Too close for comfort?

Dialogue with the U.S. should not define India’s strategic future or its other bilateral relationships
The India-U.S. 2+2 meeting on September 6 between the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries appeared to be a singularly one-sided affair. Washington was calling the shots, and New Delhi was trying to wriggle out of U.S. pressure without much success. The inaugural round of the 2+2 Dialogue is therefore ‘advantage U.S.’ While carefully analysing the outcomes of the talks and the future direction of India-U.S. relations, it is difficult to get overjoyed by heart-warming American phrases like “India is a consequential emerging partner” or Washington naming and shaming Pakistan. Let’s look at the bigger, more nuanced and consequential picture.
Buy American
Behind the carefully-constructed narrative of strategic rationales and geopolitical calculations underpinning India-U.S. relations, the American team came to New Delhi with an unambiguous sales pitch. Not that there wasn’t any strategic rationale to the high-level meeting, but the underlying American sales pitch was remarkable. Consider the U.S.’s insistence that India should bring down its oil imports from Iran to ‘zero’ in deference to the restrictions imposed by its unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The U.S. also recommends that India buy American oil to make up the deficit. As a matter of fact, U.S. oil exports to India have more than doubled in the past year, thanks to the U.S. sanction fears, thereby helping a booming domestic crude oil industry. Notably, at the 2+2 meeting, the Indian side did not manage to get a waiver for importing Iranian crude.
Second, Washington seeks to impose the punitive provisions of a U.S. federal law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on countries dealing with Russian defence and intelligence sectors, making it difficult for India to buy the much-needed S-400 missile system. For a country with close to 60% of its weapons systems originating from Russia, this would be a huge setback. Again, it’s clear the U.S. would like India to buy its weapons instead. There is still no clarity on whether India’s request for a “one-time waiver” was granted by the U.S. to buy Russian weapons at the 2+2 meeting; the joint statement is silent on this. If such a waiver was indeed not granted, it must be considered a major set-back.
In the run-up to the 2+2 meeting, the U.S. also put considerable pressure on India to reduce the bilateral trade deficit, which is in India’s favour, by buying more American goods.

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