The United States administration has removed the names of nine organisations, mostly ISRO and DRDO subsidiaries, from the Entities List and opened the doors for the export of high technology to India. In an even more significant and far reaching move, the notification has moved India from a country group that required strict monitoring under the U.S. Export Administration Regulations to the group comprising members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in recognition of India’s adherence to the regime and its impeccable non-proliferation credentials even though India is not a signatory to the MTCR.
While India values its strategic autonomy and recognises that each bilateral relationship is important in its own way, there can be no doubt that the India-US strategic partnership more than any other will shape the geo-political contours of the 21st century in a manner that enhances peace and stability the world over. The recent Obama visit to India succeeded in taking the India-US strategic partnership to a much higher trajectory.
Perhaps the most important though understated aspect of the Obama visit was the forward movement on almost all facets of defence cooperation. Hi-tech weapons and equipment will now be provided or offered to India by the US. Advanced dual-use technologies will give an edge to India over China, both in security-related and civilian sectors. The recent decision to transform the existing bilateral export control framework for high-tech exports has put an end to the decades old discriminatory technology denial regimes that India had been subjected to. The proposal to lift sanctions on ISRO, DRDO and Bharat Dynamics Limited is a welcome step forward and perhaps the Department of Atomic Energy will also be taken off the Entities List soon.
The proposal to undertake joint development of future weapons systems is also a good development as it will raise India’s technological threshold. However, no transfer of technology has occurred yet. Inevitably, doubts about the availability of future technological upgrades and reliability in supplies of spares will continue to linger in the Indian mind. The case for spares which is pending with the labyrinthine U.S. bureaucracy for long in respect of the AN-TPQ37 Weapon Locating Radars has left a bad taste. The notion that the U.S. cannot be trusted to be a reliable supplier was not dispelled convincingly during President Obama’s visit.
India’s reluctance to sign the CISMOA and BECA agreements continues to dampen U.S. enthusiasm to supply hi-tech weapons and equipment. Massive U.S. conventional military aid to Pakistan militates against India’s strategic interests. While U.S. compulsions and constraints in dealing with the failing Pakistani state are understandable, the supply of military equipment that cannot be used for counter-insurgency operations, will inevitably invite a strong Indian reaction. This was conveyed unequivocally to the U.S. President.
China’s increasing assertiveness and its reluctance to work in unison with the international community to uphold the unfettered use of the global commons like the sea lanes for trade, space and cyberspace have also served to bring the U.S. and India closer. The two countries view their strategic partnership as a hedging strategy against irresponsible Chinese behaviour in Asia. Finally, the Obama visit further consolidated the India-US strategic partnership. It can only gain additional momentum in the decades ahead though the road will undoubtedly be uphill and will be dotted with potholes.