Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America paid his maiden state visit to India on 24-25 February 2020 alongwith the first lady, Melania Trump. This was the eight US presidential visit to India but significantly the fourth consecutive president to visit India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a rousing welcome to the US President and had wide ranging discussions with him in a series of engagements. Right from the Sabarmati Ashram and Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad to the Taj Mahal in Agra, to Rajghat in Delhi, Hyderabad House in New Delhi and finally the state banquet in Rashtrapati Bhawan, the president highlighted how respected he and his family felt at the grand reception and cherished the friendship among the two nations and also between him and PM Modi.
India and the US share an excellent bond that had grown deeper over the past decades. The relation dates back to World War II when the United States supported the British and Indian forces to fight the Axis powers and had not only supported in building new technologies but had also helped in developing many small towns that were used as bases for the China – Burma – India theatre on the East and Northeast zone of India. After India’s Independence in 1947, the relation grew even stronger with both the countries engaging in numerous capacity building measures including the epoch-making Green Revolution in agriculture. Despite a lull during the late sixties to the mid-eighties, the relationship has been strong and growing. At the beginning of the 21st century, this relationship has been gradually been transformed into strategic partnership and cooperation in many areas including technology and regular high level engagements define the way forward. This visit has culminated with India and US affirming to make this relationship into a comprehensive global strategic partnership.
In the recent years India and United States has engaged in series of fresh and long-lasting collaborations and among which defence sector is one of the leading sector. This enhanced cooperation has been characterised by expanding military exercises and sale of sophisticated defence technology and equipment. By the end of 2019, there have been 19 such military exercises among the Services and more than US$ 18 billion sales of equipments have happened. President Trump’s visit has resulted in further enhancing these areas of cooperation as well as focusing more closely on homeland security. Just a few days prior to Trump’s visit, the Modi Government cleared the proposal for the procurement of 24 multirole MH-60 Romeo helicopters for the Indian Navy and had also cleared path for the procurement of 6 Apachae Helicopters for the Indian Army striking it to be a deal of close to US$ 3 billion. It is important to mention that for the Apache helicopters, the fuselage will be manufactured by the Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) in Hyderabad which will mark an important step for Government of India’s goal of becoming a self-dependent power. This also gives a boost to the Make in India policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also takes forward the Dhirendra Singh committee’s report in July 2015 that emphasised on building India’s defence manufacturing capacity with tier level capacity building.
In 2016 the US Government declared India as a “Major Defence Partner” (MDP) which allowed India to receive defence technologies at par with those provided to the US closest allies including NATO members. In the same year India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the first of the 3 foundational defence pacts that needs to be signed by a country to obtain high-tech military hardware from the US. In September 2018, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was also signed and very soon as indicated during this visit, the remaining pact, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) will also be signed. During this visit, PM Modi and President Trump agreed to enhance further the defence and security cooperation, especially through greater maritime and space domain awareness and information sharing, joint cooperation, exchange of military liaison personnel, advanced training and expanded exercises between all services and special forces, closer collaboration on co-development and co-production of advanced defence components, equipment and platforms and partnership between the defence industries. The decision to enhance homeland security cooperation and to jointly fight international crimes like human trafficking, terrorism and violent extremism, drug-trafficking and crimes in cyberspace is a very pertinent step. The decision to reinvigorate the homeland security dialogue is a very good step because somewhere this needed a focused approach and the intent to establish a new Counter-Narcotics Working Group between their respective law enforcement agencies is a timey step.
Another significant area is the cooperation on the Indo Pacific front. The 2+2 dialogues where the foreign and defence ministers meet together bilaterally that India had with Japan and Australia towards the end of last year just after the 2nd India US 2+2 is significant in this pursuit. PM Modi and President Trump has further agreed to strengthen consultation through the India-US-Japan trilateral summits and the India-US-Australia-Japan Quadrilateral consultations besides making the 2+2 a regular event. The focus on enhancing maritime domain awareness sharing and also keeping the South China sea region free is a major avenue for regular consultations and strategy. With the centrality of ASEAN in place and the focus of the US to move ahead with the Blue Dot Network (BDN) as announced in November 2019 will be a further step to enhance this cooperation. BDN as a distinct multistakeholder initiative can bring the governments, the private sector and civil society in the region together to facilitate high-quality, trusted standards for global infrastructure development. Clearly India’s role as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean region is today recognized by the US.
In other areas also, the strategic focus has not been lost. The most significant areas are the space and energy sectors. The growing cooperation between Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for development and launch in 2022 of a joint mission with the world’s first dual-frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite will be a milestone step in this direction. India’s space technology and its coming of age has been recognised by the US for sometime now and this cooperation will enhance the cooperation in the areas of Earth observation, Mars and planetary exploration, heliophysics, human spaceflight and commercial space cooperation. In the energy sector, India’s growing energy demands for gas is steadily being met from the US. Through the Strategic Energy Partnership (SEP), India and the US will enhance energy security, expand energy and innovation linkages across respective energy sectors, bolster strategic alignment, and facilitate increased engagement between industry and other stakeholders. Both the leaders agreed to the steps by India to diversify its import base for coking/metallurgical coal and natural gas and how that could be met from the US. They also encouraged the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Westinghouse Electric Company to finalise the techno-commercial offer for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India at the earliest date. This will pace up the already delayed steps to foster nuclear power facilitated by the civil nuclear power cooperation agreed since 2005. Likewise the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC)’s announcement of a US$ 600 million financing facility for renewable energy projects in India coupled with its decision to establish a permanent presence in India this year will further boost the existing cooperation in the renewable energy sector.
The two leaders also witnessed the signing of two Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed during the presidential visit in the field of mental health and safety of medical products and a letter of cooperation between Indian Oil Corporation Limited, ExxonMobil India LNG Limited and Chart Industries of the United States related to energy.
From the ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston on September 22, 2019 to ‘Namaste Trump’ in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020, the bonhomie between PM Modi and President Trump has always been on the upper curve. The huge rousing welcome rally at the Motera Stadium Ahmedabad was a reflection of the natural friendship between the people of both the countries. With the regular focus on more strategic cooperation resulting in the CGSP announcement in this visit, the roadmap has been set clear. India US relation is bound to grow further and PM Modi has taken this relationship to a different level.
(The writer is director of JOOKTO and works in grass roots in Barack Valley. He was former country head of General Diamonds)