India, US defence cooperation steadily expands - with China in mind

An India-US strategic defence coordination panel has discussed increasing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with “like-minded partners” as security ties between the two countries steadily expand, no doubt with China - the unstated adversary - in mind

Arul Louis Oct 09, 2021
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US-India Defence Policy Group (DPG)

An India-US strategic defence coordination panel has discussed increasing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with “like-minded partners” as security ties between the two countries steadily expand, no doubt with China - the unstated adversary - in mind. Although the leaders of the Quad – the group of India, the US, Japan and Australia – have so far ruled out a defence-pact component to their cooperation, mainly because of New Delhi's wariness, Indian and US leaders have spoken of expanding security cooperation in the region.

The joint action of the Quad members has been the annual Malabar naval exercises, which reincluded Australia last year. The latest exercise took place in August.

At the Friday meeting of the US-India Defence Policy Group (DPG), co-chaired by India's Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Colin Kahl, the US Under Secretary for Defence Policy, “discussed opportunities for enhanced cooperation with like-minded partners to sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a US Defence Department Spokesperson, Lt Col Anton SemelrothSemelroth said.

“The (DPG) Dialogue advanced an ambitious set of bilateral priorities – including information-sharing, high-end maritime cooperation, logistics, and defence trade – reflective of the flourishing defence ties between the United States and India,” Semelroth said in a readout issued in Washington of the 16th meeting of the group.

“The leaders reinforced their commitment to deepening joint cooperation and interoperability between the US and Indian militaries to work more seamlessly together, including strengthening cooperation in new defence domains, such as space and cyber,” he added.

The meeting of the defence officials was the latest in a series of high-level meetings between the two countries as they draw closer in the face of an aggressive posture by China in the region.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in New Delhi on Wednesday for discussions that included growing security relations.

Last month Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in Washington with President Joe Biden, who “reaffirmed the strength of the defense relationship between the United States and India and the unwavering commitment to India as a Major Defense Partner,” according to the White House.

Two areas that figured in the DPG meeting – expanding defence cooperation with regional partners and information sharing – were emphasised by Biden during the meeting with Modi.

That was followed by a summit of the Quad which Modi and Biden held with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga, who was at the time Japan's prime minister.

Before that in September, India’s Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat met with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and discussed expanding multilateral cooperation with regional partners and enabling the militaries of the two countries to work together in operations.

Austin was the first cabinet-level official to visit India when he met with Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

The DPG meeting also “laid the groundwork” for the 2+2 dialogue of Jaishankar and Singh with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to be held later this year, Semelroth said.

High-level officials will be working to move forward the agenda for cooperation set at last month's meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden and their Quad summit with the leaders of Australia and Japan, according to Biden's Spokesperson Jen Psaki.

“At this point, the focus is going to be on continuing to work through high-level interlocutors, whether it's the Secretary of State and leaders at the State Department or leaders from our national security team, about how we can continue to move forward on a range of issues, whether it's economic security, physical national security, addressing COVID and getting the pandemic under control,” she said on Friday.