Any residual doubts about the intensity of the strategic engagement between India and the United States should dissipate with the meeting next week in Washington DC between the American Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parikkar, their third pow-wow in nine months.
The meeting will be book-ended by the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in Delhi involving Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker (and their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman), and the visit to the US of Home Minister Rajnath Singh for the homeland security dialogue later in September.
Prime Minister Modi is also expected to meet President Obama at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China on September 4-5, for what will possibly be their last meeting as heads of government.
All these exchanges are happening around the time of the NAM summit in Venezuela on September 17-18, where Prime Minister Modi may be a no-show .
The flurry of bilateral visits and exchanges will conclude the Modi government’s engagement with the Obama administration as the US Presidential election campaign enters the final stretch in America’s winter of discontent.
One of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak world outlook is what both Washington and New Delhi agree has been a constructive and productive engagement between the two countries, and inasmuch as it is expected to continue into the next U.S administration regardless of who heads it, the two sides want to conclude as much business as possible before the impending changes in Washington DC.
Officials familiar with the engagement said the defense minister’s visit to the US Capital was advanced in part to conclude unfinished business before the makeover in Washington, which will also see personnel changes at the Indian Embassy.
The long-awaited and intensely negotiated agreement pertaining to bilateral military logistics cooperation is just one item that is expected to be ticked off in a US-India defense agenda that has gotten more extensive with each passing year.
Customized to India’s specific needs, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)is the centerpiece of three foundational agreements that the US sees as the basis of long-term military cooperation – the expression ”alliance’‘ being anathema to India.
The Scorpene snafu+ will likely be the opening that Washington will use to persuade India to move the on two remaining agreements — Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) although New Delhi has been leery of such arrangements precisely because of the risk of such leaks.
But given the intense military engagement — the US is now India’s #1 defense partner in terms of hardware supplies and operational exercises — such agreements are inevitable although New Delhi has sought customized versions specific to its unique status as a ‘major defense partner,” albeit as a ”non-ally.”
It is in this spirit that India is testing the frontiers of the American word that just about anything it has is on the table for India — from the most advanced jet fighters to aircraft carrier technology to drones.
Indeed, the General Atomics-manufactured Predator Drones are the next item on India’s military shopping list in the U.S. that has already ticked off heavy strategic lift aircrafts, anti-submarine warfare aircraft, and Harpoon Missiles, among other items.
Parikkar was initially scheduled to head out to the west coast to visit some of US manufacturing facilities but it now appears he will stay in the Washington DC area and perhaps visit local affiliates.