Everything You Need To Know About US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s trip to India
|US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s trip to India / Image Src: Forbes|
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to India on March 19 gives some indication of the Biden administration’s strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Austin, who will be in India from March 19 to 21, will have meetings with his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, and other senior government officials. The visit will boost the US-India defence partnership and bring about greater synergy in framing a cooperative agenda in nurturing “a free, prosperous, and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”
The two sides will focus on ways to strengthen military-to-military engagement and bilateral defence trade, including industry collaboration. They may also discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Indo-US defence trade has grown manifold in recent years with the US becoming one of India’s top defence suppliers.
Indian Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, told journalists that the "visit is a reflection of the importance which the United States accords to India and the importance of our bilateral relationship."
The India leg of Austin’s first visit to Asia will underscore, among other things, Washington’s strategic ties with India within the Indo-Pacific security matrix.
Here we glance at frequently asked questions (FAQs) about India’s bilateral ties with a country, where the people-to-people to contact between the two sides is the strongest.
What is the salient point of this trip, in which the US Secretary for Defence will spend no less than three days in India?
China’s untrammelled global rise is the single most important factor for this visit and Austin is the first man to admit that it is meant to further `creditable deterrence’ against Beijing. He added that the United States’ goal “is to make sure that we have the capabilities and the operational plans… to be able to offer a credible deterrence to China or anybody else who would want to take on the US.”
Recognising the need to weave a close web of security partners in the Indo-Pacific, a Pentagon statement issued before the journey, said that the U.S. knows it needs `strong allies and partners and friends in that part of the world.’ India, which was in a 10-month-long standoff with China in Ladakh, being part of Austin’s first overseas trip sends a strong and clear message to Beijing.
President Biden has been, in the past, accused of being soft on China. What will the current US policy be towards containing the Big Dragon?
The Biden administration is likely to stay the course on the Trump administration’s tougher approach to China, minus the Trump administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy. The US president seems to want to work with a coalition of allies and partners, especially on China. During his visit to the Pentagon in February, Biden conveyed the message that the US is “prepared to confront – and when necessary, militarily counter – a rising China.” Biden also announced the establishment of a new Defence Department China Task Force.
The Task Force is responsible for reviewing the US approach to China, in areas including strategy and force posture as well as technology and intelligence. Earlier in the month, Austin held the first meeting of the task force, which includes a mix of military commanders, civilian leaders, and members from the intelligence community. The Task Force is expected to complete its review in four months, but the reports and findings of the task force will remain classified.
What is Austin’s India programme?
During his three-day India trip starting March 19, Austin will hold talks with Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other senior government officials. Austin will “discuss deepening the US-India Major Defence Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous, and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region,” according to a release issued in Washington. The two sides will focus on ways to strengthen military-to-military engagement and bilateral defence trade, and will also discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
What are the real issues on the table?
Indo-US defence trade has grown manifold in recent years with the US becoming one of India’s top suppliers of arms and ammunition. Reports suggest that a deal for 30 armed drones, 10 each for the army, air force, and navy, pegged at over $3 billion, is close to being approved by the Indian Ministry of Defence.
In November 2020, the Indian Navy acquired two Sea Guardian unarmed drones from the US on a one-year lease. India has plans also to buy six additional P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft in addition to the 12 already contracted. Of course, one thorny issue expected to come up between the two sides is India's planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems, which under US law can attract sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying that system.
What about the timing of the US Secretary of Defence’s trip?
Austin’s visit also comes against the backdrop of the first Quad summit, which was held virtually last week. The Quad, a grouping of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, has come a long way ever since its second iteration took form in 2017.
While analysts have sometimes characterised the grouping as an Asian NATO, the Chinese foreign minister predicted that it would dissipate like “sea foam.” Nevertheless, the Quad leaders meeting has possibly rattled China about the seriousness of cooperation among the four countries. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson in his briefing stated that “In the era of globalization, forming enclosed small cliques with ideology as the yardstick is a sure way to destroy the international order and after all, is unpopular and will end in total failure,” adding that “certain countries should shake off their Cold War mentality,” without, of course, taking names.
What can India expect?
Indian envoy to Washington Sandhu hailed the bilateral ties between India and the US, saying the relationship is much deeper, which was reflected in the equation between PM Modi and President Biden during the Quad summit.
He also spoke about the relationship that Modi and Biden have shared in the past years. “You will recall in 2014 and 2016, the equation between PM Modi and the then Vice-President Biden was extremely good. Not only at the lunch he hosted in 2014, but also in the 2016 session of Congress where the then Vice- President Biden presided,” Singh told ANI.