to a level at par with that of the United States’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future," the statement said.
India is not a treaty partner of the US—which is a formal alliance partner with close cooperation with Washington like Japan or Australia. Neither is it part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which includes countries like Britain.
But India is seeking benefits granted to the closest allies of the US, such as Australia—that the Pentagon was hesitant to concede in the past.
Thursday’s joint statement does not specify details of the benefits that will accrue to India under the designation.
But it is expected that procurement of weapons’ systems, spares for those platforms already in the Indian inventory and most critically the transfer of technology will get smoother.
It was during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Washington in June that the US said it recognized India as a “major defence partner".
The joint statement issued then had acknowledged the US-India defence relationship as a possible “anchor of stability", with the US saying it will “continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners".
During Parrikar’s visit to the US in August, the two sides had discussed the framework of the designation which was later negotiated by the two sides.