Signalling what could raise strategic ties between United States and India to a significant new level, US ambassador Kenneth Juster Thursday proposed “reciprocal military liaison officers at each other’s combatant commands” at“some point” in defence relations between the two countries.
This suggestion from the US envoy, in his first policy speech after assuming charge in New Delhi, comes two years after India and the US signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which allows their militaries to work closely and use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.
At present, the US has arrangements to have military liaison officers with some of its NATO allies and close defence partners including Australia, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines, New Zealand, Great Britain. Posting liaison officers will mean formalising the robust partnerships between theatre commands, viz Pacific command of the US defence forces.
Juster also proposed a Free Trade Agreement with India in the future, and asked New Delhi to look at the economic partnership through the strategic lens — as the US looks for alternatives to China in the region.
Without naming Pakistan, Juster said the US will not tolerate “cross-border terrorism” or terrorist safe havens anywhere. The use of the phrase “cross-border terrorism” by the US envoy is seen as a reference to Pakistan, as it is used by New Delhi in its statements on Pakistan.
Asked why terror groups active against India were not named while suspending US aid to Pakistan, Juster, during a Q& A session, said, “Pakistan is important too for the situation in Afghanistan.”
“Don’t think we will get stability in Afghanistan if Pakistan does not positively contribute. That was the major factor behind the suspension as we feel they have not done as much as they could in eliminating terror sanctuaries in Pakistan that are contributing to instability in Afghanistan,” he said.
On defence cooperation through military exchanges, Juster said: “Our experience shows that these exchanges qualitatively increase familiarity and build trust based on relationships developed and nurtured in the classroom and in other settings. Over time, we should expand officer exchanges at our war colleges and our training facilities, and even at some point, post reciprocal military liaison officers at our respective combatant commands.”
Tackling the much-talked about conflict between America First and Make in India, Juster said, “America First” and “Make in India” are not incompatible. Rather, investing in each other’s markets will be mutually beneficial — “it will increase our economic interactions and volume of trade, lead to collaboration on emerging technologies, and create jobs in both countries”.
We seek to assist India’s efforts to build up its indigenous defence base and capabilities, as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces as major defence partners in the Indo-Pacific region. We need to patiently make step-by-step progress on these defence initiatives rather than expect to resolve all issues at once. With that in mind, perhaps in the next year, we can announce major agreements enabling cooperation in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms; fighter aircraft production; and the co-development of next generation systems, including a Future Vertical Lift platform or Advanced Technology Ground Combat Vehicles,” he said.
Recalling that President Trump referred to India as a “true friend” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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