The India-US 2+2 was an absolute delight for those who seek the reassurance of tangibles, and the agreement signed does not eliminate Russia’s S-400 nor would India’s intelligence be shared with Pakistan
The 2+2 dialogue format was devised by the United States to overcome a very specific problem — the vast differences in foreign and defence policy. The fact is that foreign policy is esoteric, frequently philosophical in nature, and regularly passes off activity as achievement. Defence policy, on the other hand, is all tangibles. Both are important for a country and yet both are as different as chalk and cheese even though they are conjoined twins.
For example, the job of the US defence department is to be a lean, mean killing machine, while that of State is to promote the warm fuzzy image of America, and act as a champion of human rights. The problem is that these two polar opposites also require two totally different mind-sets, which make governmental schizophrenia worse.
The 2+2 puts the two very different mindsets in the same room in the hope they understand each other’s tangible and intangible interests and in so doing break departmental silos.
In theory this is how it’s meant to work, in practice, 2+2s are some of the most boring meetings you will attend being the same drab routine of talking points, platitudes and photo-ops. Yet at the 2+2 in Delhi something unusual happened.
A major agreement, the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) that had eluded past governments and much of the tenure of this government, was finally signed. Small as it may seem, the impact is massive.
It not only opens up a whole world of critical, time-sensitive information-sharing from the vast US intelligence apparatus, but also from US allies and nations who operate US equipment — bilateral politics of India and those countries allowing. This is particularly profound as even if such countries would not wish to get into a bilateral tiff India has with a neighbour, they could still transfer intelligence to India, giving it a major boost.
One canard put out has been that this means the elimination of Russia as a supplier with the S-400 deal to be abandoned and this would mean Indian intelligence would be shared with Pakistan. This is far from the truth. All it means is that India is committed to making a part, not the whole of its force compatible with US and western equipment and is free to purchase and deploy Russian equipment if its willing to accept the logistical and operational nightmare of two different systems and philosophies.
Similarly, the chances of Indian intelligence falling into Pakistan’s hands are almost non-existent, as the deal is bilateral, with each country bound by a strict hierarchy and secrecy clause, much like the maligned secrecy agreement with France that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Indeed it could be said that the S-400 was the sweetener for Russia to acquiesce to this coming together of India and the US. But an opposite and equally valid point of view that is equally tenable and true is that COMCASA incentivises the US to maintain the India exception under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and allows major purchases like the S-400 to go unchallenged save the occasion grumble in the press.
It has also been reported that India and the US agreed to major combined tri-services exercises next year, which for the first time may allow Indian forces to use the entire electronic spectrum available to them without the fear of compromising frequencies. This will be a major step that allows a true measuring up of the Indian military, unlike previous iterations where the electronic spectrum remained unexploited and our military capabilities untested.
Effectively then, the India-US 2+2 was an absolute delight for those who seek the reassurance of tangibles, reflected by the fact that it was the defence minister who tweeted the final press bureau report and not the foreign minister as is customary.
Though the final summation of conversations and agreements contained all the usual talking points about friendship and energising the relationship, the fact that it was the tangible defence agreements that spoke the loudest meant that the conversations revolved around security, rather than the incessant banality of human rights across the world — one of the favourite talking points of US diplomats.
What we do not know yet and was missing from the press brief was the positions on a key area of mutual concern — Afghanistan. Irrespective, by all accounts the one tangible that was agreed on, made this one of the most productive dialogues in a long time.Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is senior research fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal