This week’s India-US ‘2+2’ dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries once again showed that India and the US are inexorably and perhaps inevitably, if only very slowly, moving towards an ever-tightening strategic embrace. Inexorably, because the two countries started moving close in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new geopolitical landscape, and have continued to do so through the terms of all US presidents and Indian prime ministers since then, acquiring a broad and deep political consensus in both countries. Indeed, that this round of the 2+2 meetings happened just a week before an expected change in leadership in the US symbolises the strength of that consensus and was perhaps the message that New Delhi and Washington DC sought to send out. Inevitably, because China is making it so.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the signing of which was the centrepiece of the 2+2 meeting this week, is the last of the three so-called ‘foundational agreements’ that facilitate interoperability and cooperation between the US and Indian militaries. BECA will enable India to obtain militarily critical data in real-time from the US. The two countries had earlier signed agreements on naval logistics and on the integrity of military communications. India and the US conduct more military exercises together every year than either country does with any other nation. The two countries are now at a stage when entering into a formal alliance is all but a political decision away.
From Delhi’s point of view, so long as Beijing observed the many agreements and arrangements put in place to maintain peace between the two countries, India could arrive at a modus vivendi with China and did not need to move into a close military embrace with America. And, as the US noted after this week’s meeting, India remains reluctant to do so even now. For years, Delhi has said that there is space for both India and China to rise at the same time. Since Xi Jinping took power in Beijing, however, China has seemed to disagree with that proposition as its ambitions, and aggressiveness, have soared. If Beijing continues on this path, India will have no choice but to firm up its security arrangements in the region and beyond.
There are immense challenges and perils that China, India, the US, and indeed the rest of the world, are faced with – climate change, massive job losses worldwide due to technological advancements, future pandemics and other disasters. Going down a path of the strategic competition will only accelerate all these global perils and make all three countries less capable of facing up to them.