The Change and Continuity Perspectives on 2+2 Dialogues
Significant improvements in India-US relations have gone relatively unnoticed. However, after the events of September 2001 and US operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, this relationship has assumed a degree of significance that, it is argued, will have an impact on the future strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific region.
India has always seen itself or rather perceived itself as a country destined to achieve major power status. This was evident in the global vision of its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of India’s post-independence foreign policy. This pursuit of non-alignment was not so much as ‘aligning’ India with the Soviet Union as an attempt not to enter the Western alliance system. Hence India, along with other like-minded newly independent countries pursued a policy of not aligning themselves with either power bloc. Countries in this loose knit grouping eventually formed the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), which formally met for the first time in 1961.
While this gave India a high profile internationally, it was not backed by military and economic strength. The policy was tested in the conflict with China (1962) and found to be severely deficient. A decade later, India’s victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh indicated a shift in India’s foreign policy: its security goals now ranked foremost.
On the issue of nuclear weapons, while India consistently championed the cause of nuclear disarmament there would appear to be a tacit acknowledgment that such a goal was unattainable. Realising the status that nuclear weapons accorded to the major powers, it demonstrated its nuclear capability by exploding a nuclear device in 1974. It could be argued that the 1998 nuclear tests were carried out to establish India as a nuclear power before the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) came into force.
The refusal of the Bush administration to ratify the CTBT does not detract from the fact that India is now a de-facto nuclear power.
India-US relations have had a turbulent past. The bilateral relationship has a history of being influenced by US policies towards India’s neighbours and India’s policy of non-alignment and its relations with the erstwhile Soviet Union. Add to this the politics of the Cold War and it becomes easy to understand why relations between the two democracies were often based on mutual mistrust and misperceptions. While the end of the Cold War led to a gradual improvement in India-US relations, these shifts came to a halt in May 1998 when India conducted nuclear tests and the US imposed wide ranging sanctions.
“Signing of Basic Exchange and Cooperation is a significant achievement in that direction” –Defence Minister Rajnath Singh
During the meeting, we have had comprehensive discussions on key aspects of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation. We considered the major challenges we face. The need for quick economic recovery and growth, prevention of the Pandemic, rebuild the global supply chains and related issues received obvious priority in our discussions.
I met Dr Esper to discuss bilateral defence issues. We continued our discussions on larger regional and global perspective over the 2+2.
Signing of Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation, BECA, after signing of LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 is a significant achievement in that direction.
I would also like to highlight some of the other noteworthy steps taken by both India and US in follow up to our earlier discussions. These include Positioning a USN LO at IFC-IOR and Indian LO at NAVCENT, Bahrain; greater interaction and coordination with CENTCOM and AFRICOM; setting up of the COMSEC account and increasing the scope and complexities of our exercises. Now LO’s at each other’s establishments could be leveraged to enhance our information sharing architecture. To sum it up, our military to military cooperation is progressing well.
In today’s meeting we also explored probable capacity building and other joint cooperation activities in third countries, including our neighbourhood and beyond. We have convergence of views on a number of such proposals and will take those forward.
I welcome the acceptance of our request for cooperation in the advanced field of maritime domain awareness. Both sides agreed to comprehend the requirements and initiate processes for joint development of requisite systems and expertise.
In the Defence Industrial Cooperation area, we had a very candid and useful discussion. Recent initiative of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in Defence sector was underlined as a key driver and a guiding factor of our Defence Industrial Cooperation. I highlighted the capabilities of Indian Defence Industry and their usefulness in the supply chain of major US platforms and systems. We have identified priority Near-Term projects for joint development between respective agencies, which need to be fast tacked under the DTTI and resolved to work together in Defence R&D more efficiently.
Defence Innovation field has being growing consistently in our discussions in recent years, The instruments of ISA and iDEX/DIU MOl, which were agreed upon and signed during our last 2+2 meetings, are beginning to bear fruit. We welcomed holding of the inaugural meeting of iDEX-DIU in July 2020 through Video Conferencing and are looking forward to the first ISA Summit this year.
In our meeting, we shared assessment of the security situation across the Indo Pacific. In that process, we reaffirmed our commitment to peace, stability and prosperity of all countries in this region. We also agreed that upholding the rules based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential. Our defence cooperation is intended to further these objectives. Both sides welcomed Australia joining the forthcoming Malabar Exercise.
We appreciate the visit of Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper to India. We had a very constructive dialogue and will continue to work together to strengthen our engagement in defence security and other areas.”
