Letís get real

In the new security context, India and the US should deepen their defence cooperation

United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to Delhi underlines the sea change in the Asian security environment and the new imperatives for deepening strategic cooperation between the two countries. Although India and the US launched defence cooperation in the middle of the last decade, its full potential for security cooperation remains unrealised. To be sure, America has become an important supplier of arms to India. The armed forces of the two countries have more bilateral military exercises with each other than with any other country. Yet there is no denying the widespread sense that the momentum in bilateral defence relations has begun to lose steam.

The US has been too narrowly focused on getting India to sign the so-called foundational agreements. These include the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

If Delhi has been unable to lend political direction to the defence exchanges with the US, bureaucratic inertia in the Pentagon prevents Washington from customising a unique partnership with South Block. But the current global strategic context facing the two countries is vastly different from the situation in 2005, when Delhi and Washington signed the framework agreement for defence cooperation.

For one, there is a financial imperative that demands India and the US to re-evaluate the current premises of defence cooperation. Delhi, which stares at lower economic growth rates in the coming years and the implications of the recent depreciation of the rupee, needs to get a better defence bang for its buck, develop a more purposeful and cost-conscious approach to military modernisation, and appreciate the importance of long-term defence industrial cooperation with the US.

Washington's defence planners are confronted, for the first time in decades, with a financial constraint on American national security strategy. The US needs long-term partnerships with countries like India to maintain its defence industrial base as fiscal austerity and the rising cost of arms production bite the Pentagon.

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