2+2 Dialogue A Quantum Leap in Indo-US Strategic Partnership

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman welcomed US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis, for the inaugural India-US Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue. They welcomed the launch of the 2+2 Dialogue as a reflection of the shared commitment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump to provide a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-US strategic partnership.

Issue: 4 / 2018By Lt General Naresh Chand (Retd)Photo(s): By Narendra Modi/twitter, PIB
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo and the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi on September 6, 2018.

Since the 1990s, India and US have been moving closer to establish a framework for defence cooperation with the signing of various agreements. In January 1995, the Agreed Minute on Defense Relations was signed; in 2005, the ‘New Framework for Defense Cooperation’ which was followed by the ‘Disaster Relief Initiative’ in 2005 and the ‘Maritime Security Cooperation Framework in 2006’ were signed. The foundation of the New Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship was based on the axiom that the world’s two largest democracies agree on the vital importance of political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law, security, and opportunity around the world with defence being the key element of the broader US-India strategic partnership. The key operative words in this context was ‘strategic partnership and security in the broader Indian Ocean region’. 2+2 dialogue is a format for interaction of officials of two countries. Japan has applied this format for interaction with multiple nations. India participated in 2+2 with Japan in 2012 where India’s Foreign and Defence Secretaries met their Japanese counterparts. Recently India and US had agreed to interact in the 2+2 format at the Minister’s level. The advantage of this format is that many strategic matters of vital importance which fall under the domain of both the external affairs as well as defence ministries can be discussed comprehensively without the problem of jurisdiction and follow up action taken.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo and the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and other US and Indian delegates in New Delhi on September 6, 2018.

Two Plus Two India-US Ministerial Dialogue

Indo-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue talks was finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in 2017. The twice postponed dialogue finally took place on September 6, 2018, at Delhi between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Defence Secretary James. N. Mattis. In a special gesture, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman received their respective counterparts at the Delhi Airport, signifying the importance India attaches to their visit. Ahead of the inaugural 2+2 dialogue, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held separate meetings on September 6 with US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Defence Secretary James. N. Mattis respectively. They also called on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the afternoon and briefed him on the meeting.

Excerpts of the Joint Statement on the Inaugural India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman welcomed Michael R. Pompeo and James N. Mattis, for the inaugural India-US Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue. They welcomed the launch of the 2+2 Dialogue as a reflection of the shared commitment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump to provide a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-US strategic partnership and to promote synergy in their diplomatic and security efforts. They recognized that their two countries are strategic partners, thus the Ministers committed to work together on regional and global issues. It was also decided to establish secure communications between the ministers to help maintain regular high-level communication on emerging developments. Other salient aspects are:

Strengthening the Defense and Security Partnership

Major Defense Partner (MDP). Reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a MDP and committed to further expand its scope.

Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA-1). India welcomed its inclusion by the US among the top tier of countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports and transfers under License Exception STA-1.

Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The Ministers welcomed the signing of the COMCASA that will facilitate access to advanced defense systems.

Industrial Security Annex (ISA). Negotiations on ISA will be carried out to ensure protection of military information and thus facilitate greater technology sharing.

Military to Military Ties. Considering the rapidly growing military-to-military ties, the two sides committed to the creation of a new, tri-services exercise. It was also decided to start exchanges between the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy, underscoring the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean.

Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). Acknowledging the unique role of technology in the India-US defense partnership, the Ministers reaffirmed to pursue and enlarge DTTI and welcomed the conclusion of a Memorandum of Intent (MoI) between the US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX).

Counter-terrorism. Further enhance the bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters. They committed to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN and Financial Action Task Force (to counter money laundering). The Ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, they called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and other cross-border terrorist attacks. The Ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates. This also included to ensure a stable cyberspace environment and to prevent cyber-attacks.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Defence Secretary James. N. Mattis, for the inaugural India-US Ministerial 2+2 Dialogue.

Partners in the Indo-Pacific and Beyond. Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region was reviewed, noting that the common principles for the region articulated in the India-US Joint Statement of June 2017 have been further amplified by President Donald Trump at Danang, Vietnam on November 10, 2017, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 1, 2018. Reaffirmed their shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan. The US acknowledged India’s longstanding and ongoing contributions of economic assistance to Afghanistan. In turn India welcomed the recent US-North Korea summit. The US reiterated its full support for India’s immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Promoting Prosperity and People-to-People Ties. The Ministers recognised the importance for increasing bilateral trade, investment, innovation and job creation in both countries. Both sides committed to further expanding and balancing the trade and economic partnership consistent with their leaders’ 2017 Joint Statement. Both sides looked forward to full implementation of the civil nuclear energy partnership and collaboration between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Westinghouse Electric Company for the establishment of six nuclear power plants in India.

