US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III visits India, sends signal to China - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 20 March 2021

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III visits India, sends signal to China

Austin: New areas of collaboration will include: Information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in space and cyber" 

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 19th March 21


Signalling an emphatic break from the Trump administration’s neglect of alliances and allies, top officials from President Joe Biden’s administration fanned out across the Asia-Pacific this week to engage countries that the US considers strategic partners against a rising and aggressive China.


A key part of this messaging was the visit of America’s Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin III, who arrived in New Delhi on Friday evening to discuss “deepening the US-India Major Defence Partnership” and to advance cooperation “for a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”


After Austin’s meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Friday, he met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for what he termed “a comprehensive and fruitful discussion” on Saturday.


“At the top of my agenda I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration’s message of our strong commitment to our allies and partners. India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. And I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the (Indo-Pacific) region,” said Austin after talks with Rajnath.


“We are keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” stated India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).


Reflecting the steady increase in military-to-military ties between the two countries and the fact that the US military does more joint exercises with India’s military than with any other, the MoD stated: “We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command.”


Until recently, India dealt only with the Hawaii-based US Indo-Pacific Command. However, as the US and Indian navies began cooperating in West Asia and East Africa, India’s military has begun interacting with the other two geographical commands as well. An Indian liaison officer is now stationed full-time at the US military headquarters in Manama, Bahrain.


In the years since 2016, India has signed three “foundational agreements” with the US, which enable deeper cooperation and the exchange of classified information and equipment.

“Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA), we discussed steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit,” said the Indian MoD.


Over the preceding decade, the US has overtaken Russia to become New Delhi’s biggest source of weaponry, selling $15-18 billion worth of aircraft, helicopters and artillery guns to India. During the Trump presidency, there would be overt pressure on New Delhi to announce fresh arms sales during visits. Instead of that, to New Delhi’s relief, there are calls for high-tech cooperation.


“We (US and India) are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including: Information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber,” stated Austin.


Rajnath conveyed his appreciation to his US counterpart for encouraging the participation of American defence companies in the Aero India 2021 exposition in February. A fairly large US presence had boosted the show, which had, at one stage, appeared to be fizzling out because of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Before arriving in New Delhi, Austin visited the US Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii. From there he went to Japan, where he was joined by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, for a 2+2 meeting with their Japanese counterparts, signalling commitment to the US-Japan defence treaty..


Following that, Austin and Blinken attended a 2+2 meeting in South Korea to reaffirm the US treaty commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea.


Biden himself kicked off this diplomatic flurry last Friday with the first-ever (virtual) meeting of the leaders of the Quadrilateral (Quad) countries – Australia, India, Japan and the US. Formed in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and formalized in 2007, the Quad has met at the working and foreign minister level. Friday was the first meeting at the leader level.


In a joint statement after their meeting, the Quad leaders had sent out a blunt message to Beijing, vowing to promote a “free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”


“We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity. We commit to work together and with a range of partners. We reaffirm our strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality as well as the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” said the Quad’s joint statement. 

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