US Congress to enshrine US-India defence ties in US law
With President Barack Obama and the India-friendly Defence Secretary Ashton Carter about to demit office, their unswervingly pro-India defence policy is about to be enshrined into US legislation.
This week, top US lawmakers from both houses of Congress — the Senate and the House of Republicans — jointly agreed to an amendment in a major budget bill that will formalize and consolidate India’s status as a major US partner.
The amendment is entitled “Enhancing Defense and Security Cooperation with India” (hereafter “India amendment”). It is a part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA), which allocates funding each year to the US military. Like several small, but important, US bills, the India amendment is piggybacking on the NDAA (which must be passed by Congress) to avoid the fate of numerous small bills that are lost forever in Washington’s legislative hubbub.
The classic example of this piggybacking technique was the passage of the innocuously titled “Naval Vessel Transfer Act” in 2008, which has legislatively committed the US to ensuring Israel enjoys a “qualitative military edge” over every potential adversary.
Now, in similar fashion, the US Congress is binding future American presidents, whatever their alliances or foreign policies, to nurturing US-India defence ties.
The India amendment directs the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon) and Department of State to sustain and prioritize defense cooperation with India through a specified series of policies and actions.
These include: recognizing India’s status as “a major defense partner of the United States”, designating an official to ensure the success of the “Framework for the United States-India Defense Relationship”, to “approve and facilitate the transfer of advanced technology”, and the “strengthen the effectiveness of the US-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) and the durability of the [Pentagon’s] “India Rapid Reaction Cell”.
All these mechanisms were instituted by the Obama administration to galvanize US-India defence relations, but there was no guarantee that subsequent US governments would follow them. The passage of the India amendment makes it obligatory for all US administrations to do so.
According to officials closely involved with negotiating the India amendment, the NDAA is likely to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate next week and be signed into law by President Obama soon thereafter.
The passage of this amendment, which had been cleared by the House of Representatives in May, but scuttled — only temporarily, it now emerges — by the Senate in June, underlines the bipartisan Congressional consensus that the US-India relationship is, in the words of their president, “the defining partnership of the 21st century”.
“For the last decade, a consensus has been growing among America’s soldiers, spies, and diplomats that a stronger and more capable Indian military is in America’s national security interest. This legislation demonstrates that this realization has spread to America’s elected representatives as well,” said Ben Schwartz, the US-India Business Council’s defense and aerospace head, who was formerly India head in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
There has been criticism that the India amendment makes no changes to the US Arms Export Control Act, which places India in the category of countries to which arms sales require a 30-day notification to the US Congress; rather than the more favoured countries that require only a 15 day notification.
In fact, that would be a problem only for countries that have such a high volume of arms purchases from the US that they cannot wait an extra 15 days. India, in contrast, as seen in all recent purchases of US weaponry, actually takes several years to conclude a contract after the “congressional notification”.
US officials also point out that this distinction has absolutely no affect on the level of technology transfer.
The passage of the India amendment has been bumpy, because of infighting over unconnected issues within the bitterly divided US Congress. US legislative procedure required both houses to pass similar versions of the India amendment, after which a joint conference reconciles the wording before it is voted on.
This process encountered a hiccup in summer. After the House of Representatives passed the India amendment in May, entitled “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act”, the Senate failed to pass the companion bill, entitled “Advancing U.S.-India Defense Cooperation Act”. Now, however, a joint House-Senate “conference”, convened to hammer out the final form of the NDAA, mutually agreed to include the India amendment, which forms Section 1292 of the NDAA.
The US Congress will now be closely monitoring the relationship. The India amendment mandates: “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act (the NDAA), and annually thereafter, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State shall jointly submit to [Congress] a report on how the United States is supporting its defence relations with India in relations to the actions described…”
By Ajai Shukla