Defense is widely viewed in U.S. strategic circles as a pivotal sector for future U.S.-India cooperation. And at more than $10 billion, India’s procurement of 126 new multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) is among the world’s richest pending weapons purchases. So by shortlisting two European competitors and passing on two U.S. bids, New Delhi has chosen a plane but, I fear, tapped the brakes on broadened security ties with Washington.
My good friend, Dan Twining, has an optimistic take on this over at Foreign Policy.com. And since Dan and I are true believers in the U.S.-India partnership, I hope he’s right. After all, the strategic rationale for closer U.S.-India ties transcends an airplane and very much remains.
But I fear the decision will dampen enthusiasm for India among powerful U.S. political and industrial lobbies. And I fear it will raise questions for others about the scope of U.S.-India strategic cooperation. Indeed, that’s true even in India. Take Sanjaya Baru, my editor at the Business Standard and former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sanjaya has made this argument from the Indian end: “The decision to make India’s choice of fighter jet a technical one,” he argues in his biweekly column, “was political.” And, he muses, the story says something important about the future trajectory of U.S.-India security ties.
Common interests will, of course, sustain the relationship, but skeptical voices will become more prominent in both capitals and the pace of big-ticket bilateral initiatives could slow. That would be a shame.