2+2 Dialogue: RSTV – In Depth

Rajya Sabha TV programs like ‘The Big Picture’, ‘In Depth’ and ‘India’s World’ are informative programs that are important for UPSC preparation. In this article, you can read about the discussions held in the ‘In Depth’ episode on the 2+2 Dialogue for the IAS exam.

Participants:

Anchor: Teena Jha

Importance of this Episode:

  • In recent years, bilateral relations between India and the US have blossomed into a global strategic partnership that goes beyond just shared democratic values.
  • Regular exchange of high-level political visits has added momentum to this engagement.
  • The wide-ranging dialogue mechanism has established a long-term framework for the India-US engagement.  
  • However, all these years, the India-US dialogue mechanism has largely been around trade and commerce, while defence and strategic affairs dominated the bilateral landscape.
  • In June 2017, India and the US, established the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue Framework to elevate their strategic consultations.
  • The maiden dialogue was held in New Delhi on the 6th of September, 2018, after being postponed twice.
  • This edition of In-Depth looks at the issues that were discussed during the inaugural 2+2 talks, the agreements that the two countries signed and some sticking points that still remain in the overall engagement between India and the US.

Historical Background

  • The 2+2 dialogue between India and the US has been described as an upgrade in ties between both countries. Analysts feel that it is an acknowledgment of India’s rise as an economic and strategic power because the United States holds such ministerial dialogues only with Australia and Japan, and now with India.
  • A 2+2 dialogue refers to a mechanism between two nations where two appointed ministers from each country met up to discuss their strategic and security interests.
  • The goal is to enhance high-level engagements on bilateral, regional, and global issues.
  • India and the United States of America established a 2+2 Ministerial dialogue in June 2017, during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington DC.
  • The formal announcement came in August 2017.
  • The new dialogue format replaced the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue that was a feature during President Barack Obama’s tenure. The India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue was an effort to generate sustainable economic growth, create jobs, improve business and investment climate, enhance livelihoods, and sustain the rules-based global order.  
  • The new 2+2 dialogue, puts strategic, defence, and security relationship between the two countries at the forefront. The framework of the talks includes External Affairs Minister, and Defence Minister from India along with their American counterparts, the Secretary of State and Defence Secretary.
  • Prior to the US, India had never held a 2+2 dialogue at the Ministerial level with any country. Although at the Secretariat level, India has had similar 2+2 dialogues, with other countries like Japan.
  • According to analysts, India was reluctant to agree to a 2+2 format with the US,  as it was seen as symbolic of close political, military, coordination on regional and global issues. But since 2000, deepened dialogue with the US, changed the context on a wide range of issues.
  • India’s approval of the 2+2 framework of engagement has been preceded by the signing of the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2008, the US declaring India as a major defence partner in 2016. Supporting India’s membership of the NSG and terming India a net security provider in the Indian Ocean, and partner in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Announced in August 2017, the 2+2 dialogue was supposed to take place in January 2018. Officially, the inaugural dialogue was slated for April but it got postponed after the US President fired the then US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The rescheduled dialogue was to be held on the 6th of July 2018, only to be postponed once again, with the new Secretary of State directed by President Donald Trump to travel to North Korea instead to follow up on his own meeting with Kim Jong Un.
  • The first edition of the 2+2 talks took place in New Delhi on the 6th of September, 2018, wherein, among other things, the two sides signed the landmark security pact, decided to set up hotlines between their defence and foreign ministers, and deliberated on thorny issues such as India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia and the import of crude oil from Iran.
  • In the first 2+2 dialogue between the US and India, both countries discussed key issues, and also signed the landmark COMCASA agreement that gives India access to encrypted American technologies.
  • While the Indo-Pacific region occupied the bulk of the discussions, the two countries also agreed on working together towards the entry of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
  • The first 2+2 dialogue between the US and India was marked by greater convergence on strategic and security issues. Recognizing that India and the US are strategic partners, major and independent stakeholders in world affairs, the two sides committed to work together on regional and global issues, including in bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral formats.

COMCASA Pact:

