Ahead of 2+2 talks, India’s strategic community questions reliability of Trump as ally
“The problem now is that India’s national interests lie not in the containment of Iran. Our interests lie in procuring the S-400 systems from Russia.”
As India and the US gear for the first ever 2+2 dialogue, foreign policy observers in India have raised a big question over the unpredictability of the United States as a ‘reliable’ partner.
“The US can never be a reliable ally, if they interfere with India’s longstanding and normal relationship with other countries on vital issues of national security,” said Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary.
While deepening strategic and defence cooperation with India enjoys bipartisan support in the US Congress to counter a rising China, the two democracies have of late refused to look eye-to-eye on Russia and Iran, both of them seen as hostile powers by President Donald Trump.
The US has warned India of sanctions under the US’ Congress Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), if New Delhi goes ahead with the purchase of Triumf S-400 strategic surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, a deal worth almost $6 billion.
Lieutenant General (retired) Syed Ata Hasnain, former Corps Commander of the Indian Army, said that Washington must provide India with a waiver under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2019.
“For India, the acquisition is also a demonstration of will to retain strategic independence in matters of its strategic defence,” said Hasnain.
The Indian Army veteran went on to note that “S-400 is one of the world's most advanced and sophisticated air defence systems.” “Turkey and India, besides China, are the only countries which have been offered this equipment,” he said.
“The S-400 is two-times more effective than previous Russian air defence systems and can be deployed within five minutes. It can also be integrated into the existing and future air defence units of the Air Force, Army, and the Navy,” highlighted Hasnain.
Amid the weight of impending US sanctions, it was reported earlier this year that major Indian banks involved in trade with Iran were winding up on their Iranian accounts, as per the terms of US’ sanctions which come into effect in the first week of November.
The security community in India is clearly not amused.
“The strategic partnership with the United States cannot exclude our legitimate strategic partnerships with other countries, with which we don’t have bilateral differences,” remarked Sibal, formerly an envoy to Moscow.
Veteran defence expert Qamar Agha sums up India’s interests.
“The problem now is that India’s national interests lie not in the containment of Iran. Our interests lie in procuring the S-400 systems from Russia,” said Agha.
“I hope that the government will oppose any pressure from America,” he added.
The Times of India, citing official sources, had reported earlier this week that India would convey its position of going ahead with the missile deal with Russia during the 2+2 talks.
However, India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had maintained a similar position on Iran, with New Delhi ultimately being seen as succumbing to American pressure.
In dealing with the US, India seems to find itself in a similar position as Pakistan did a decade back, when it was a crucial American ally in Afghanistan. It seems that the point isn’t lost on India’s arch-rival.“We have an almost 60-year history far as dealing with the US is concerned,” Pakistan diplomatic sources told National Herald
“You have to understand that the basic American policy position is that either you are with them, or against them. They are forcing us to be totally aligned with them. Once you totally ally with any country, you become a satellite of that country. I don’t think that people of this country would accept anything like that,” said Agha, who has observed India’s evolving foreign policy since the times of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
He went on to highlight that bowing to American terms would be squarely counterproductive to India’s national security in the neighbourhood. “Russia is a very time-tested friend. We can’t abandon Russia and present an opportunity which would see Russia depending completely on China,” cautioned Agha.
“The same goes for Iran. We have to maintain closer ties with Iran, else there would be a very real risk of a China-Iran-Pakistan nexus, which would be not in our favour at all,” added Agha.
Trump, however, is testing the depths of India’s long held policy of strategic autonomy.
“Damaging our relationship with a superpower like America is not desirable. It is vital for us to maintain a balance in our relationship with America, which we have worked very hard to build,” said another former foreign secretary, Salman Haidar.
Haidar, also a former minister of state (MoS) for external affairs, says that the balance of power vis-à-vis major powers is something that needs to be protected. “We have worked hard to achieve it,” he said.
In dealing with the US, India seems to find itself in a similar position as Pakistan did a decade back, when it was a crucial American ally in Afghanistan. It seems that the point isn’t lost on India’s arch-rival.
“We have an almost 60-year history far as dealing with the US is concerned,” Pakistan diplomatic sources told National Herald.
“The US has never been a reliable ally to us. There was a time after the beginning of the Afghan War that US’ companies refused to supply us with badly-needed spare parts for F-16s because of the government sanctions on us,” added Pakistani sources.
The US went back on its $300 million aid commitment to Pakistan earlier this week because of the south Asian country’s inability to clamp down on terror safe havens within its territory, much to the annoyance of Pakistan’s new leadership.
The announcement for aid cut came days ahead of State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad, starting Tuesday.
Besides the US sanctions on Iran and Russia, boosting of maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is slated to be among other talking points when US’ State Secretary Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis meet their Indian counterparts, Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on September 6.
The four leaders will also have an audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi the same day.
The US embassy in New Delhi declined to comment for this story.
- President Donald Trump
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis
- US sanctions on Iran
- Mike Pompeo
- Triumf S-400
- 2+2 talks
- US sanctions on Russia
- India's crude imports