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Report of Monday Morning Meeting on “India-US 2+2 Dialogue: Bolstering the Strategic Partnership”

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  • April 18, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1030 hrs

    Dr. Priyanka Singh, Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA, spoke on “India-US 2+2 Dialogue: Bolstering the Strategic Partnership” at the Monday Morning Meeting which was held on 18 April 2022 at 1000hrs in the Seminar Hall I. Cmde. Abhay Kumar Singh (Retd.), Research Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA chaired the session with Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director-General, Manohar Parrikar IDSA and scholars of the institute being in attendance.

    Executive Summary

    The India-US 2+2 Dialogue in the broader context of the India-US relationship was analysed at the meeting. The trajectory of the India-US 2+2 Dialogue since September 2018 was analysed briefly. The India-US bilateral relationship from Cold-War ideological divisions and divergent priorities to mutually beneficial strategic ties, including in the realm of defence domain was traced. It was concluded that given India’s balanced position in international affairs, the country could get the best out of the US by optimising convergences and minimising differences. India could do this by further extending its reach in the South Asian region and shielding its strategic autonomy.

    Detailed Report

    Cmde. Abhay Kumar Singh opened the session by posing a question regarding the convergences and divergences in the India-US relationship. According to him, India’s position on the Ukraine crisis was a major divergence in the discussion. However, the candid discussion between India and the US, followed by one of the longest joint statements, indicated the robustness of the relationship. With this observation, the Chair invited Dr. Priyanka Singh to make her presentation. Dr. Singh put the India-US 2+2 Dialogue in perspective by giving a brief background of India’s 2+2 engagements with the countries concerned, including the US. She drew the audience's attention to the fact that India had 2+2 arrangements with all the Quad members and Russia. The speaker presented a brief trajectory of the India-US 2+2 Dialogue since September 2018, when the first such meeting took place. She touched upon the issue of India signing the US defence foundational pacts and India-US cooperation under the Indo-Pacific framework. Dr. Singh called the 2+2 dialogue a platform that nurtures bilateral cohesion and provides an opportunity to amalgamate the issues concerning the two sides in the realm of defence, security, and intelligence sharing. According to her, the 2+2 platform provides a personalised interface for strengthening the bilateral relationship by moving forward on specific issues of mutual interests while weeding out the differences.

    Commenting on the 2+2 Dialogue that was held on 11 April 2022 in Washington DC in the presence of Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III from the US side and Minister of External Affairs (EAM), S. Jaishankar and Raksha Mantri, Rajnath Singh from the Indian side, the speaker referred to the statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, India, which had positioned the dialogue as a forum to further consolidate the bilateral relationship between India and the US. The speaker also highlighted Raksha Mantri, Rajnath Singh’s visit to the Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) based in Hawaii. Further, Dr. Singh presented key developments that had taken place in the run-up to the 2+2 Dialogue. She mentioned the meeting between Foreign Secretary of India, Harsh Vardhan Shringla and the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland as a part of a diplomatic exercise undertaken by the US with the countries that had taken a neutral stance at the United Nations (UN) vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. The speaker also referred to the controversial statement by the US Deputy National Security Advisor, Daleep Singh during his India visit where he had warned countries trying to circumvent American sanctions against Russia. Further, Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, had referred to the 2+2 Dialogue as a health check of the India-US strategic partnership. Moreover, President Biden had termed India as a ‘shaky ally’ amongst the Quad countries. Thus, there were a series of critical statements regarding India from the US’ top political echelon before the 2+2 Dialogue.

    Apart from the statements, the 2+2 Dialogue was preceded by important geopolitical events in the region such as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, India’s cautious position on the Ukraine crisis, and the rupture in the US-Pakistan relationship. Thus, the 2+2 Dialogue was an attempt to find a way to accommodate the varying priorities of India and the US that would resurrect confidence in the bilateral relationship. Emphasising the importance of the Dialogue, Dr. Singh observed that the 2+2 Dialogue was prefaced by a virtual meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Biden, which showed the strategic importance accorded by both sides to the Dialogue. The joint statement released after the 2+2 Dialogue prominently mentioned Global Partnership and Indo-Pacific Cooperation; Mutual Prosperity, Innovation, and Resilient Supply Chains; Climate, Environment, and Clean Energy; Science, Technology, Cybersecurity, and Space; Global Health; Defence and Security; Counterterrorism and Counter Narcotics; and Education and People-to-People Ties. Civilian deaths in Ukraine were condemned, and the cessation of hostilities was stressed on by both sides. The joint statement and presser after suggested that the US understood India’s position on issues of mutual interest. Additionally, there were efforts to augment bilateral investments, signing of a bilateral space situational awareness arrangement, expansion of ties in the cyber and space domain, promotion and review of working groups of the Quad, and a waiver from Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions for the time being. The joint statement also called on Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism from its soil.

