PM Modi’s US visit will be looked as real springboard: Top Pentagon official

By, Washington
Jun 09, 2023 04:58 AM IST

Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of Indo-Pacific security affairs in the department of defense, accompanied Lloyd Austin during his visit to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States (US) will set new benchmarks in the India-US defence relationship and bring the two closer on issues of co-production and co-development in unprecedented ways, a top Pentagon official in charge of Indo-Pacific has said.

Ely Ratner (Twitter)
Ely Ratner (Twitter)

Read here: US' Kamala Harris to host lunch for PM Modi during state visit

Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of Indo-Pacific security affairs in the department of defense, who accompanied Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during his visit to New Delhi earlier this week, said that a strong India that was capable of defending its interests and sovereignty, exported security to the wider region, and worked together with US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific was crucial for US’s own interests.

Ratner has also said there was a “revolutionary transition” underway within the US system to ease up on export control barriers and America will go to the “outer bounds” of what was possible to achieve this in order to boost defence cooperation. India and the US concluded their first strategic trade dialogue on the issue of export controls on June 6, with foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra leading the talks from the Indian side.

Ratner was in conversation with Lisa Curtis, former senior director of the National Security Council during the Donald Trump presidency at the Centre for New American Security in Washington DC on Thursday morning eastern time.

Countering skepticism about how efforts at boosting the defence relationship have faltered in the past, Ratner said, “I know there have been efforts at this in the past. Sometimes there is skepticism about is it going to be real. My answer is that all signs are pointing towards yes. It is going to be real. We are going to have big historic announcements in terms of particular projects around defence industrial cooperation.” The US is expected to green light a major GE project to produce jet engines in India during the visit.

Ratner said that a major thrust of the bilateral defence relationship, which is based on an “increasing strategic alignment” and a “shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, is the ongoing US effort to support India’s military modernisation and integration of the defence industrial bases of the two countries through co-production and co-development, which was a clear priority for PM Modi.

“And that is based upon the belief that a stronger India that can defend its own interests, defend its sovereignty is good for US. A stronger India that can contribute to regional security out of US co-production and good for the US. A stronger US-India partnership where we are operating more together in the Indian Ocean, in the South China Sea, possibly even in the western Pacific, that’s in the US interest. A stronger US-India partnership that’s integrated with Japan, Australia, Philippines and partners in Southeast Asia, that’s in the interest of the US. When I stack that up, I see a lot of mutual benefit that we are deriving from that relationship and we are putting our shoulders into it,” Ratner said in response to a question about a recent piece that suggested India will not step up to assist the US in case of a crisis with China.

Pointing out that the initiative on critical and emerging technologies, unveiled by the two countries this January, had a major defence cooperation element, Ratner said that Austin’s visit to Delhi was also meant to firm up deliverables for the Modi visit. “It will be a historic visit, setting a new benchmark in the relationship. People will be looking back at this visit as a real springboard for the relationship.” He also referred to increased operational coordination in the Indian Ocean, undersea domain, cyber, space, and information-sharing and termed the transformation of the bilateral relationship “unbelievable.”

Responding to a question on export controls, including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which has often inhibited American defence cooperation with allies and partners, Ratner acknowledged that translating aspirations into reality required “hard government work…to change bureaucratic processes and culture around these questions of how we are sharing information and technology”.

Suggesting that the US government was in the middle of a major transition on the issue, Ratner said, “We are transitioning from a period in which there was a presumption of denial when it came to sharing America’s most-closely held technologies to a recognition that…knitting together our defence industrial bases is such an imperative for the alliances, for the US and for regional security that it can’t be business as usual.”

Read here: ‘With Modi coming…what are we doing to fix this?’: US lawmakers on visa wait time issue

This, Ratner suggested, had led to the senior US leadership directing the system to look at things differently and even though it may still not be possible to share all technologies, the US will go to the “outer bounds” in terms of risk-taking. This was needed for AUKUS (the Australia-United Kingdom-US nuclear submarine deal), for the US-Japan, and the US-India relationship.

“We are in the middle of a revolutionary change inside the US system as it relates to functional parts of bureaucracy. It is hard work. It will be slower than we want. But the demand signal is strong. We are going to see unprecedented results as soon as PM Modi arrives in Washington. There is a commitment to break down those barriers as much as we can.”

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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