India needs a strategic defense partnership with US : General Vij, Director,Vivekananda International Foundation

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At a conference jointly organized by Atlantic Council and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Washington DC, General Nirmal Chander Vij, Director, VIF spoke of a shift in India’s defense procurement strategy with the government’s decision to increase FDI in the sector and also advocated a strategic defense partnership model with the United States.

The conference featured members from the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF)  India’s pre eminent think tank as well as policy and business leaders to with a focus in regional security challenges in Asia as well as the burgeoning defense and economic relations between US and India within the Make in India initiative.

Mr Arun Kumar, Assistant Secretary for Global Markets at the US Department of Commerce who stated that “the notion that commerce is strategic comes from the highest levels of government”. The Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, between India and the United States, “is only the second-of-its-kind bilateral engagement where both the security and economic agencies of both countries are involved” said Secretary Kumar.

Dr. Harinder Sekhon, Senior Fellow at VIF stated that “India needs to reform its infrastructure, its mind set, and it needs to become part of the global supply chain. India cannot remain in isolation and expect to grow.”

Mr. Dave Ryan, Executive Vice President & Regional Head-Americas, Tata Communications, and Member, CII-India Business Forum similarly added to the debate by saying, “the free flow of information and infrastructure enables bilateral and multilateral conversations to mature” while Ms. Sumona Guha, a member of the policy planning staff at US State Department said, “the Make in India is viewed as a demonstration and commitment to the economic reforms made by the Modi government”.

In a separate panel, focused on regional strategic concerns and the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, Lt General Sawhney Dean, Centre for Defense Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation said that “Afghanistan’s security forces lack the capacity and capability in terms of intelligence gathering, logistics, air support and troop mobility; they require continued U.S. engagement now that the hard bit is done”.

Touching on topics ranging from the radicalization of Pakistan and the rise of extremism to increased Chinese entrenchment in Iran and Pakistan; Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, Dean, Center of International Relations & Diplomacy, VIF, spoke to the strategic vision shared between India and the United States from the West African region up to the Pacific theatre.

However, Ambassador Sibal also suggested, “that while there is a 95% convergence on a host of security issues, there is only a 5% convergence when it comes to issues related to Pakistan”. The Ambassador also questioned why the United States takes one view of China’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea and another view on China’s expansive activities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the strategic maritime corridor referred to as the ‘string of pearls’ given that “China’s leadership, ambition, and worldview remain the same”.

Ambassador James Cunningham, Senior Fellow & Khalilzad Chair, South Asia Centre, Atlantic Council stressed that “developing a joint strategic vision between US and India should remain a high priority where we find a better way to align our thoughts and strategy in the region in terms of tactics”.

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