    The statement welcomed the convening of the 18th meeting of the India-US joint working group on counter-terrorism and the fourth Session of the India-U.S. Designations Dialogue in October 2021. Thus, the net result of the Dialogue was that things were back on track and the US and India decided to agree to disagree on the Ukraine crisis. The key focus of the discussion was the Indo-Pacific. Dr. Singh argued that India-US relations have moved from Cold-War ideological divisions and divergent priorities to mutually beneficial strategic ties, including in the defence domain. History and circumstances have shaped India-US relations. India-US defence cooperation dates back to 1951, when the first military agreement was signed between the two countries. Both countries participated in the joint military exercise ‘Shiksha’ way back in 1962. However, issues such as the Cold-War and the US’ stand on Kashmir did not let the relationship evolve. The root of the present synergy between the two sides goes back to 1991, before which the relationship was moving forward in an extremely cautious way under a conservative framework. In conclusion, the speaker pondered about whether the India-US relationship has already plateaued, even though the China factor might act as an adhesive? She maintained that given India’s balanced position in international affairs, the country could get the best out of the US by optimising convergences and minimising differences. India could do this by further extending its reach in the South Asian region and by shielding its strategic autonomy.

    Participating in the discussion, Deputy Director-General, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi complimented the speaker and asserted that India is navigating in an extremely complicated international scenario. India’s defence agreements with the US came about in a space where it helped India posture against China with a dormant Russia. Now Russia has suddenly re-emerged on the international canvas, which has made the situation extremely volatile. The Quad has no security implications as of now. India is the only intersection point in the BRICS, the RIC and the Quad. Thus, the country has to straddle both sides, balancing the competing priorities. A lot of things in the realm of India-US defence cooperation may not be in the public domain. In the security arena, the two countries have an anti-terrorism assistance programme. In the domain of technology transfer, things are moving forward positively, with Boeing announcing that Chinook chassis will be made in India. Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bakshi observed that US-Pakistan relations are likely to improve. He drew attention to the fact that Pakistan had accused Afghanistan of promoting terrorism against the former. Pakistan Air Force aircraft had gone across the border to bomb the Khost province of Afghanistan. He raised the possibility of the US-Russia-India relationship turning into a zero-sum game and raised the question that if India moves closer to the US, does India have to go away from Russia? Or can India manage both relations?

    Responding to the ensuing questions, Dr. Singh claimed that India does not have an option to be with either Russia or the US. India has to deal with both simultaneously. Both the US and Russia are important for India in its quest to deal with China. If one leaves Russia, it will move closer to China. Thus, the challenge before India is to strike a balance between Russia and a strategic partnership with the US. India’s stand on Ukraine is a testament of India’s balancing act. It will take time for the US to replace Russia in India’s strategic calculus, and even the US understands it. India seems to be listening to the US but not reacting so much. The priority for the regional actors is China and the Indo-Pacific. According to Dr. Singh, there is no threat to India on account of US-Pakistan relations.

    Participating in the discussion, Cmde. Singh said that the US is constantly pushing back against Chinese assertiveness through regional, sub-regional and bilateral levels, although there exists a perception that the US was not doing enough. Moreover, Cmde. Singh contended that the Quad had an overt military security hand. But the Quad members purposely made efforts not to make the Quad look like an Asian NATO. However, the military-security domain remains the backbone of the Quad. Moreover, the Quad countries have enhanced security relations amongst one another in a bilateral and trilateral format. Cmde. Singh stated that Russia’s reputation had taken a hit due to the Ukraine crisis, while the perception of US decline had existed for the past 20 years. With this thought-provoking discussion, the Monday Morning Meeting came to an end.

    The report was prepared by Mr. Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak, Research Analyst, Manohar Parrikar IDSA.