  • India and the US signed the landmark COMCASA (Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement).
  • The COMCASA paves the way for transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that will facilitate “interoperability” between their forces and potentially with other militaries that use U.S. origin systems for secured data links.
  • The COMCASA is an India specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).
  • It comes into force immediately and is valid for a period of 10 years. COMCASA allows India to procure and transfer specialized equipment for encrypted communications for US-origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.
  • Both countries will implement this agreement in a manner that is consistent with the national security interests of the other.
  • COMCASA is one of the three required defence agreements that must be signed by a nation before becoming eligible to obtain high-tech military hardware from the Pentagon.
  • India has signed one of them- the LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in 2016. The two countries have not yet started a dialogue on the remaining agreement- the basic exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geospatial cooperation.
  • Defence Cooperation has emerged as the most important dimension of the strategic partnership between India and the US and as a key driver of our overall bilateral relationship.
  • The momentum in our defence partnership has imbued a tremendous positive energy that has elevated India-US relations to unprecedented heights.
  • The ministers reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a major defence partner of the United States, and committed to expand the scope of India’s MDP status to keep an eye on Chinese submarines and ships, both sides reviewed the growth of bilateral engagements in support of maritime security and maritime domain awareness.  
  • They also committed to start exchanges between the US Naval forces Central Command (NAVCENT)  and the Indian Navy, underscoring the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian ocean.
  • All 4 ministers including Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, Mattis and Pompeo, welcomed the inclusion of India by the United States among the top tier of countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports, and transfers under the License Exception STA (Strategic Trade Authorization)-1, and also committed to explore other means to support further expansion in two-way trade in defence items and defence manufacturing supply chain linkages.
  • On Cross-border terrorism, both sides agreed to deepen ties in the International Forums like the United Nations, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for counter-terrorism cooperation.
  • They discussed the on-going efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan government-controlled reconciliation process that brings together all ethnic groups and political formations in the country.
  • They also termed the rapidly growing trade and investment ties, as an important element of the bilateral relationship.
  • India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was also discussed in the meeting.
  • Both India and the US appear to be in unanimity against the cross-border terrorism, emanating from Pakistan.
  • The two sides (India and Pakistan) also expressed support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.  
  • One of the key issues that found resonance during the talks, was cross-border terrorism. Addressing a joint press-conference, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, said: ”The Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation have acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose.”
  • The US also agreed to exert more pressure on Pakistan to reign in various terror outfits operating from its soil and dismantle their networks.
  • US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, pitched for elevating the security cooperation.
  • Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, in her remarks, said that India and the U.S. were committed to work together to combat the persistent threat of terrorism and other shared security challenges. Both the sides agreed to deepen cooperation in international forums like United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
  • At the dialogue, the United States also agreed to take action against Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind of the Mumbai blasts. A pact was signed between India and the U.S. to track the underworld don who was believed to be hiding in Pakistan. The U.S. also shared India’s concern that Pakistan continues to allow Mumbai attack mastermind and Jammat-ud-Dawa chief, Hafeez Sayeed, to roam free despite the reward that the US has placed on his head for his role in terrorist activities. The agreement between India and the US assumes significance as the JuD led by Hafeez Sayeed, was declared as a foreign terrorist organization by the US in June 2014. Sayeed carries a 10 million USD American reward on his head for his role in terror activities.
  • The JuD is a front for the LeT which carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
  • During the 2+2 India-US dialogue, the two sides concluded that the elimination of terrorism was crucial for global peace and stability.

Certain Specific Issues:

In the first round of 2+2 Talks, there were a few issues on which there is no clarity. These include:

  1. Oil imports from Iran
  2. The H1B Visa issue
  3. India’s ties with Russia

Let’s now try and understand as to what were the discussions that took place on some of these issues: The United States has agreed to explore a mutually agreeable solution on the issue of purchase of Iranian oil by India. The US has given a November deadline for countries to halt oil imports from Iran. The US has said that countries need to reduce the import of oil from Iran to zero, after the sanctions begin on November 4th. However, India maintains that such a proposition is not viable as Iran is a key partner for India. Saying that the US did not want to penalize a great strategic partner like India, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said that the US would work with India on this issue.

Another contentious issue in the purchase of S-400 Anti-aircraft missile defence systems from Russia. The US said that it will work with India on this as the purchase violates sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). There is a possibility of a waiver in the Act, however, no decision has been taken on this issue yet.

A Note on the S-400:

  • The S-400 is a very advanced system. The only one which can be compared with this is the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system, which the Americans have deployed in South Korea and Guam.
  • The range of the S-400 is about 400 kilometres. Multiple targets can be engaged by the S-400. It can detect, track and then shoot. For an area like the NCR, one regiment of the S-400 is required.    

During the talks, India also urged the U.S. to take a balanced and sensitive view on the issue of proposed changes in America’s H1B visa policy. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj said that the proposed changes will impact people-to-people links that are crucial for energizing bilateral ties.

A Note on the H1B Visa:

  • The H1B Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
  • The Trump administration wants changes in the H1B system, saying that some IT companies were abusing the US work-visas to deny jobs to American workers.

A Few Sticking Points:

While both India and the US have covered a lot of ground in their bilateral equations, there are some sticking points that still remain. Let’s look at a few of them now:

  1. While India and the US have covered a lot of ground in their bilateral relationship in recent years, there does exist many differences between them.
  2. According to diplomatic experts, the strategy on Afghanistan could be one of them.
  • While the US is open towards the holding of direct talks with the Taliban, India is cautious on this front. It will definitely not want talks with groups that it believes are backed by Pakistan.
  • Also, since India is one of the biggest aid donors to Afghanistan, it wants its say in the peace process of the country.
  1. Trade is also an area that has some issues that need to be sorted out.
  • Earlier in the year 2018, the US increased tariffs on steel and aluminium. India in reaction, retaliated and raised the import duties on a number of products imported from the US. The two-way trade between the two countries crossed a 100 Billion USD in 2016. The US realizes the need to strengthen ties with India, which is why observers feel that the US downplayed its concerns over New Delhi’s trade ties with countries like Russia and Iran.
  • India has a large trade surplus with the US, which is a particular bone of contention for President Donald Trump. There is an administration now in Washington that wants a bit of a ‘give-and-take’. They are adopting a transactionalist approach. Thus, what is it that India is willing to give, and what is it that India is wanting on a priority basis to take from them? This is going to be the essence of the dialogue going forward. Observers say that the US is still unclear about what it can get India to do against China.

Concluding Remarks

  • Would India fall under the complete plans of the US to challenge China strategically?
  • Delivering the keynote address at the 17th Shangri- La Dialogue, Prime Minister Modi praised India-China cooperation, saying that it is good for the world’s future. As far as India is concerned, she should recalibrate her relationship with all three nations- US, China and Russia.

Read more Gist of Rajya Sabha TV to help you ace current affairs in the IAS exam.