Take Indo-U.S. Ties to New Level Build on Obama Visits Momentum

Delivering on a major promise that President Barack Obama made while visiting India in November, the U.S. administration has removed the names of nine Indian organizations from its Entity List and opened the doors for the export of U.S. high technology to India.
In an even more significant move, India has been removed from a group of countries that requires strict monitoring under U.S. Export Administration regulations to a group comprising members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This recognizes India's adherence to the regime and its impeccable non-proliferation credentials, even though India is not a signatory to the MTCR.
India is being wooed assiduously by all the major world powers. In less than two months, Obama and Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao came calling. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron dropped by in July.
And all of them, except the Chinese prime minister, underlined India's growing importance in the emerging world order and spontaneously extended support for India's candidacy for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Even Wen Jiabao remarked that the elephant and the dragon must tango.
While India values its strategic autonomy and recognizes the value of each bilateral relationship, there can be no doubt that the India-U.S. strategic partnership, more than any other, will shape the geopolitical contours of the 21st century.
Perhaps the most important, though understated, aspect of the Obama visit was progress on almost all facets of defense cooperation. Defense cooperation comes in many forms. It includes the sale, purchase and joint development of military equipment; transfer of military technology; intelligence sharing; cooperation for counterterrorism and counterproliferation; jointly providing relief after natural calamities; coordination in transnational anti-drug trafficking activities; joint patrolling of sea lanes of communication against piracy and terrorism; and joint military exercises.
It also includes working together to maintain regional and international peace and stability.
Recent achievements on the defense cooperation front have been remarkable. High-tech weapons and equipment will now be provided or offered by the U.S. to India. Advanced dual-use technologies will give an edge to India over China in security-related and civilian sectors. Transforming the existing bilateral export control framework for high-tech exports has ended the discriminatory technology denial regimes to which India was subjected.
The proposal to lift U.S. sanctions on the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and Bharat Dynamics is a welcome step. Perhaps India's Department of Atomic Energy also will be taken off the Entity List soon.
Joint patrolling of the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean already is being undertaken under the garb of joint naval exercises. Other military exercises between India and the U.S. have improved the understanding of each other's military capabilities, and many interoperability challenges have been ironed out.
In the future, joint military operations are possible, but there will be many caveats to such cooperation, as it is not in India's long-term interest to form an alliance with the U.S.
The proposal to undertake joint weapon development also is welcome, as it will raise India's technological threshold. However, no transfer of technology has occurred yet.
Inevitably, doubts about the availability of future technological upgrades and the reliability of supplies and spare parts will linger in the Indian mind. The inability thus far to win U.S. approval for spares for the AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder weapon-locating radar, purchased years ago, has left a bad taste.
India's reluctance to sign the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), intended to guarantee the security of U.S. C4ISR systems, and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), related to the secure exchange of intelligence, will lead to the U.S. denial of many high-tech items, even while platforms are still offered and sold.
Deciding whether or not to sign these agreements should be based on whether India's operational capabilities will be adversely affected if the U.S. does not supply major avionics and communications equipment. If India continues to shun certain equipment simply because the country does not wish to sign the CISMOA and BECA, it might amount to a self-defeating strategy in the long run.
Massive U.S. conventional military aid to Pakistan militates against India's strategic interests. While U.S. compulsions to deal with the failing Pakistani state are understandable, the supply of military equipment unrelated to counterinsurgency operations will inevitably invite a strong Indian backlash.
Recognition of the adverse implications of China's increasing assertiveness underscores the need for future U.S.-Indian cooperation, such as working in unison with the international community to uphold the unfettered use of the global commons - the sea lanes for trade, as well as space and cyberspace. The U.S. and India also view their strategic partnership as a hedging strategy in case China behaves irresponsibly in Asia, or if it should implode.
Finally, after the Obama visit, the India-U.S. strategic partnership can only gain momentum in the decades ahead, though the road will undoubtedly be uphill and dotted with potholes.
Gurmeet Kanwal is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.