Less than two years later, in March 2000 President Clinton visited India, the first visit by a US president in over 20 years. Since then India-US relations have developed at an unprecedented pace, especially in the politico-military sphere. The terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001 further galvanised the growing closeness. The terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the operations in Afghanistan were further evidence that the two countries faced similar threats to their security. The result has been an unprecedented cooperation on security issues and indications are that this is going to intensify further. Despite the recent increase in tension between India and Pakistan, India-US relations continue on a ‘business as usual’ basis. This is proof of the fact that the engagement is bilateral and not influenced by other factors.
The 2+2 Dialogue
Against this backdrop, the 2+2 dialogue assumes significance. Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of reiterated their commitment to further strengthening the India-U.S. partnership, anchored in mutual trust and friendship, shared commitment to democracy, converging strategic interests, and robust engagement of their citizens.
The 2+2 dialogue is the highest-level (Ministerial) institutional mechanism between India and the USA that brings together the perspectives of the two countries on foreign policy, defence and strategic issues. The first 2+2 was held in New Delhi, September 2018, after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.
The combined talks between Pompeo and Esper with Indian External Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh were called the 2+2 dialogue. The main highlight of the meeting was the signing of the Indo-US Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geo-spatial co-ordination.
BECA, as it is known, would allow India and the US to access a wide variety of geospatial data from the each other, such as detailed maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, as well as imagery. The agreement creates a framework for classified data in this domain to be shared.
This data will give India’s long-range missiles or drones the ability to strike targets thousands of kilometres away with great accuracy. Now that it has signed the BECA, India will be able to access the US network of highly accurate navigation satellites.
According to the media reports, “the cooperation also includes sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data exchange on Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the 3,488-km India-China [Line of Actual Control]”.
BECA is generally referred to as the the fourth of the “foundational agreements” with complex short forms – GSOMIA, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA – that the US signs with countries with which it wants to pursue deeper defence engagement. With India, that process has taken decades. But its completion allows New Delhi to become a “major defence partner” of the US.
“Partnership between US and India remains resilient, strong, and growing”
–US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper
As the world confronts a global pandemic and growing security challenges, the United States-India partnership is more important than ever to ensure security, stability, and prosperity of the region and the world.
Fifteen years after the conclusion of the first U.S.-India Defense Framework, the defense ties between our two nations remain a key pillar of our overall bilateral relationship. Based on our shared values and common interests, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific for all, particularly in light of increasing aggression and destabilizing activities by China.
I am pleased to report that today we made substantial progress in further strengthening our relationship, building upon last year’s successful 2+2 Ministerial in Washington and the many discussions Defense Minister Singh and I have had these past several months.
During our meetings, we affirmed – reaffirmed the United States commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India and discussed opportunities to expand our regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade relationship. This includes increasing bilateral defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, Southeast Asia, and the broader Indo-Pacific.
Recently, this cooperation was demonstrated by the combined exercise between the Indian Navy and the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in July. In addition, we have exchanged military liaisons with India to strengthen coordination between our military staffs, and we are working to establish new cyber and space dialogues to increase cooperation in domains where both our countries face emerging threats.
We also discussed engagement with likeminded partners such as Japan and Australia to advance maritime security, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and other common interests across the region. India’s recent decision to include Australia in the upcoming Malabar Naval Exercise alongside American, Indian, and Japanese forces reflects an acknowledgement of the importance of working multilaterally together to address global challenges.
Defense information sharing both at the service and joint service level is another area in which we are making significant progress. It is important to note that we achieved a significant milestone today with the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, the last of the foundational defense agreements between our countries, which enables greater geospatial information sharing between our armed forces. We also reached agreement to expand secure communications capabilities between our militaries and among defense leadership.
Finally, our defense trade and technology cooperation continues to grow, as reflected in India’s acquisition of Apache and Seahawk helicopters earlier this year. We look forward to advancing sales for other key defense platforms, including fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial systems.
Despite today’s challenging security environment, the partnership between the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies, remains resilient, strong, and growing. I want to thank my Indian counterparts for their hospitality and leadership as we continue to work to deepen our cooperation, advance our shared interests and values, and defend international rules and norms.
Shared Vision for the Indo-Pacific and Global Leadership
keeping China in mind,The Ministers reiterated their 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 overflight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes. Highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders having a legitimate interest in the region, the Ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo-Pacific among like-minded countries. They reaffirmed that closer India-U.S. cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They also emphasized that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law.
The recent convening of the Second Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral Ministerial Meeting in Tokyo on October 6, 2020 was also welcomed by the Ministers. They appreciated the exchange of views on regional issues of mutual interest, as well as ongoing cooperation related to maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, regional connectivity, health security and counter terrorism. Annual holding of these consultations was also welcomed at the dialogue meet. They expressed their support for further strengthening Quad cooperation through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organizations of partner countries.
