The trajectory of Indo-US defence ties is “incredibly positive” but the bureaucracies in the two countries are not “well-aligned” on the issue of defence trade, a senior US defence official has said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia Cara Abercrombie said that India and US need to work together to ensure the acquisition policies do not unfairly disqualify American companies while meeting India’s interests.
Abercrombie noted that while the India-US defence relation trajectory is “incredibly positive” and the two nations have just “scratched the surface” of the potential of defence and security and there is still work to be done.
“The trajectory of India-US relations is incredibly positive,” with defence trade growing exponentially in a short period of time.
“We have made huge progress, we have just scratched the surface of the potential of this (defence and security) relationship. The US and India have a very broad-based strategic partnership that is really rooted in our shared values,” Abercrombie said at the FICCI-IIFA Global Business Forum organised here yesterday in partnership with the Asia Society Policy Institute.
“While it seems that there may be insurmountable barriers, we have to give ourselves a pretty good pat on the back for how well we have actually done,” in the defence cooperation space.
Participating in a panel discussion on defence trade and security partnership, Abercrombie said “there are obstacles” and “work needs to be done” in advancing defence and security cooperation between the two nations.
“Fundamentally when it comes to defence trade, our bureaucracies are not well aligned. The US defence export system evolved over many decades during the Cold War. The Indian system is looking at itself now as a major major arms importer and a major major defence capabilities developer in its own right,” she said.
Abercrombie added that India is naturally thinking that as a buyer it gets to set the rules, a thinking that is “fundamentally” different from US export rules.
“So we are carefully working through this,” she said, adding that the two nations have established the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative to look at ways to “align our bureaucracies to overcome that because at the end of the day we do want to cooperate and do not want these things to act as an impediment and inadvertently undermine our ability to cooperate together”.
She also stressed that in its desire to work together in areas of security and stability, the US would like to see the Indian government working with it “in partnership to ensure that the acquisition policies don’t disadvantage US companies just because we cannot get the lowest price or because we are so transparent we give you the full price for the next 30 years and it looks appallingly high or the tech transfer looks a little bit too challenging”.
She said the US would like to be able to “sit down at the front end and ensure that the acquisition process is fair and meets India’s intent and interests but does not unfairly disqualify or disadvantage (US) companies”.
Abercrombie described the offer by the US to sell the Guardian drones to India as “incredibly significant” and said it demonstrates the value that US places on the bilateral relationship. India was last year classified by the US as a major defence partner, and this recognition “has meaning, it was not just a label for India”.
She underscored that “across the board” there is improvement in the overall India-US defence cooperation and it was reaffirmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last month when he held his first bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump.
“There was a bit of angst in India whether the new administration would continue the trajectory that we have seen between former President Barack Obama and Modi. The result of that visit was a resounding yes. This is a very important strategic partnership and we have reaffirmed our commitment to cooperate more in the defence space,” she said.
Referring to the global order, the evolving security environment within Asia and India’s rise and role in the region, Abercrombie said that the US and India are “increasingly viewing the region in the same way and seeing that our interests are very much aligned. So it suits us to cooperate more in the defence space”.
She added that the two nations have the same maritime security interests, as well as as the same counter-proliferation, counter-privacy and counter-terrorism interests.