Delhi is clearly strategically aligning itself away from Asia and looks more and more towards the West
Despite scoring major defence deals with US, entering into QUAD and IPEF, India is still avoiding Strategic Complacency in its foreign policy. It is clearly strategically aligning itself away from Asia and looks more and more towards the West for defence and economic agreements. And yet in more than 20 UN votes, India has abstained from criticising Russia on Ukraine. India’s oil imports from Russia also continue, and have increased by 30-40% from before the start of Russia-Ukraine conflict. Russian engagement with India is quite alive, despite US apprehension, executive and state representative meetings have continued between both governments. Only recently at the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs took the RaiSina forum in India, which he used to call out the double standards of westerns states about ongoing conflicts, global justice, humanitarian principles and interpretation as well selective application of international law. He also stressed that India is an important energy and defence partner for Russia.
Soon afterwards, in May 2023, Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane and US Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl co-chaired the 17th India-US Defence Policy Group meeting in Washington. Co-producing fighter jet engines and Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) came under discussion. This is likely to boost defence industrial cooperation and operationalise the India-US Defence Partnership further. There is some level of skepticism in Washington on whether to treat India as a defence treaty partner state or suffice on it being a smaller ally state, the latter most probably is not enticing enough for India to compromise its strategic autonomy principle for. Another major hurdle to Indian ambitions is the fact 85% of India’s major weapons are of Russian origin and US congressionally mandated sanctions for purchasing Russian military equipment. Despite some cold war baggage between both states prevailing at governmental level, India was still able to avoid sanctions under CATSA, and India’s defence industry is engaging directly with both the US government and defence corporations.
Clearly, India has been maneuvering its International Relations betting on several tables at the same time, raising both the risks and stakes simultaneously. As China looks towards Indian Ocean for its BRI, and Pakistan is a littoral state to Indian Ocean, India-US defence alignment in Indian Ocean is likely to aggravate China and Pakistan’s threat perceptions. From 2008 to 2012, Foreign Military Sales agreements between the United States and India totaled $5.8 billion, a 25% increase from the preceding five fiscal year, by 2020, India had become a major global importer of US maintaining a consistent engagement with US government and defence corporations at the same time. Though India has traditionally been a land-based power, its defence and strategic alignment with the US and exceedingly with France is likely to develop its naval capabilities for it to operate as Net Security Provider of the US in Indian Ocean Region.
For now however, India is still considered the weakest link in Quad, and has yet to make major revisions in internal policies on cross border trade, currency exchange, tariff collection and quality control to become more integrated in IPEF. In the long run, India might also push for AUKUS since it’s a defence treaty designed and aiming specifically for increased naval presence, offensive capability and intelligence gathering across Sea Lines of Communication in Indio-Pacific, targeted to counter China’s naval capability to dominate a prospective Indo-Pacific contingency. The most controversial arrangements so far under this treaty is transfer of nuclear powered submarine technology to Australia, along with access to IAEA monitored nuclear stockpile which allows non-nuclear weapon countries to withdraw the fissile material required for submarine reactors. China and Russia have been vocal at IAEA the dangers of this leading to nuclear capability via allowing potential proliferators to use naval reactor programs as a cover for the development of nuclear weapons in the future.
Since AUKUS is a military pact aimed to manage threats ensuing form Indo-Pacific via strategic deterrence, the reservation is not too out of place. The Indian Appetite for Nuclear-powered Submarines has been vocalised by New Delhi as a deterrent to China which use NPS for increased sub-surface timing to sneak in and out from IOR via pacific routes. CATSA waiver to India by US is already seen as a major discount by critiques of nuclear proliferation. In future, as a reaction to growing Chinese influence in Indo-Pacific and a sharp fall in Pakistan-US defence partnership in Afghanistan, India is likely to emerge as the major defence ally of the US. India clearly has done all it could to capitalise on US apprehensions on China and its ambition to maintain status quo in Indo-Pacific.
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