The US Senate passed a defence bill on Thursday that, among other things, declared India a “major defence partner”, as ministers of the two countries wrapped negotiations about the exact contours of the designation that is unique to both.
Though the designation was announced by the Obama administration in June and details were being worked out, the legislation – the National Defense Authorization Act, 2017 – codified it, locking in all future administrations.
A section of the bill, which is the US military budget, declared India a major defence partner and directed secretaries of defence and state to take steps to enhance military and security ties with India and appoint an individual to oversee this.
The two officials will give Congress a report within 180 days of the passage of the bill on the state of ties, essentially in defence trade, co-production and co-development of military equipment, and steps being taken.
Neither India nor the US share this designation with another country, the details of which took time working out and were announced in New Delhi after a meeting between defence minister Manohar Parikkar and defence secretary Ash Carter.
The US legislation, passed earlier by the House of Representatives and now headed for the White House for the president’s signature, is largely symbolic, analysts say, signalling a broad congressional support for defence ties with India.
Some who were hoping for a higher designation for India – to match America’s NATO allies and Israel – will be disappointed as will be those who believe Congress could have gone further and dramatically overhauled the dynamics.
But the India designation has been welcomed widely.
“I am pleased that the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2017 includes my recommended provisions supporting the deepening of US-India bilateral defence relations, including expanded military-to-military engagement, codifying the current organisational structures in the Executive Branch that support defence trade and technological development, and requiring the resolution of impediments to bilateral security cooperation,” Senator Mark Warner said in a statement.
Congressman George Holding, who moved a bill on this issue, said, “The 2017 NDAA Conference Report demonstrates the bipartisan support in Congress for enhancing the US-India security and defence relationship. The included language will help to promote greater military-to-military cooperation and increase opportunities for defence trade between our two nations.”
Mukesh Aghi, president of the US-India Business Council, which pushed for the Indian section in the bill, said, “In this legislation, Congress sends very clear directions about the way forward, which link US bureaucratic and regulatory changes to national security and commercial objectives.”