By Liu Rui
On Monday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in India to promote American weapons and tout for American strategy. Some Indian media claimed that stronger India-US defense cooperation is aimed against China.
India has indeed kept enhancing defense cooperation with the US in recent years. The two sides signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 and transport aircraft and drone deals when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in June this year. It is said that the contracted value of military purchases between the two since 2008 has reached $14 billion. Yet deeper India-US defense cooperation is not without obstacles.
First, US-Pakistan relations give India a reason for distrust. Though Pakistan's position in America's regional and global strategies is declining, the US will never abandon Pakistan, because the latter remains geopolitically significant.
There are serious doubts about a lasting American stance on India-Pakistan relations. Some ask "Why does the US always tell India to live in peace with Pakistan?" Although America has promised to strengthen strategic partnership with India, it will not cease weapon deals with Pakistan.
In February 2016 when the US approved the sale of eight F-16 fighters to Pakistan, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs summoned the American ambassador and expressed India's "disappointment."
Second, there are doubts about the India-US strategic partnership within India. Despite obvious improvement of India-US relations and growth of their partnership, some Indians believe India's accommodation of US diplomatic policies has not yielded benefits. Alleged threats from Pakistan and China have not eased.
The US has Pakistan under tight control, but no actions have been taken to stop Pakistan from fighting proxy wars and terrorism. Until today, the US has not helped to secure for India a permanent member seat at the UN Security Council. The US, while pressuring India to cripple its nuclear arsenal, will only compromise on an expanded Indian presence in the Indian Ocean under its sphere of influence.
Third, India doubts whether the US truly intends to contain China. Relations among major powers are not all a zero-sum game or pure cooperation, but in fact a mixture of conflict and collaboration.
Although the US does seek to contain China which is also its closest economic partner, the China-US economic relationship is beyond comparison with that of India and the US. So there is naturally both conflict and closeness in political and economic interaction between China and the US. India grew jealous when G2 was invented. US President Donald Trump is expected to visit China in November, which will inevitably trigger India's speculations about Sino-US relations and make India calculate the real intention of the US toward India.
Fourth, the Indian government cannot afford to throw itself into the arms of the US. India aims to become a global power and so treasures its independence as both a sign of dignity and diplomatic strategy. India has been trying to benefit from cooperation with the US while avoiding a close partnership. Once India is wholeheartedly dependant on the US, then its dream of being a global power will become a joke.
In this sense, India's dignity and vanity is an obstacle for deeper defense collaboration with the US. The US also hopes to sign agreements on each and every item of defense cooperation, but India worries that too many agreements will give the world the impression that India has become America's sidekick.
Fifth, the US is not totally satisfied with its cooperation with India in economic and regional affairs and so exercises vigilance against India. Actually the US will never be satisfied with India until it decides to be its pawn.
Take the US attitude toward Iran as an example. The US deploys extreme pressure and sanctions while India still needs energy from Iran.
Under the Trump administration, despite enhanced defense collaboration, Trump asks India to strike a balance in the India-US economic and trade relationship, which is obviously beyond India's capability. Some in the US believe India may develop into a threat like China and so they do not go all out on defense cooperation, especially the transfer of advanced technologies.
Last, conflicts in defense technology cooperation may also prevent collaboration going deeper. The US seeks to influence arms buyers through training, maintenance and even control of core defense technologies whereas India aims for a transfer of military technology. The division is quite obvious, and thus another obstacle.
With obstacles ahead, India-US defense cooperation will be no different from the past: much cry and little wool.
The author is vice director and a research fellow of the Institute for South Asian Studies at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.