Building on a strong record of peacekeeping cooperation, it was also decided at the meeting to expand joint capacity building efforts with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific and to participate in multilateral peacekeeping training exercises.
Promoting a sovereign, peaceful, united, democratic, inclusive, stable and secure Afghanistan, including support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was also discussed. India’s development assistance and efforts to build trade linkages and multi-modal connectivity infrastructure for Afghanistan to enhance its regional connectivity to sustain growth and development over the long term was also applauded.
The United States congratulated India for its non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the term 2021-2022. The Ministers reiterated their commitment to work together in close coordination at the UNSC and in International Organizations. The U.S. also reaffirmed its continued strong support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC as well as for India’s early entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
“2+2 dialogue underlines our close bilateral relationship”
–External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar
As you have heard from my colleagues, we have just concluded the third India-US 2+2 dialogue. This format is reflective of our Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. Before our meeting , I met Secretary Pompeo to discuss range of foreign policy issues. These have been two very productive days and I thank our counterparts for making that happen for taking that effort to come here physically.
If I may say so myself, the performance of our relationship in the last few years has been exceptionally positive. Political consultations and cooperation have grown, defence exchanges and trade too, economic interactions and commerce are up, the partnership in science, technology and innovation is stronger and our energy security clearly enhanced. Not least, the unique people-to-people contacts that defines this relationship remains vibrant, whether in the flow of talent, in education or in tourism. We discussed our experiences in responding to the Covid-19 challenge at some length. The facilitation of travel even during the pandemic was very commendable. Today, our collaboration concentrates more on the domains of vaccine and testing that are so central to the return of normalcy. We are also committed to creating more trusted and resilient global supply chains. An India that is now focussed on recovery, resilience and reform welcomes an expanded partnership with the United States.
The 2+2 dialogue has a pol-mil agenda that underlines our close bilateral relationship. Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multi-polar world. We meet today to not only advance our own interests but to ensure that our bilateral cooperation makes a positive contribution in the world arena. We are also committed to addressing together global issues ranging from HADR situations to maritime security and counter-terrorism. As you have heard from my colleagues, the Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus of our talks. We reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region. As Raksha Mantri stated, this is possible only by upholding the rules based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states. A multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis. Discussions also covered developments in our neighbouring countries. We made clear that cross-border terrorism is completely unacceptable. On Afghanistan, India’s stakes in its security and stability are evident, as is our willingness to contribute to international efforts to that end. India enters the UN Security Council on 1st of January 2021 as a non-permanent member. We look forward to working with the United States there, as in other multilateral platforms.
In conclusion, I thank Secretaries Pompeo and Esper once again for a very useful and very fruitful 2+2 dialogue.
Advancing the Defence and Security Partnership
Noting the 15th anniversary of the inaugural U.S.-India Defense Framework Agreement, the Ministers commended what has become a comprehensive, resilient, and multi-faceted Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between India and the United States. They applauded the significant step of the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). They also welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defense information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
The commitment to deepening bilateral defense consultation and collaboration and to exploring opportunities to expand cooperative capacity-building efforts with partners across the region was reaffirmed at the meeting. To promote shared security interests, the Ministers also affirmed their commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and U.S. Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences. The U.S. appreciated India’s leadership in establishing an Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). The Ministers welcomed the positioning of a Liaison Officer from the U.S. Navy at the IFC-IOR and the positioning of an Indian Liaison Officer at NAVCENT, Bahrain and reiterated their intent to assign additional Liaison Officers.
The Ministers expressed satisfaction at the ongoing progress in the implementation of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), including the expansion of secure communications capabilities to include secure video teleconference capabilities between their respective Navies, Armies and Air Forces as well as between respective Foreign and Defense Ministries. The Ministers welcomed the convening of the Military Cooperation Group (MCG) later this year to review bilateral military-to-military engagement including joint exercises, training and expert exchanges. They looked forward to interaction between the Special Forces of India and the United States.
The Ministers welcomed the inclusion of the Royal Australian Navy in the U.S.-India-Japan MALABAR Naval Exercise scheduled to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in November 2020. Highlighting the importance of deepening maritime cooperation and the growing sophistication of U.S.-India naval cooperation, the Ministers welcomed the PASSEX carried out by the Navies of both countries. They also looked forward to the convening of the next edition of the Tri-Services Amphibious TIGER TRIUMPH HADR Exercise and Army Exercises YUDH ABHYAS and VAJRA PRAHAR in 2021. The U.S. welcomed India’s co-hosting of the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leader Forum (SELF) in 2023.
