Author : Vivek Mishra

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 11, 2022
Despite having showcased differing positions on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, India and the US can use the India-US 2+2 Dialogue as a platform to set the momentum and tone for India–US bilateral ties.
The India–US 2+2 dialogue: Opportunity to move beyond Ukraine

The 2+2 dialogue between India and the United States (US) is underway in Washington DC. India’s Defence and External Affairs Ministers are travelling to the US to meet their counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Llyod Austin on 11 April.

The ongoing 2+2 meeting between the two countries is very important for both sides, as the last 2+2 meeting between the two countries was held in October 2020 in New Delhi. For one, the meeting is the first of its kind under the Biden–Modi governments and provides the opportunity to resume discussions at the highest level in this format, after it was disrupted and could not take place in 2021. Although an intercessional meeting between the officials of the two countries had taken place in September 2021, the resumption of the 2+2 format sends a positive signal for the momentum of bilateral relations and the overall political mood.

For obvious reasons, the ongoing Ukraine crisis will loom large over the dialogue, but it presents an opportunity for both sides to move beyond this crisis. Two of the biggest economies of the world, China and India, in their own ways remain connected with Russia even in the face of an unprecedented attempt by the western countries to isolate Russia. More importantly, some European countries themselves remain tied with Moscow through their energy and other imports, led by Germany. Despite differing perceptions on the Ukraine Crisis between the two countries that have emerged, the 2+2 format is now being projected as a health yardstick for relations between the two countries. Secondly, the dialogue’s importance lies in the light of the differences that have emerged between the two countries over the Russia–Ukraine war. The meeting provides both sides the opportunity to iron out these issues at the highest level by laying out their clear positions. This would reduce the expectations gap that seems to exist between the two countries, particularly on India’s relations with Russia. For India, a clear enunciation of its position on the Russia–Ukraine war at the highest level would also arrest any misunderstanding in the future.

Despite differing perceptions on the Ukraine Crisis between the two countries that have emerged, the 2+2 format is now being projected as a health yardstick for relations between the two countries.

Whilst the US is expected to keep pushing India to take a stand against Russia and decrease its dependence on Moscow, the 2+2 meeting provides an opportunity for both countries to resume bilateral priorities despite differences in some areas. An open acknowledgement that both India and the US approach the Ukraine crisis from “different perspectives”, yet the two countries have ‘convergences’ on the issue portends well for the ongoing 2+2 meeting, as it shows that the two countries can set aside their differences to build on the momentum of their bilateral relationship. The US will look to build on what it calls the convergences with regards to its efforts to change India’s stand apropos Russia. In this regard, the US may particularly look to two strategic goals, one short term and another long term. In the immediate setting, the US is likely propose to nudge India to reduce its nominal oil imports from Russia, which the US has officially stated. In the long run, the US would want India to gradually shift its investments in Russian defence equipment and make it more ‘compatible’ with the US. In a recent hearing, US Defense Secretary Llyod Austin conveyed this position to the members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Amidst the unusual attention and political space to the Ukraine-Russia war, both India and US must have realised that the 2+2 format is primarily for concrete advancements of areas of cooperation to take the relationship to the next level. As such, development’s with respect to the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu’s statement that he is “hoping we will be able to announce some new initiatives and concrete progress on space cooperation, higher education collaboration, building our collective defence capabilities, coordination on maritime domain awareness, and cultural property protection”, will be keenly watched.

The recent visit of the US Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh to India served as an important opportunity to assess the items on the agenda and expectations of both sides for the ongoing 2+2 dialogue. This was preceded by India–US Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) between Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, and the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, on 21 March this year. Both these meetings have set the stage for the 2+2 dialogue.

Two telephonic conversations within a week between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ahead of the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries portends the seriousness towards the 2+2 dialogue, even amidst the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. This meeting is important from the perspective of the overall assessment of India–US strategic partnership. The broad spectrum of bilateral agendas now include defence, global public health, economic and commercial cooperation, science and technology, clean energy and climate finance, and people-to-people ties.

A major focus of the 2+2 meeting between India and the US is expected to be around ways to provide momentum to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)—a technology-reliant cooperation initiative that seeks the region’s transformation through digital economy and adaptability in climate and energy transitions across the region. Other discussions around this issue could include resilience of supply chains, improving transparency, and information sharing—all parts of the IPEF. Closing the infrastructure gap in the Indo-Pacific is an area that both India and the US are discussing seriously, as part of the ‘Build Back Better’ programme. The 2+2 meeting provides an opportunity to review the progress as well as plan a future roadmap on cooperation in this regard. Providing alternatives resources to building regional infrastructure is expected to strengthen the Indo-Pacific strategy. Furthermore, the Pentagon has claimed an ‘incredible momentum’ in India–US defence relationship. This high sentiment augurs well for bilateral initiatives like the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), which have not seen much progress in recent years.

To the extent that, India and the US don’t set ‘red lines’ and are pushing for “an honest dialogue”, the ongoing 2+2 dialogue is an opportunity for both India and the US. The US also understands that India is one of the few countries that could leverage its relationship with Russia to bring the two warring parties to the negotiating table through ceasefire and diplomatic resolution.

For Delhi, it is a season for careful and adroit diplomacy. To that end, a follow up to their meeting in the US by another 2+2 meeting with Japan augurs well for India and its relations in the Indo-Pacific region.

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Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. His research interests include America in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions, particularly ...

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