India open to closer US ties

In a speech to university students during his ongoing India visit, US Secretary of State John Kerry predicted a future where the navies of India and the United States patrol sea lanes in the region "side by side".

India, though, remains wary of being drawn into a military alliance with the US and has denied talk of such joint patrols. Yet the signing of a military logistics agreement shows that it is open to much greater military engagement with the US in the wake of China's growing presence in its neighbourhood.

The pact will allow India and the US to use each other's bases for repair and refuelling. That will give India's military - which cannot match China's in size - greater reach and the flexibility to conduct operations farther from home without worrying about the logistics. The agreement is also a boost for India's maritime ambitions. It will help peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, as well as joint military exercises, by giving military personnel access to everything from food to communications to medical services. For instance, India would have easier access to American bases in Africa.

India's maritime focus is the Indian Ocean but it has been expanding west towards Africa and as far east as Fiji and the Pacific islands. It has also bulked up its naval capabilities to better patrol its maritime border while reaching out beyond its neighbours to countries like Vietnam where it has conducted submarine training for Vietnamese sailors.

Last year, the US designated India a "major defence partner" to facilitate defence trade and cooperation in technology. India also permanently included Japan as a third party in the annual Malabar exercises it holds with the US.

These and other moves underscored by Mr Kerry's visit have triggered concern that India would lose the nonalignment status it has fostered since the Cold War era. But there is little doubt that the logistics agreement furthers defence ties between the two countries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline 'India open to closer US ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe