The 2+2 Dialogue and COMCASA: New Paradigms in Indo-US Relations

The recently concluded 2+2 Dialogue between India and USA along with the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is yet another milestone in the history of Indo-US relations, which is on the path of growth in the past couple of decades. While the 2+2 Dialogue was a step towards addressing the foreign and defence matters exclusively, the COMCASA is one of the four ‘foundational’ agreements that the US signs with its close allies. The other three agreements in the series would include General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) which was signed in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016. With the COMCASA, what is left behind is just one final agreement out of four, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). Once the latter is also signed, India would attain a position in the US diplomatic circles at par with other key American allies like the United Kingdom, Canada, France and many other NATO countries.

The recently concluded 2+2 Dialogue between India and USA was a replacement for the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue which the countries had been pursuing for a while. The 2+2 Dialogue is the format that was first initiated in the diplomatic circles by Japan keeping in mind the objectives of a focused and fruitful interaction with a fellow foreign nation while achieving the end goals of stronger diplomatic bonds and mutual consensus. While 2+2 can imply the interaction of the representatives from both sides, what constitutes ‘2+2’ is determined by the countries based on the needs and requirements that their foreign policy demands and based on the immediate priorities that both nations have. This would imply that while the recently concluded ‘2+2 dialogue’ was between the defence and foreign counterparts from both sides, this can change under different circumstances. So this means that it is also possible for both nations to have a ‘2+2 dialogue’ between their health and education ministers. One advantage of having a 2+2 dialogue would be that this would help two nations to carry put meaningful negotiations between each other while keeping the negotiation process away from the noise created by numerous other contagious issues and disputes that exist between both the nations.

Since Trump and Modi met last June, there has been a revival in the Indo-US relationship, which had been improving since Modi government assumed office in 2014. This is in fact a continuation of the historical trend that is observed whenever an NDA government was in power at the centre. Unlike the Congress-led UPA governments, BJP and its governments always had meaningful and cordial relationships with their American counterparts. It was this trend which was replicated through the 2+2 Dialogue and the following consensus on the COMCASA Agreement between two countries.

The ongoing negotiations and the growing bond between two countries are crucial for the strategic and diplomatic balance in the Indian Ocean region, which is recently under threat from the invasive behaviour of the Chinese and the growing influence of Beijing across the South Asian capitals. While China can pursue its economic interests by creating relationships with countries in the region, this shouldn’t be at the cost of the regional power and influence that India holds in the region. The recent strain in the Indo-Maldives relationship, which was further fueled under the Chinese influence or the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka and Indonesia are all matters that must be carefully scrutinized by Delhi to protect its economic and strategic interests in the region.

The signing of COMCASA and the conclusion of twice-postponed 2+2 Dialogue, however, doesn’t guarantee that the way forward for both nations will be a smooth one. In fact, there are several contentious areas which can create mismatches within the negotiations in the near future. For instance, uncertainty still hangs over India’s trade with Iran and its investments in the Chabahar Port. As the US is pushing for sanctions against Iran and all countries who does trade with Tehran, the 2+2 Dialogue fails to address the Indian interest in the region. Similarly, US wants India to import more oil and gas from the country to reduce the gap in the Balance of Trade (BoT) between two nations. The uncertainty in the foreign policies of Trump administration can also create troubles in the relationship between two nations as he is known to take policies and approaches that deviates from the traditional philosophy of US foreign policy.

The 2+2 dialogue is like a seed. It’s been planted now and we will only know in the long-run whether it will grow into a huge tree or whether it will wither away.

Picture Credits: PTI

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