President Barack Obama’s pick as his next defense secretary, Ash Carter, knows India well and has been a known supporter of bilateral relations from his previous iteration at Pentagon.
As deputy secretary of defense (a sort of minister of state for defense), Carter headed a task force to expedite sale of sensitive military equipment to India.
In a speech in September 2013, just a month before leaving office, Carter said he was an “early and strong supporter of the US-Indian relationship”.
He added that he firmly believes “the US and India are destined to be strategic partners”.
Carter, a 60-year-old physicist with an additional bachelor’s degree in medieval history, has worked most of his life in and around US military establishment.
But what can India expect from him?
“His nomination would be very good news for India,” said Carnegie’s Ashley Tellis, who worked very closely on the India-US nuclear deal as a Bush administration official. “But I suspect that, given the massive problems in Defense, he'd have little or no time to focus on India issues.”
Carter, if picked and confirmed, is coming to Pentagon at a particular trying time. US military may end up staying in Afghanistan for longer than Obama wants.
And the United States is looking at an incrementally increasing military engagement in Syria and Iraq, returning to a war the president had declared over in 2011.
Carter will be Obama’s fourth defense secretary, with two of his predecessor reporting in tell-all-books this White House’s uneasy relationship with military leaders.
The third defense secretary Chuck Hagel, whose firing paved the way for Carter’s return to Pentagon, found the White House slow in making decisions on Ukraine and Syria.
Tellis’s point: India shouldn’t gets its hopes up too much.