May 07, 2012

US junks tech denial regime for India, now more an ally than just partner


The writer has posted comments on this articleChidanand Rajghatta, TNN | Apr 27, 2012, 08.23PM IST

WASHINGTON: The regime of US high-technology denial to India is demonstrably over and New Delhi can now access a choice of American defense equipment available only to its closest partners, a Senior Obama administration official said on Thursday, confirming a tectonic shift in American global and regional policy under which Washington now regards India as more an ally than just a partner.

"The level of our willingness to share technology with India has never been higher," Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, told three Indian correspondents in a state department briefing, shortly after returning from India following what's termed as a pol-mil dialogue between the sides, the first such engagement in six years.

Shapiro said Indian companies that applied for high-tech licenses last year faced a less than one per cent denial "comparable to our closest partners around the world." Furthermore, the processing time for Indian requests has decreased from 30-40 days on an average to just 17 days, he revealed, adding that most of the rejections had to do with incomplete or faulty paperwork, rather than any denial arising from policy.

Asked if the policy change was reflected in the muted US reaction to the Agni V tests compared to the time Washington worked actively to stop India from acquiring cryogenic engine technology, Shapiro responded affirmatively, and said US willingness now to transfer hi-tech know-how was demonstrated during the bid for Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), when Washington offered tech platforms of an unprecedented nature.

The US endeavor now is not just to develop a buyer-seller relationship with New Delhi, but to "help Indians develop the capabilities that they need to protect their security interests," he added. In their New Delhi dialogue, the two sides discussed how to carry forwards things in two "highly complicated bureaucratic systems that are not designed to work together."

Shapiro acknowledged that China was a major topic of discussion in the ongoing dialogue with India, but said neither characterized Beijing as a threat. "China is a rising power and we have to work with them within the regional architecture and regional multilateral institutions. The US engagement is designed to encourage that," he said.

Shapiro also agreed that no two countries, not even allies, could be on the same page on all issues, but the commonality of US-India ties was so great that the partner-ally distinction was increasingly becoming a false one. "On so many things where we are already acting like allies," he said. "This is a partnership that has crossed a Rubicon in terms of closeness of partnership."

Shapiro said Washington was "obviously disappointed" over losing the MRCA bid considering "we had the best aircraft at the best price." But the US understood India had made a decision under its own process, so "rather than ruminate too deeply about it...we are going to focus on upcoming contracts."

It's important to recognize the huge amount of progress the two sides have made going from zero to $ 8 billion in defense trade, Shapiro said, hoping that India would choose the Apache attack helicopter and the Chinook heavy-lift chopper for its armed forces in the coming days.

"Next decade, sky is the limit," the pol-mil bureau chief said. "We think we have the best defense products in the world and India is interested in modernizing its military across all the services. We have competitive technology and defense articles that would be able to serve their needs for each of their services."

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