Event ReportsPublished on Aug 25, 2021
India-US Partnership - Securing 21st Century
As the Indo-Pacific regional order comes under increasing pressure through the rise of China, the Indo-US partnership has proved to be a critical pillar of stability in the region. This formed the backdrop of a discussion hosted by ORF between India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John C Aquilino. The session, moderated by Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, probed deeply into the multifarious challenges facing both nations from the security situation in Afghanistan to Chinese naval expansion. In so doing, the panellists helped advance a general understanding of the key opportunities and challenges both nations will face as they strive to build a partnership to secure the 21st century. In his welcome remarks, Chairman of ORF Sunjoy Joshi spoke of the emerging importance of the Indo-Pacific. In his view, the rise of the Indo-Pacific represented “not only the strategic reality but also the geoeconomic contours of the 21st century”. As the number of actors looking to secure a foothold in the region have multiplied, India and the United States have found a kindred spirit in one another. Chairman Joshi remarked that, for India, its partnerships with nations like the US were key to its Indo-Pacific policy. For its part, the US has made clear that it sees India’s rise as crucial to securing a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Both sides are brought together by their strong commitment to a rules based international order in the face of disruptive challenges in various theaters by powers like China. Chairman Joshi observed that the convergences between India and the US have produced a partnership that has survived numerous changes of government. In his view, the India-US partnership had grown “not just feet but wings as well”. To begin with, the panellists discussed the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the Indo-Pacific. While both Adm. Acquilino and CDS Rawat acknowledged the importance of addressing the unfolding crisis, they expressed a clear distinction between the Afghanistan challenge and Indo-Pacific policy. Gen Rawat, in particular, pointed to the existing multilateral effort that was already ongoing to combat the terrorism that could potentially emanate from Afghanistan. The Indo-Pacific, in their view, presented a different range of challenges. Calling the US a “Pacific Nation”, Adm. Acquilino identified the attack on the rules based international order and freedom of navigation as the most pressing security problem in the Indo-Pacific, given its grave implications for energy security, trade and economic development in the region. According to the Admiral, the US was keen to defend common values and stated that “there is no better friend or ally than the United States and there will be no worse adversary”.  CDS Rawat concurred with the Admiral’s assessment on freedom of navigation and both commanders argued that working with security partners in the region remained a key solution to addressing the problem. There was also agreement that the key to building a successful security partnership rested on frequent communication between participating countries and interoperability in defence equipment. China’s military expansion, unprecedented in its speed and scale, also evoked concern. Adm. Acquilino, observing that the People's Liberation Army’s word had not always been its bond, stated that predicting when and where China would use its newly acquired firepower would be an area of concern. For his part, Gen. Rawat expressed his confidence that the Indian military could hold its own in the field of conventional arms capabilities and was “moving in the right direction” with regards to the military balance vis-a-vis China. No discussion on Indo-Pacific policy would be complete without an inquiry into the future of the Quad. Adm Acquilino praised the ability of all four Quad countries to coordinate and interoperate in pursuit of joint goals like disaster management and FONOPS. The Admiral also mentioned the possibility of an expansion in the Quad’s partner countries through a range of multilateral and minilateral engagements. Gen. Rawat welcomed the UK’s Queen Elizabeth mission in the Indo-Pacific and stated that India would exercise with anybody “who is willing to come to this region with a common cause” of freedom of navigation.
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