The 5th U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue: What Does It Mean for India-US Bilateral Relations?

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On November 10, 2023, the Ministers of Defense and External Affairs of India, Rajnath Singh and Dr. S. Jaishankar, respectively, hosted the fifth U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III were warmly welcomed for the occasion. The dialogue emphasized the significant strides in U.S.-India relations, emphasizing trust and mutual understanding. It reiterated the vital role of the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership in ensuring global peace and security, particularly in the Indo-Pacific through collaborative mechanisms like the Quad.

The 2+2 dialogue between India and the U.S. signifies a notable elevation in their bilateral relations. Analysts view this as a recognition of India’s ascent as an economic and strategic powerhouse, considering that the United States traditionally engages in such ministerial dialogues only with Australia and Japan, and now with India. In the context of international relations, a 2+2 dialogue involves two appointed ministers from each nation meeting to discuss strategic and security interests, aiming to elevate engagements on bilateral, regional, and global issues. The initiation of the India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial dialogue dates back to June 2017, coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington D.C. The formal announcement was made in August 2017, replacing the earlier India-U.S. Strategic and Commercial Dialogue from President Barack Obama’s era.

While the previous dialogue aimed at fostering sustainable economic growth, job creation, improving the business and investment climate, enhancing livelihoods, and upholding the rules-based global order, the current 2+2 format prioritizes the strategic, defense, and security aspects of the relationship. This dialogue framework involves India’s External Affairs Minister and Defense Minister engaging with their American counterparts, the Secretary of State and Defense Secretary. Notably, prior to engaging with the U.S., India had not conducted a 2+2 dialogue at the ministerial level with any other country. Although India had experienced similar 2+2 dialogues at the Secretariat level with other nations like Japan, the engagement with the U.S. represents a unique and significant development in their diplomatic interactions.

In the midst of the War in Ukraine and the crisis in Gaza, as the world grapples with diverse security threats, disruptions in the supply chain, and heightened polarization, particularly impacting the global south, this dialogue offers a new outlook on the strategies of two major global players. Additionally, it serves as an indication of the increasing importance of India in the global geopolitical landscape. The discussions extend their impact to Bangladesh, a dimension that will be elaborated on in the ensuing sections.

A Renewed Commitment towards a Rules-Based International Order

As natural partners with shared values of democracy, human rights, and pluralism, the United States and India renewed their commitment to promoting a rules-based international order, respecting international law, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ensuring peace and prosperity. Discussions covered global regions, expressing deep concern over the war in Ukraine, its humanitarian consequences, and its impact on the global economic system, particularly in the global South. Both nations pledged continued humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, emphasizing the need for post-conflict reconstruction. Concerns were raised about terrorist attacks against Israel, and the commitment to stand against terrorism and uphold international humanitarian law was reiterated. The ministers expressed support for humanitarian efforts in Gaza and committed to preventing the conflict’s escalation in the Middle East.

Fortifying Defense Collaborations

In defense collaboration, the ministers emphasized deepening the defense partnership, including dialogues, military exercises, joint projects, and cooperation in emerging domains like space and artificial intelligence. Satisfaction was expressed with the pace of cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness, and future collaboration in areas like undersea domains was anticipated. The Roadmap for Defense Industrial Cooperation was reaffirmed as a catalyst for enhancing India’s defense capabilities, indigenous defense production, technology-sharing, and supply chain resilience. Specific agreements, like the negotiation between General Electric Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for manufacturing GE F-414 jet engines in India, were highlighted. The ministers welcomed progress in co-production and co-development of defense systems and looked forward to additional proposals in the priority areas outlined in the Roadmap.

Both sides committed to boosting investment in India’s Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) sector, including repair of aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. Commitments from the U.S. industry to enhance India’s MRO capabilities were appreciated. Commitments by President Biden and Prime Minister Modi to address export control issues, expand defense industrial cooperation, and support India’s goals of becoming a global defense hub were reiterated. The Security of Supply Arrangement (SOSA), a key priority in the roadmap, was mentioned, aiming to integrate defense industrial ecosystems and strengthen supply chain resilience. The U.S.-India Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) was commended, with specific mention of the Investors Strategy Session and the launch of the INDUS-X Gurukul Education series. Advances in interoperability, establishment of liaison positions, and India’s full membership in the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) were noted. Discussions on maximizing the benefits of the Logistics and Exchange Memorandum Agreement (LEMOA) were welcomed.

U.S.-India Cooperation in Counter-Terrorism and Law Enforcement

In counter-terrorism and law enforcement, both nations unequivocally condemned terrorism and violent extremism. Past attacks, such as the 26/11 Mumbai attack and the Pathankot attack, were condemned, and action against designated individuals and groups was emphasized. Cooperation in international platforms like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was reiterated. A commitment to counter new forms of terrorism, including emerging technologies like unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and the internet, was highlighted. The upcoming U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism, Designations Dialogue, and Homeland Security Dialogue were mentioned.

U.S.-India Collaboration in Science, Technology, and Space Exploration

In science and technology partnerships, the ministers applauded progress under the U.S.-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). Advances in the semiconductor ecosystem and partnerships in emerging technologies like quantum, telecom, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors were highlighted. In space collaborations, the establishment of sub-working groups, including ‘Space Commerce,’ and India’s membership in multilateral space organizations were noted. The recently held Mineral Security Partnership Principals’ Meeting and efforts to build diverse, secure, and responsible global critical mineral supply chains were praised. The strengthening of U.S.-India Science & Technology cooperation under the 2019 bilateral Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation was emphasized, with expectations for a Joint Committee Meeting on Science and Technology in 2024.

Collaborative Initiatives in Trade, Health, and Diplomacy

The growing trade and commercial partnership, potential for bilateral trade to cross $200 billion in 2023, and efforts under the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) were highlighted. The “Innovation Handshake” under the Commercial Dialogue and progress in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) were noted. The fifth U.S.-India Health Dialogue was praised for identifying areas of cooperation in pandemic preparedness, health safety, universal health coverage, and diseases. The ministers celebrated steps taken under the Cancer Moonshot program. In people-to-people ties, the U.S. Department of State’s pilot program for domestic renewals of certain work visas was acknowledged. The opening of a new Indian Consulate in Seattle was appreciated, and discussions on potential new consulates in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad were held.

U.S.-India Collaborative Diplomacy and Future Endeavors

In multilateral diplomacy, the importance of a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific was reaffirmed. Commitment to the Quad as a force for global good was emphasized, and India’s hosting of the next in-person Quad leaders’ Summit in 2024 was anticipated. The ministers affirmed the importance of exchanging perspectives on shared global challenges and promoting respect for human rights globally. The U.S.-India Global Issues Forum in New Delhi in early 2024 was looked forward to. Efforts to enhance food and energy security, improve the movement of people and goods, and consultations on Africa and East Asia were acknowledged. The support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC and welcome to India’s candidature for the UNSC non-permanent seat in 2028-29 were reiterated. Besides, on Afghanistan, the ministers called on the Taliban to adhere to commitments preventing the use of Afghan territory for threatening any country’s security. It was also revealed that India and US diverge in their strategies towards Bangladesh and Myanmar which are deeply rooted in regional geopolitical realities.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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