The development comes amid strains in the India-US trade relationship even as the strategic partnership between the two countries is seen as close.
The legislative provision, which was introduced by the Senate’s India caucus co-chair senator John Cornyn with the support of India Caucus co-chair senator Mark Warner, provides for increased US-India defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean in areas of humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism, counter-piracy, and maritime security.
The US recognized India as a “major defence partner" in 2016. This allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America on par with that of the closest allies and partners of the US, and ensures enduring cooperation in this sphere.
The passage of the NDAA “clarifies in greater detail what the closer defence cooperation actually means and entails", according to former Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar. The ambassador recalled that till a few years ago, India was on the lowest rung of defence cooperation with the US and was treated on par with its adversaries.
“Gradually we were given the status of being equivalent to a strategic partner. In the last years of the Obama administration, we were given the status of major defence partner of the US which is on par with its closest allies, Nato. That process has been carried forward with the passage of this legislation and it gives greater clarity to what is implied when someone says India is the US’s major defence partner," she said. “This legislation is a welcome step," Shankar added.
The bill would be signed into law after approvals from both the chambers of the US Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House is expected to take up its version of the NDAA sometime in July before legislators adjourn for the month-long August recess on 29 July.
“Whether we do that with free standing legislation or whether we do that with an amendment to the NDAA matters, I think, very little. What matters is that we recognise the importance, in a tangible way, of the US-India alliance," Congressman Brad Sherman said at an event in Washington last week.
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