2019 Meeting. It was also announced that the next 2+2 meeting is to be held in the US in 2019.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s press statement after India-US 2+2 dialogue (salient excerpts)

Defence Minsiter Nirmala Sitharaman started her statement by thanking Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo for their vision and commitment and deeply value their support for stronger ties between India and the US. The commitment of India and the US to defend our shared democratic values and expand on our common interests is clear and unwavering. On the dialogue she said that in today’s meeting, we reaffirmed our intention to cooperate in every way possible to ensure peace, stability economic growth, prosperity and development. We will also work together to combat the persisting threat of terrorism and other shared security challenges. Defence cooperation has emerged as the most significant dimension of our strategic partnership and as a key driver of our overall bilateral relationship. After the introductory remarks she highlighted the key achievements of the dialogue:

Joint Exercises. To carry forward the momentum built so far; for the first time a tri-Services joint exercise with the US will be held off the eastern coast of India in 2019.

Signing of Instruments of Enhanced Defence Cooperation. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and the Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) earlier this year were important steps in this direction. The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India’s defence preparedness.

Indo-Pacific Command. The US has renamed its Pacific Command responsible for relations with India as Indo-Pacific Command. Reflecting our wider global partnership, we will also enhance our interactions with the US military’s Central Command.

STA Tier 1 Status. One of the focus areas of the discussions was on expanding the scope and content of the US’ designation of India as its Major Defence Partner thus the recent decision to elevate India to STA Tier-I status for access to advanced technologies, especially in the defence field is a very positive development. India highlighted the major reforms being implemented by the government to promote defence manufacturing in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, including setting up of defence manufacturing corridors. US has also responded to India’s request to nominate a Point of Contact in the US Department of Defense to help address procedural complexities and facilitate Indian companies to join the manufacturing supply chains of US defence companies. She was particularly thankful to have Secretary Mattis, who has spent several years in Silicon Valley, as our interlocutor in taking this aspect of our ties forward.

In conclusion she said that the first ever Ministerial 2+2 between India and the US is a concrete manifestation of the vision of our leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, to take the India-US relationship to a new level.

Analysis

Areas of Concern. The two areas of concern for both sides were India’s import of Russian missile and air-defense system S-400 when US has imposed sanctions on Russia, under which any country engaged with its defence and intelligence sectors could face secondary US sanctions and the second issue is that the US is asking countries to halt oil imports from Iran after US President Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that was intended to stall Tehran’s developing nuclear capabilities. India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China, and it is seeking a waiver from the US. A bill in US has been proposed which will accord President Trump to grant a waiver. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is making his first trip to India as secretary of state and has spoken in conciliatory terms in his remarks to reporters in Delhi. He said that many countries, including India, “are in a place where it takes them a little bit of time to unwind” oil imports from Iran. He said that, “We’ll work with them, I’m sure, to find an outcome that makes sense.” He also said the US would work with India on another area of concern – India’s upcoming purchase of a Russian missile and air-defense system S-400. The purchase will violate sanctions instituted by Congress on arms purchases from Russia, but lawmakers have allowed the possibility of a presidential waiver. Pompeo added that no decision has been made on a waiver. But “we do understand the history of India’s relationship with Russia,” he said And added that, “Our effort here is not to penalize great strategic partners like India.”

I congratulate Secretary Mike Pompeo, Secretary James Mattis, EAM @SushmaSwaraj and RM @nsitharaman for a very productive first ever India US 2+2 dialogue. I am sure this dialogue will further deepen India-USA relations. @SecPompeo @DeptofDefense —From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter page

India’s Gains. Undoubtedly the 2+2 dialogue has been very successful due to the cooperative effort of both India and US. India has been a true gainer with access to much needed military technology with the signing of COMCASA; becoming major defense partner; inclusion in the Strategic Trade Authorization-1; negotiations to begin on Industrial Security Annex; conclusion of Memorandum of Intent (MoI) between the US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX) which when finalised will give a fresh impetus for access to the latest developments in technology. The other key achievement was recognizing that Pakistan is the source of important terrorist groups. Accordingly on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the ministers called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and other cross-border terrorist attacks. Specific terrorist groups including those which are Pakistan based were also named which is the first time that US has joined India in naming Pakistan, from Indian soil, as the cradle of cross border terrorism. Sharing of maritime domain intelligence will also give India detailed access to movements of China’s navy in the Asia Pacific Region. The US reiterated its full support for India’s immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on which Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said that, “In today’s meet we have agreed to speed up the process of India’s entry into the NSG.” This a major step forward. India and US have come closer in recent years to find ways to counter-balance China’s spreading influence across Asia, especially in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

2+2 Dialogue as of now, is limited to external affairs and defence ministries but may be tried out by a combination of other ministries also.

The focus of the 2+2 talks has been to deepen global strategic partnership between the two countries and resolve differences over India’s defence engagement with Russia and crude oil import from Iran.