The United States and India have signed a new defense cooperation agreement intended to strengthen military ties during the next decade and set up a bilateral working group that would guide India’s purchase of U.S. arms.
Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is visiting Washington ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in July, announced the new cooperation agreement and said although the two countries have different world visions on some key issues, the growing strategic partnership will continue.
For example, “the United States considers Pakistan an effective ally” in the fight against terrorism, but “we consider that cross-border terrorism in [the state of] Jammu and Kashmir is taking place inspired by Pakistan,” Mukherjee said at a June 28 news conference after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “But these two perceptions of the situation [do not] mean we are not friends.”
The New Framework for the U.S-India Defense Relationship signed by Mukherjee and Rumsfeld June 28 would replace the 1995 Agreed Minute on Defense Relations between the two countries. The new agreement foresees, among others, collaboration on multinational operations, strengthening of each other’s military capabilities, expanded interaction with other nations in promoting regional security, enhanced capabilities to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, expanded two-way defense trade and collaboration on missile defense, and increased exchange of intelligence information.
The agreement also set up a Defense Procurement and Production Group as part of the existing Defense Policy Group, which coordinates policy discussions between the two militaries. The new group is expected to address the possible co-production of F-16s or F/A-18s, which India is considering as potential candidates to meet its requirement for 125 multirole combat aircraft. India has issued a request for proposals and is considering France’s Mirage 2000-5, Russia’s MiG-29 SMT and Sweden’s JAS 39 Gripen, in addition to the U.S.-made F-16 and F/A-18.
Details of the possible procurement and co-production of U.S. fighter jets will be negotiated by the two sides later, he said.
As part of the new agreement, the United States has offered to “advance the proposed briefing on the Patriot PAC-3” anti-missile system, according to a June 28 press release issued by the Indian Embassy in Washington. India is seeking to acquire the U.S.-made missile defense systems to counter short-range ballistic missiles.
Mukherjee led a large delegation of Indian officials and industry executives who engaged in discussions with U.S. officials and defense companies about defense production issues.
Defense industry executives “on both sides have to understand [each other’s] procedures in greater detail,” Mukherjee said. Indians have to better understand the U.S. technology control and licensing system, while U.S. executives have to better grasp the Indian procurement system, he said.
Mukherjee and his delegation also met Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — powerful lawmakers likely to influence any possible sale of U.S. weapons to India.
The new defense cooperation agreement is part of a broad effort by the Bush administration to strengthen strategic ties with India under a process called the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. The current discussions are part of the second phase of these strategic discussions.
In each phase, the two sides are seeking to take specific steps to reassure each other of their interest in the relationship. As part of the agreement reached under Phase I, India agreed to enact new export control legislation — which was passed by India’s Parliament in recent weeks — aimed at curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and clamping down on leaks of sensitive technology.
Since India has done its part, the United States must now act to “liberalize technology control regimes,” Mukherjee said. India, which is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit chemical and biological weapon development, has never allowed sensitive technology to leak, he said.