India might not be a NATO member but a resolution has been passed by the American Senate to award India the same status as its other NATO allies, which includes Japan, South Korea, and Australia. This resolution should give a big boost to India-US defence relations, according to leading experts.
The legislation came few days after when US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo visited New Delhi and the G20 summit in Osaka where PMNarendra Modi and US president Donald Trump met on the sidelines, paving a way for revamped maritime security and advanced technology exchange between the two countries.
Only a week after the 70th-anniversary celebration of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), US lawmakers in April led an attempt to elevate India as a NATO ally, reintroducing key legislation in the House of Representatives.
However, the recently approved proposal is a part of the National Defense Authorisation (Amendment) Act or NDAA for the year 2020 and was appended by Senate India Caucus Co-Chairs Senator John Cornyn and Senator Mark Warner.
The NDAA plans to increase US-India defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean in various areas including humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism, and counter-piracy. As the proposal will enact, the NDAA will ensure that the US State Department act towards India as a non-member NATO ally for the purposes of the Arms Export Control Act.
As soon as the amendment is processed, it will be drafted into a reconciled version and will only await final ratification by the President. The Secretary of Defence has to submit a report on US-India defence cooperation to the Congress within 180 days of enactment.
The report will provide details about many cooperation activities including Regular joint military training and operations which will be conducted in Western Indian relevant with geographic combatant commands and how they coordinate these activities with the Indian military.
As per Senator Cornyn, legislation upgrading India as NATO ally would not only ensure a smooth passage of high-end US military hardware to New Delhi but also help US Defence Secretary to enter into military cooperation agreements with the Asian country. The US has already given India Strategic Trade Authorisation-11 (STA Tier-1) status, which designates the nation as one of US’s Major Defence Partners.
US-Indian Defense Relations
By virtue of the National Defence Authorisation of 2017, India already enjoys a special status as a Major Defence Partner to the US and now with the proposed legislation follows the NDAA, which, when taken together, would reflect the long way that India-US relations have come since the Cold War.
At present, India is one of the top customers of US military hardware and a major partner of the US in Asia, often getting more preference and support than Pakistan.
After its birth, the NATO alliance has grown from 12 countries in 1949 to 29 members in 2019, with approximately 20,000 military personnel deployed across the world at present.
While NATO’s main motive shifted entirely after the fall of the USSR, its presence was never as seriously discussed as it has been since the arrival of US President Donald Trump, who has called the alliance “obsolete”, casting the future of US involvement in the group into doubt.
He also questioned about the major part of NATO’s budget being funded by the US, that eventually resulted in a landmark resolution to withdraw the US from the organization, put to a vote that lost 357-22.
The organization defence commitments overseas have also evolved since its inception, especially after 9/11, from fighting Communism to Islamist extremism, with its paws in conflicts like Kosovo, Afghanistan, Mediterranean waters and Iraq. But with talks of demilitarisation of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan on the table, NATO is quite possibly eyeing bigger fish.
The unheard challenges that NATO at present is facing, keeping global security at large, include a shifting balance of global power, artificial intelligence, and innovations in cyberspace that aid terrorism.
Does India Benefit from NATO?
The member nations have to grant a part of its GDP to fund NATO, at the same time, the major non-NATO allies (MNNAs) and NATO allies are only involved in strategic working partnerships with NATO countries, not in a mutual defence pact with the US. This gives India access to a lot of military and financial advantages otherwise not available to non-members.
The designation would also pave a way for India eligible into cooperative research and development projects with the Department of Defense (DoD) on a shared-cost basis, participation in certain counter-terrorism initiatives, purchase of depleted uranium anti-tank rounds, priority delivery of ships and military rations, and possession of War Reserve Stocks of DoD-owned equipment that are kept outside of American military bases.
It will also allow India to take equipment and research material for development projects as loans, use American financing for the purchase or lease of certain defence equipment, and receive expedited export processing of space technology.
The US in 2017 downgraded regional rival Pakistan’s status as an MNNA, citing the harbouring of Osama bin Laden and financing of terror, besides suspending $1.66 bn worth of military aid. As China forms its alliance with Pakistan, India with the perks of a NATO ally can advance its national security and defence commitments.
As per a PTI report from Washington which quoted Joe Wilson as saying in April, “India is the world’s largest democracy, a pillar of stability in the region, and has shown strong commitments to export control policies.”
While introducing the Bill HR 123, Wilson said, “Several lobbying groups on both sides have worked to deliver this upgrade. “This adjustment to US law will further allow the US-India partnership to flourish in line with our security commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. I am grateful for the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, led by Mukesh Aghi, and their support for this legislation.”
However, critics are concerned about the US playing a fickle ally interested only in using India as a regional counterweight to Beijing, as the history has it, most recently by reviving Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) with India, Japan, Australia, which also might make India, that has majorly imported most of its military weapons from Russia, a mere dumping ground for American hardware.