Japan prefers the mechanism of 2 plus 2 dialogue to engage a country diplomatically. It has perfected this art to a finesse. Taking a cue from Japan, India since 2010 adopted the same model. However, it restricted itself only to Japan. The outcome of 2 plus 2 talks with Japan has been very encouraging. For example, holding of bilateral and trilateral Naval Exercises such as Malabar 2019 and MINEX, between Indian Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces (JMSDF) and the US. Similarly, participation in exercises ‘Dharma Guardian’ and ‘Shinyuu Maitri’ in 2018 and COPE India between Army and Air Forces of India, Japan and the US. On the diplomatic front when India refused to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the Hong Kong summit, many thought that Japan would insist on India to join the RCEP. But displaying understanding of India’s concerns, Japan voiced that it would not be a part of RCEP unless India is on board. Further, there are multiple areas in defence technology where cooperation between the two countries are on the anvil such as Visual Simultaneous Localization & Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Augmentation Technology for UGV/robotics. Also, we may see 30% manufacturing of an amphibious plane Shin Maywa US-2 and acquisition of an armed Sea Guardian drone. Because of the success of the 2 plus 2 mechanism with Japan, India has adopted this dialogue framework with the US also. The current 2 plus 2 dialogue was aimed to deepen the Indo – US relations.
The current, 2 plus 2 dialogue between India and US is the third edition in the series. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper visited India from 26 to 27 October 2020. The aim was to strengthen regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military to military interaction and defence trade. Highlights of the joint statement issued on 27 October 20 by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India from national security perspective are:
1) Elevation of relationship to Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.
2) Resolve to strengthen cooperation in the development of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, ventilators, and other essential medical equipment.
3) Commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order; underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, freedom of navigation and over flight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes.
4) Expand joint capacity building efforts with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific. And participate in multilateral peacekeeping training exercises.
5) Promoting a sovereign, peaceful, united, democratic, inclusive, stable, and secure Afghanistan, including support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
6) A US promise of strong support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
7) Recounted the Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between India and the United States. They also commended the significant step of signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness. The two sides confirmed their commitment to build upon existing defence information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
8) Commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and US Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests.
9) Two sides emphasized the importance of Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and stated their intent to fast track projects under DTTI.
10) Cooperation in the sphere of defence innovation between the US and India was welcomed. The virtual meeting between the Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO- IiDEX) and US Defense Innovation United (DIU) in July 2020 came in for praise. They also looked forward to the inaugural Industrial Security Annex (ISA) Summit later this year which would further strengthen defence industrial cooperation between both countries. As part of bilateral ties, our Ministers noted with satisfaction the significant strides made under the four Pillars of Strategic Energy Partnership (SEP) covering Oil & Gas, Power and Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainable Growth. They also appreciated the progress made under the India-US Gas Task Force and the launch of industry-led projects. They welcomed the announcement of new priorities and roadmap for each of the Pillars during the Ministerial meeting of the SEP held on July 17, 2020. With the objective of intensifying cooperation in the area of Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPRs), the Ministers welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in this regard.
11) The Ministers welcomed the virtual convening of the 17th meeting of the India-US Counter Terrorism Joint Working Group and the 3rd Session of the India-US Designations Dialogue on September 9-10, 2020. They also reaffirmed their support for an early adoption of UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) that would advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance can ever justify terrorism.
12) Two sides were looking forward to the launch of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite by 2022. Commitment to sharing Space Situational Awareness information, which will catalyze efforts to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and sustainable space environment. They also expressed the intent to continue the India-US Space Dialogue as well as discussions on areas of potential space defense cooperation.
In summary, India has gained considerably from the dialogue. Especially in defence information sharing, signing of BECA, military to military interaction and extending this interaction to other countries of the Quad—Japan and Australia. This would further benefit India if Quad is enhanced to include the important EU countries especially France. Without doubt, the dialogue is a positive development but there are question marks on the outcome as to its success. What is going to be the impact of important international events such as the US presidential election and efficacy of Quad and international conflict theatres such as Afghanistan and the Middle East? A number of positives have come out from the dialogue for India, the most important being the signing of BECA and sharing of Geospatial Information. Pakistani media is abuzz and surprised with this development.
TIMINGS OF THE DIALOGUE
With the US elections mere days away the timings of the dialogue are questionable. India-US policy will undergo a change with a change of the Presidency, Kamala Harris a semi Indian origin Vice Presidential running mate notwithstanding. The current election trends put Biden well ahead of Trump but as they say, it is difficult to stick one’s neck out these days on poll outcomes due to sheer volatility of behaviour by people. What could change the equation is the toss up states numbering 134 Electoral College seats. It has happened in the past that despite garnering country wide popular votes, candidates have ended on the losing side due to winner take it call policy of the Electoral College seats from a state should a candidate win that particular seat. Hillary Clinton in 2016 is the latest case in point. Margin of votes becomes immaterial. Further, Trump is known to spring surprises. But a rational analysis of trends indicates Biden moving into the White House after the elections. A Biden win despite some pro-India policy statements by Biden, Sino-American relations will shift from conflict driven intent to competition driven intent. Such an approach will render the current India-US agreements under review and moderation. Even the presence of Kamala Harris, the Vice Presidential running mate of Biden, is unlikely to help. As per Navtej Sarna, former Ambassador to the US and many other experts, she is known to be a strong defender of human rights. Such an attitude will not help India as far as the US stands on J & K and other internal security operations in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) and North East (NE) are concerned, however, incorrect her perceptions may be on these matters. Similarly, Biden, as per a recent report in Deutsche Welle (DW) dated 16 October 20, has expressed disappointment with the Indian government over its new citizenship law and called for the restoration of the rights of all Kashmiris. In contrast, Trump has refrained from making any comments on events following our policy decisions pertaining to Kashmir, NAA and NRC. To make matters worse the Russians do not need the Indians, as Putin is growing closer to the modern incarnation of Mao—Xi Jinping. Economic compulsions of Russia override Indo-Russian relationship. Chinese may also get emboldened and push further in other areas to claim operational advantage in the Eastern Sector where operations are feasible during winters in certain areas through their now famous salami slicing strategy to offset the advantage gained by Indian occupation of tactically important heights on the Kailash ranges before the new administration settles down. This may leave India with very limited options at least until the spring. We need to be prepared for such an eventuality.
