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India-US to build strong, strategic defence ties

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I greatly value his friendship, his wisdom, and his decency, President Barack Obama to PTI about his equation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A PTI photo

WASHINGTON (PTI): As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit India, a prominent think tank has said that the two countries would build their strong bilateral defence ties based on the new strategic realities of Asia.

The defence relationship is one of the many bright spots in the overall bilateral relationship, said the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), a Washington-based think tank.

"It is expected that the United States and India will continue to develop a strong bilateral defense relationship, albeit one that looks less like an alliance than a partnership based on shared goals.

The US and Indian armed forces will operate together more frequently, and US equipment will be purchased in larger quantities by India, in part reflecting the new strategic realities of Asia and a strengthened US-Indian relationship," NBR said in its report on India.

As the United States and India continue to build their newly strengthened relationship, both partners face challenges in the process, it said adding that in the realm of operational cooperation, greater steps toward embracing integration that would help check maritime adventurism by any other power inevitably will breed concerns about whether Indian foreign policy remains independent.

"Similarly, agreements to provide advanced US military equipment also require agreement to US rules and practices on the use of such equipment that test Indian proprieties and will complicate India's ties with other suppliers of military equipment, including Russian and European companies," the NBR said.

Looming over these bilateral security issues are the differentiated security challenges each country faces in managing complex security relationships with Pakistan and China, it noted.

"Certainly, however, bilateral cooperation on the internal challenges the Indian Armed Forces face structural reform, domestic counterinsurgency, personnel acquisition and management reform, among others provides opportunities that might mitigate some of the other challenges as well as help to build longer-term collaborations that will be in both countries' interests," it said.

NBR said India faces a complex strategic environment of both extant and emerging challenges in the region as well as at home.

Indian strategy has emphasised responding by pursuing maximum flexibility in terms of security partners but without diminishing the priority of domestic development.

Further, China looms large in Indian strategic thinking and defence planning. Indian concerns about Chinese infrastructure development in southern Tibet have been matched by force developments in the northeastern provinces that increase the possibility of tension.

Also Pakistan continues to represent the greatest near-term military challenge to India, both in conventional ways and in its use of proxy insurgents.

Moreover, in high-risk scenarios, Indian defence planners see potential Chinese military involvement in an Indo-Pak conflict, which would present a two-front challenge for India, it said.

The think-tank said the US and India continue to make enormous strides toward the type of strategic relationship that befits the status of each as a leading democracy but without pursuing a de facto alliance-like relationship.

Obstacles to closer ties remain, and in developing a productive relationship, these difficulties must be managed in order to fulfill the promise of the relationship, it noted.

Observing that in the developing Indian-US strategic relationship, defense relations are a major component, it said much of this aspect of the relationship centers around increased Indian willingness to buy and integrate US defense systems, a calculation which is affected by both a set of assumptions at the top-level about new political realities and an Indian system that is ill-structured to absorb massive amounts of US-produced systems.

"While arms sales are important, neither side is well-served by a transactional relationship that measures progress toward a strategic relationship by the volume of arms sales," the NBR said.

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