March 28, 2021

Serving American Interests

THE visit of the US secretary of defence, Lloyd Austin, to India barely two months after the Biden administration took office indicates the importance the United States attributes to India as a defence partner and ally.

Austin was in Japan and South Korea – both close military and strategic allies of the US in Asia – before coming to India.  India being next in his itinerary indicates that the Pentagon views India as of the same status as Japan and South Korea.  Lloyd underlined this importance during his visit when he described the India-US partnership as a “central pillar” of American policy for the Indo-Pacific region. 

That the India-US strategic alliance is centered on the military relationship has been clear from the outset.  Successive US administrations ranging from Clinton to Bush to Obama and Trump have pursued the goal of enlisting India as an ally in the Asia-Pacific region, now called the Indo-Pacific.

In Austin’s meeting with defence minister Rajnath Singh, it was agreed to strengthen the defence relationship by utilising the three so-called foundational agreements – LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA.  This would lead to the interlocking and growing dependence of the Indian armed forces on the American military. As per Rajnath Singh, the Indian side agreed to enhance cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command, thereby widening the scope for joint operations and coordination.  The Modi government seems willing to serve US hegemonic goals in West Asia and Africa too. 

The Austin visit was preceded by the first summit level virtual meeting of the leaders of the Quad – USA, Japan, Australia and India – held on March 12.  The Quad, notwithstanding the official posture, is evolving into a strategic forum to counter China.  For those who see the Quad as a necessary counterforce to China to safeguard India’s security interests after the border clashes in Ladakh in April-May 2020, it must be pointed out that the Modi government had wholeheartedly joined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States beginning with the Joint Vision statement issued during Obama’s visit to India in 2017. The revival of the Quad during the Trump presidency also preceded the border clashes in Ladakh.

Foreign policy and strategic approach is an extension of the internal policies of a country. The Modi government has stepped up the entire gamut of neoliberal policies domestically which entail greater privatisation and entry of international finance capital in all spheres. The recent moves to open up and privatise the banking and insurance sectors is a longstanding demand of the United States.

The bulk of the public sector enterprises are set for privatisation.  Defence production is one area targeted for privatisation.  In September 2020, 74 per cent FDI in defence production through the automatic route was enhanced.  Fully 100 per cent FDI can also be allowed with prior permission. 

The Indian corporates have already entered defence production.  The Modi government hopes to get US arms manufacturers to enter into joint ventures with Indian corporates or directly set-up production units in India. The big bourgeoisie in India is hoping for the development of a military industrial complex in the private sector with strong US links. In the meantime, the United States is exercising pressure to ensure that India becomes a captive market for arms and equipment. 

The Modi government has already put India in a vice-like grip through the burgeoning military alliance with the United States. The country is faced with a serious loss of strategic autonomy. The United States government has made it clear that India buying the S-400 missile system from Russia will attract sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) passed by the US Congress. Austin during his recent visit has conveyed the same message, something which the chairman of the senate committee on foreign relations, Bob Menendez, urged him to do when in India. 

Already the Trump administration had invoked sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, for buying the S-400 missile system. The Biden administration is taking a more hostile and hard stand towards Russia and it is unlikely that it will take a lenient view of India buying the advanced anti-missile system from Russia.

The Modi government is allowing India to be made a catspaw of the United States in its struggle for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Unlike India, the other partners of the Quad – Japan and Australia – despite their differences with China are engaged in extensive economic and trade relations with China. Along with China, they are part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which has been signed by 15 countries of the Asia-Pacific.

The Biden administration itself held high level talks with Chinese government leaders in Alaska on March 18-19.  The United States is seeking to engage with China in areas of convergence while maintaining its negative posture on other issues.

The Modi government’s willingness to subserve American hegemonistic designs in Asia stems from the RSS-Hindutva outlook which is deeply pro-imperialist and virulently anti-Communist. Such an approach is inimical to India’s national interests and sovereignty. 

(March 24, 2021)