Modi defends India-US defence ties as balancing act
06 June 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had defended India’s aligning with the United States as a measure to balance security concerns emanating from China, which clearly has flouted rules of the sea.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which was also aimed at addressing Russia’s concerns over India aligning with the US, Japan and Australia into forming the Quad, Modi expressed India’s eagerness to make ‘Indo-Pacific’ as the defining factor for new security architecture in Asia.
Delivering the keynote address at the Shagri-La Dialogue in Singapore Narendra Modi described the new geography of Indo-Pacific as a “natural region” ranging “from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas.”
Modi also insisted that a “stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific Region” is an “important pillar” of India’s strategic partnership with the United States.
The United States also wants India to play a key role in the Pacific, East Asia and Southeast Asia. It is with this view that the Donald Trump administration decided to coin the term "Indo-Pacific" replacing "Asia-Pacific.”
While the US move may seem to be largely symbolic, it nonetheless underscores the rising significance of India in America’s strategic calculations.
The Pentagon has already begun using the term "Indo-Pacific” in its official documents. The US military has also renamed its Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis has remarked that “relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability... In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command.”
Prime Minister Modi is also clear in his vision that India’s ties with the US are vital to enhancing India’s strategic posture and autonomy and the pursuit of long-term national interest.
India’s signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMAO) with Washington in 2016 is the first step towards that.
While the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ looks politically controversial, especially in the context of India’s relations with Russia, it is necessary to drive the idea of ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ that the Chinese assertiveness is challenging.
During Modi’s just-concluded visit to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, he characterised Singapore as India’s “springboard to ASEAN” and “a gateway for India to the East.” Modi also declared the ASEAN as the geographic core to any Indo-Pacific architecture.
While India is engaging in strategic dialogues, military exercises and security agreements with many Indo-Pacific countries, it is also trying to make innovative use of trade and diplomacy as its strategic arsenals.
India’s strategic vision, however, is complicated by the evolving dynamics of Russia-India-China dialogue, the SCO, and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).