It was also decided at the meeting to work together to realize the development of their respective defense industries. Acknowledging India’s contributions to the global supply chain of major defence platforms and commitment to defense innovation, the Ministers reiterated the importance of Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and stated their intention to fast track projects under DTTI. They noted with satisfaction the signing of a Statement of Intent (SoI) at the 10th DTTI meeting to strengthen dialogue on defence technology cooperation on several specific DTTI projects as well as a DTTI Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for identification and development of joint projects. India looked forward to the participation by the U.S. Government and defence industry at the upcoming Aero-India in February 2021.
Recognizing the importance of cooperation in defence innovation, the Ministers welcomed the inaugural meeting between the Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO-iDEX) and U.S. Defense Innovation United (DIU) in July 2020. 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.
US and India will work together to meet the region’s infrastructure needs”
–US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo
It’s my third trip here as America’s Secretary of State. When I was here last year, I urged our two countries to embark on a new age of ambition in our relationship, and I think we have absolutely done that and that the conversations that we held today reflected welcome progress towards that goal.
Thanks to Prime Minister Modi and President Trump’s leadership and our shared values, our ties are growing stronger day by day. This morning, we visited the National War Memorial to honor the brave men and women of the Indian Armed Forces who have sacrificed for the world’s largest democracy, including 20 that were killed by the PLA forces in the Galwan Valley in June. The United States will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty.
Our joint efforts to fight the pandemic, which we talked about at great length, are a strong signal that our nations are committed to working together and expanding our partnership across many fronts. U.S. health agencies are working closely with government partners of India on the COVID-19 response. Indian companies too are cooperating with Gilead to manufacture Remdesivir for use by low- and middle-income countries all around the world. And several Indian and U.S. companies are working together to test and manufacture potential vaccine candidates.
Further, I am proud to announce new agreements between the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Indian Ministry on Health and Family Welfare to enhance health cooperation. It could not come at a better time.
The challenge of defeating the pandemic that came from Wuhan also fed into our robust discussions about the Chinese Communist Party. Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity that the CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation – the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
I am glad to say that the United States and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats and not just those posed by the Chinese Communist Party. In the past year, we’ve expanded our cooperation on cyber issues, our navies have held joint exercises in the Indian Ocean. I know too, happily, that Australia is joining Malabar 2020 Naval Exercise.
I am also confident that our two nations will work together in new and better ways to meet the region’s infrastructure needs. Already the United States has joined the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure launched by Prime Minister Modi, and we strongly support the Blue Dot Network. The United States Development Finance Corporation has established a liaison here posting right in India. It’s great progress that will set the stage for more good economic work together.
Lastly, we, the United States, values India as a multilateral partner, whether it’s through the Quad, through new cooperation on Mekong regional issues, making Afghan peace negotiations successful, or working together during India’s upcoming term on the United Nations Security Council. We continue to support India’s permanent membership of that body.
Strengthening Bilateral India-U.S. Cooperation
The Ministers noted with satisfaction the significant strides made under the four Pillars of the Strategic Energy Partnership (SEP) covering Oil & Gas, Power and Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainable Growth. They also appreciated the progress made under the India-U.S. 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.
Recalling the historic India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement, the Ministers welcomed the project Division of Responsibility principles between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors at Kovvada, and looked forward to the detailed Division of Responsibility that would pave the way for a techno-commercial offer. The Ministers also welcomed the extension of the MoU between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America concerning cooperation with India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP).
The dialogue denounced the use of terrorist proxies and strongly condemned cross border terrorism in all its forms. It emphasised the need for concerted action against all terrorist networks, including al-Qaeda, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The Ministers called on Pakistan to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators and planners of all such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai, Uri, and Pathankot. The Ministers also committed to continued exchange of information about sanctions and designations against terror groups and individuals, particularly in light of recent legislative changes in India, as well as countering the financing and operations of terrorist organizations, countering radicalism and terrorist use of the internet, cross-border movement of terrorists, and prosecuting, rehabilitating, and reintegrating returning terrorist fighters and family members.
The Ministers intend to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora, including the UN. They also reaffirmed their support for the early adoption of a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism.
Recalling their countries’ proud record of achievement in space science and satellite application, the Ministers applauded the ongoing collaboration between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), including on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite scheduled to be launched by 2022. The Ministers also looked forward 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-U.S. Space Dialogue as well as discussions on areas of potential space defense cooperation.
The Ministers welcomed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Technical Cooperation in Earth Observation and Earth Sciences between the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for developing a better understanding of the regional and global weather origins in the Indian Ocean and advancing common research goals in meteorology, oceanography, and management of living marine resources. The Ministers welcomed the signing of an Agreement between India’s Department of Post and the United States Postal Service, which will facilitate the electronic exchange of customs data related to postal shipments. They also applauded the signing of the Letter of Intent (LoI) between the Indian Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, Ministry of AYUSH and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
By Nilabh Krishna