By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
After 10 years of negotiations, India and the United States signed a military cooperation agreement earlier this month. The new accord provides for the sale of U.S. communications equipment and other items, such as armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to India. In return, India will join the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which permits the export of certain U.S. military communications equipment to important allies.
Both countries also promised to hold joint land, sea and air military exercises in India next year. In the past, they have held joint exercises outside the country, The New York Times reported.
That India signed this agreement shows just how close Delhi and Washington have become in terms of military relations. As trade between the world’s two largest democratic nations has increased, it was only a matter of time before military relations followed suit.
India’s National Interests Has Prevented Close Ties in the Past
India has remained an outlier in U.S. foreign policy, not because the two nations have poor relations, but because their interests diverged during the Cold War. India gained its independence in 1947, just two years after the end of World War II, so the U.S. did not cultivate a relationship with India under Indian rule.
As the battle lines of the Cold War became more apparent, India chose a non-aligned path. Although Delhi never formally took sides, its military was supplied with Soviet weapons. The U.S. was concerned that should the Cold War go “hot,” there was no guarantee that India would remain neutral. Washington eventually fostered a working relationship with Pakistan as a way to gain a toehold in the region, using the new U.S. relationship with Islamabad as a hedge against possible Indian intentions.
The power dynamic was further complicated by China’s relationship with the Soviet Union and Pakistan. China has long had a relationship with Pakistan. The two nations fought India for control of Kashmir, which culminated in the 1962 conflict. (Even as late as this week’s annual UN General Assembly, India and Pakistan accused each other of “sabotaging peace talks in the latest spat over militancy in the Kashmir region,” the German new agency Deutsche Welle reported.)
India needs to control the Kashmir region as a physical wedge between China and Pakistan. At the same time, Beijing and Islamabad want to expand that geographic connection to pressure India.
Related article from William Tucker: Tensions Soar Along Indian, Pakistan Frontier In Kashmir
When the U.S. entered the fray, relations between China and the Soviet Union were tense, to say the least, as a result of their differing opinions on the essence of a communist state. That gave Washington an opening to re-establish ties with Beijing. With both China and Pakistan cooperating with the U.S., Washington was able to put pressure on the Soviets without involving India.
After the Cold War and the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan in the late 1990s, the U.S. became more involved in the region to prevent a nuclear conflagration. The 9/11 attacks resulted in Washington leaning hard on its erstwhile ally Pakistan, which had become a haven for terrorists, some of whom were responsible for the attacks. Consequently, India became a more attractive partner in matters of regional leadership and counterterrorism.
Related article from William Tucker: Line of Control: India Launches Attacks against Kashmir Militants
China’s burgeoning role as a U.S. adversary, to say nothing of China’s modernization of its military, also served to unnerve Delhi to the point that cooperating with the U.S. became increasingly more attractive. Japan’s active relationship with India is another case in point of Delhi looking abroad for allies with similar interests to balance the threat from China.
Although the inclusion of India in the COMCASA framework took 10 years of negotiations, that was far less time than the landmark U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement reached nearly a decade earlier in 2005, after a three-decade U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India. For India, that negotiation was no simple matter. The principles of non-alignment still resonate throughout Indian foreign policy because they have been a part of India nearly as long as the nation has been independent.
For Delhi to move suddenly on a deal that it has long balked at demonstrates not just a domestic political shift in India, but also wider concerns about India’s security. For decades, India has held its own against Pakistan. But with China’s steadily rising profile in the region, Delhi is taking the initiative to improve its overall security posture. How this move will affect India’s other global ambitions is yet to be seen.