US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that even before Monday’s meeting at the Pentagon, he had spent more time with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikarthan than “any other defense counterpart anywhere in the world.”
Carter and Parrikar announced the signing of a logistics exchange memorandum of agreement that will allow the US and Indian navies to receive logistical support at each other’s installations.
Though both made it clear that the agreement would not lead to the establishment of American military bases on Indian soil, it is another significant step in building closer ties between the two countries.
The signing came as Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to New Delhi to participate in the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in another sign of the burgeoning US-India alliance.
Tighter US-India coordination on military affairs is a significant departure from the past. During the Cold War, India avoided any such cooperation as part of its membership in the non-aligned movement. But that has been changing in recent years, especially once Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014. During his visit to Washington in June, the US named India a “major defense partner.”
The growing US-India military relationship is seen by some analysts as directed at an increasingly aggressive China.
While not mentioning China by name, both Carter and Parrikar drew attention to the need for “rule-based order” in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
“India and the United States have a shared interest in freedom of navigation and/or flight and unimpeded commerce as part of rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” Parrikar said.
Carter drew a comparison between the US pivot to Asia and India’s efforts to play a greater role in the region.
“The United States is reaching west in President Obama’s rebalance, India is reaching east in Prime Minister Modi’s Act East policy, which will extend India’s reach further into the broader Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” Carter said.
But Parrikar acknowledged the challenges involved in boosting the two countries’ military cooperation, noting that mistrust and skepticism among the Indian public had challenged even the signing of the logistics agreement, with people falsely believing that it would lead to US bases in India.
Parrikar stressed at the joint news conference with Carter that “there is no provision for any base or any sort of activities to set up a base” in the new agreement.
“After 12, 13 years, we have managed to get (a) logistic agreement in place,” Parrikar told reporters when asked about potential additional US-India agreements.
“So let me get this logistic agreement in the public domain properly and explain to the people. Then we will eventually go into the other aspects,” he said.