Why We Shouldn’t Expect Much of the India-US 2+2 Dialogue

Ahead of the much-delayed India-US 2+2 dialogue, it’s worthwhile to examine the possible reasons for these delays and the current condition of bilateral relations.

India and the US have attempted to align themselves strategically since the Cold War first began. Since then, the two nations have made unprecedented progress towards a “global strategic partnership.” India has made calibrated efforts to maintain a harmonious relationship with the US under the motto “ChaleinSathSath: ForwardTogetherWeGo” and “SanjhaPrayas, SabkaVikas” (Shared effort, Progress for All).

However, the recent postponement of the 2+2 dialogues called the US’ investment in this partnership into question. Meanwhile, India has demonstrated its unwavering support for the US through cooperation in a number of fields such as defence, technology, energy and climate change, strategic consultation and civil nuclear cooperation. The 2+2 dialogue, which begins tomorrow on September 6, 2018, would demonstrate both the US and India’s commitment to strengthening security. It would also provide a forum to discuss this partnership’s future.

Currently, both countries are party to several agreements on a range of issues, aimed at building robust bilateral ties. For instance, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA) allows both countries to access fuel and supplies from each other’s military bases, making it easier to coordinate military activities. Other major agreements include the Communication and Information Security Memorandum (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

However, these agreements can also serve as a source of tension. For instance, critics of LEMA have observed that the US might compel India to allot a portion of its land for the US use for military exercises and operations. Moreover, with regard to the CISMOA, it is alleged that the agreement would enable the US to have access to internal defence confidential information that might jeopardise India’s security.

One of the key issues we can expect India to raise in this dialogue will be US congress’ bill on tightening H1B work visa norms. The H1B visa allows American companies to employ foreign workers for jobs that require theoretical or technical expertise. However, as part of US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, reducing these visas would potentially reduce the number of tech jobs that are currently offered to Indian nationals.

Changes in the US visa system have generated palpable anxiety among Indian students and employees in the US and those who want to go to the US, contributing to unstable work environments at home and there.

Additionally, India and Russia are currently in the final stages of negotiating a deal of $4.5 billion for India to buy the Russian-made S-400 Triumpf defence system. However, the US may not be pleased about this. In January it passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), to counter aggression from the Russia, Iran and North Korea through punitive measures like sanctions.

India and the US may have built a strong relationship, as evidence by the US asking India to play a more substantive role in the Indo-Pacific region, but the CAATSA will restrict India from strengthening its ties with Russia and US sanctions on Iran will have a severe effect on India’s import of crude oil from the country.

The Trump administration’s mercurial behaviour makes it unlikely that this dialogue will reach any kind of logical conclusion to the policy issues both countries are facing right now.

Yash Mittal and Harshit Singh Jadoun are studying law at Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

Featured image credit: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a bilateral meeting alongside the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File photo