EFFICACY OF QUAD
As per reports, the two sides did speak about India’s military stand-off with Chinese Army that has continued for over 175 days and led to the Galwan bloodshed in eastern Ladakh as well in June. The two sides did make an oblique reference to China that has driven India, the United States, Japan and Australia as part of Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Therefore, success of Quad is an essential condition for a comprehensive success of the 2 plus 2 dialogue as the security and stability in the Indo-Pacific are based upon strong quadrilateral ties. Only then can we expect the Chinese to be fixed on two fronts. There is no doubt the outcome of the current 2 plus 2 dialogue has been very encouraging. The commitments in defence and bilateral ties if pursued meaningfully will force China to look at a two front scenario especially in the backdrop of strong Quad which some experts also tout as the NATO of the East. However, is Quad really NATO of the EAST? In its current state, there are serious doubts about its efficacy and effectiveness especially in the event of a conflict involving China. The outcome of the 6 October 2020 Quad meet in Tokyo has sent mixed signals. Just before resigning, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe engineered a reconciliation with Beijing after years of frosty ties, with support from businessmen and China-friendly Liberal Democratic Party politicians. As per report by Anthony Kuhn and Chie Kobayashi, it is probably due to this that the Japanese spokesperson in the press brief insisted on stating, “Quad meet was not held with any particular country in mind.” Similarly, the Australian Foreign Minister responding to Mike Pompeo tirade against the Chinese had responded in July 2020 that “Let me reiterate that we make our own decisions.” These developments cast a major doubt on the operationalisation of Quad and by corollary Quad’s ability to respond to any Chinese activity directed against India barring some vocal support and condemnation. In any case, India must NOT expect any overt support from the Quad in case of any hostilities especially when member countries have strong trade and commercial interests with China. Therefore, ultimately India may have to rely entirely on the good will of the US for responding to a Chinese threat. This also dictates a careful approach to National Security issues and assessments by Indian Security Establishments. Quad without a commitment of enduring material and moral support is an exercise in futility. Merely conducting joint exercises is not going to pay any material dividends in conflict with China other than some diplomatic support in the form of condemnations. It also implies the need for robust bilateral alliances with Strategic partners such as the US and France. Australia and Japan currently appear heavily weighed down by economic considerations. And should Biden become the President of the US we may see a further drawdown in the Sino-American relations, which will severely restrict India’s options in dealing with China.
Mike Pompeo visited India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Male, and Hanoi to build support for the US against the Chinese activities in the Indo-Pacific. Not only will this help in keeping the anti-china momentum going but also help in making it irreversible should the Presidency change. Largely Pompeo has been successful in this endeavour barring some hesitancy by Japan and Australia. Even Indian Foreign Minister refrained from directly naming China. When asked if Beijing was a factor, he had said, “There isn’t one factor, there are two factors. One is called India; the other is called the United States of America. If you look at the growth of this relationship, as I pointed out in virtually every domain, it’s been—it’s actually been very, very remarkable over the last 20 years, but I would say especially the last few years.” The statement avoids any direct reference to Beijing, but the support to the US is prominently visible. The conservative approach of the Foreign Minister may also be coming from his career diplomat background and outlook. However, the RM who is a thoroughbred politician was more forthright in pointing out India’s displeasure with China. According to a US Department of State readout dated 27 October 2020, RM Sh. Rajnath Singh mentioned that, “in the area of defense we are challenged by reckless aggression on our northern borders.” A statement which was diplomatically omitted in the final statements.
For India, the key issues of immediate concern are confrontation with China, deepening of the India-US strategic ties especially in the area of defence and economy, securing of Indian interest in Afghanistan post the US pull out and a stable and secure IOR & Indo-Pacific. India would also welcome a Chinese fix in the South China and East China Sea to force it to look at a two front scenario. This can only be achieved through a strong India-US bilateral ties going beyond the current levels. Quad is still undergoing birth pangs and does not appear to have the capability to hold China at bay. India has signed three important agreements with US, COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA. It must be noted with some satisfaction the US has signed these agreements only with close partners to enable interoperability of forces and exchange of sensitive and classified information. Further, in February this year, the two countries had sealed defence deals worth $3 billion. India needs to work in a manner that the gains in any eventuality irrespective of who the next President of the US is, the current agreements are taken to their fruition.
Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) has served in varied terrains and theatre of operations, in Indiaand in the UN as Military Observer. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion, Brigade and aDivision in Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently Professor Emeritus Defence Studies at GujaratRaksha Shakti University. Twitter handle: @dushy40098