New Delhi: India and the US still suffer from a trust deficit despite the recent warming of ties, and innovative ideas such as jointly building a next-generation aircraft carrier could help bridge the trust gap, a foreign policy expert said.

Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said closing the trust gap would be a “a work in progress".

Speaking at an event hosted by the Ananta Aspen Centre in New Delhi, Tellis, who has written a paper titled Making waves: Aiding India’s next-generation aircraft carrier, in which he makes a case for the US helping India make an aircraft carrier, said the confidence deficiency was caused in part due to unfamiliarity of the US with India.

“The big challenge for the United States is that we have never dealt with India in any meaningful way since the early 2000s...so this is all new. The last time we had a close military cooperation was in 1962 (during the India-China border war) and there it was the US coming to the help of India, so it was a one way sort of cooperation," Tellis said.

India and the US started moving towards a genuine partnership only at the beginning of this century or 15 years ago, he said, referring to a period of rapidly warming ties between the two countries that were on opposite sides during the years of the Cold War. Since 2000, there have been four US presidential visits to India, a pointer to the upswing in ties.

That the US system is cumbersome with a plethora of legal requirements to be fulfilled in case of buying arms and the fact that India is not part of the US alliance network have not helped matters, he said.

“So US policymakers have to take a leap of faith and say that even though India is going to persist in an independent foreign policy sometimes opposing US interests on specific issues, it is still worth the bet in terms of helping India more capable, more powerful," Tellis said.

But “not everyone in the US is persuaded by the necessity of that. It is not one of those issues where there is universal consent...we have some way to go before we can close the gap", he said.

It is here that innovative ideas such as jointly building an aircraft carrier would come in handy, Tellis said, adding if a project like this could take off, “then people will say ‘okay, we can do business’."

In his paper, which was published in many Indian newspapers, including Mint on 23 April, Tellis had argued, “Working together to develop this vessel promises to substantially bolster India’s naval combat capabilities, fend off the emerging Chinese challenge to India’s control of the Indian Ocean and cement the evolving strategic bond between the US and India for many decades to come."

The basis for possible cooperation was laid during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January when the two countries agreed to “form a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design," Tellis had said.

The initiative for this was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who “disregarding the reservations of some of his advisors, boldly chose to accept the US offer of partnership. In so doing, Modi was guided by a clear recognition of the importance of the Indian Ocean for both India’s prosperity and its security—and his conviction that a strong Indian Navy, with the most capable sea-based aviation possible, was essential for the realization of India’s strategic aims," Tellis said.

India’s strategic aims include preserving secure maritime frontiers and fending off the challenge from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

“If the US were to partner with India now in developing its first indigenously constructed supercarrier, it will have contributed mightily in aiding the Indian Navy to meet the emerging Chinese naval threat while simultaneously becoming a ‘net provider of security’ in the Indian Ocean. It would send a powerful signal that the US-India defence cooperation is intended to advance their highest mutual interests. And, finally, it would signal to important—but still sceptical—Indian audiences, especially in the military, that the US can collaborate with India on vital projects of strategic import in ways that only Russia and Israel have done thus far," Tellis said.

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