The relationship between the world's two largest democracies is among the most consequential of the 21st century, administration officials said in a phone call before the "two-plus-two" meeting between U.S. and Indian officials in New Delhi.
"Two-plus-two" refers to the U.S. secretary of state and defense secretary meeting with their counterparts in India. This is the third meeting at this level, and it's the second for Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper.
The U.S. and Indian relationship has warmed considerably and the increased frequency and candor of these meetings is a reflection of this. "The two-plus-two ministerial will serve as a capstone to review our many accomplishments, as well as lay down next steps for the U.S.-India comprehensive, global strategic partnership," an administration official said.
India and the United States cooperate in economic, diplomatic and information areas, and the military cooperation between the two nations is also increasing.
Given China's increasingly aggressive behavior from Africa to the Himalayas to the South China Sea to Oceania, it is crucial that like-minded states oppose Chinese Communist Party efforts to reshape the international order in its favor.
China has committed to changing the international order put in place in the wake of World War II that stopped major power confrontation. The international order is based on respect for the sovereignty of all nations, large and small. The existing order has benefited all nations of the Indo-Pacific region including China, which has grown to be the world's second-largest economy under the protections of the existing system.
Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and more are affected by the Chinese push to change the norms in the region. U.S. treaty allies — including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines — are also affected. The Chinese actions have raised alarms across the region, and they are pushing the democracies to work together to oppose the Chinese vision for the Indo-Pacific.
Cooperation between the United States and India goes beyond mere opposition to China. The U.S. and Indian militaries cooperate in humanitarian relief missions. They share intelligence and information on terror groups, and they work together to oppose transnational criminal groups.
India and the U.S. will discuss pandemic response, maritime security, cybersecurity, quality infrastructure, counterterrorism and other areas.
The defense cooperation between the two nations is foundational. "The defense relationship with India right now is currently at its best in recent memory," said another administration official participating on the call. "The progress we've made since India became a major defense partner in 2016, is remarkable."
Investments in the bilateral defense relationship from both sides in previous years have set the foundation for the accomplishments this year that may be announced in the coming weeks. "We solidified our strategic alignment and confirmed the need to work together and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific for the benefit of all countries in the region," the official said.
Broadly the U.S. and Indian defense ministers will discuss regional security cooperation. "We're working to enhance maritime security across the Indian Ocean region by coordinating security cooperation and building partner capacity with regional countries," the administration official said. "India announced just this week that it was inviting Australia, along with the U.S .and Japan, to the Malabar naval exercise in November.
"This invitation signals not only a strategic convergence between quadrilateral partners, but a recognition that regional security requires strengthening allies and partnerships and working multilateral on issues of mutual concern."
The U.S., India relationship requires information sharing. The two nations have an agreement that will allow for expanded geospatial information sharing between the respective armed forces. "We're also seeking to expand secure communication capabilities between our respective militaries, as well as between our foreign defense ministries," he said.
Military-to-military interactions are key. "We're working to build greater interoperability by increasing the sophistication of our combined exercises," the official said. The United States has placed liaison officers with Indian forces, and the Indians have placed officers at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command. "We also hope to confirm two additional Indian liaison officer placements in the near term to expand counterterrorism cooperation," he said.
The United States is interested in defense trade. Earlier this year, India acquired Apache and Seahawk helicopters, and the U.S. is seeking to advance sales for several other defense platforms to include fighter aircraft and UAVs, the official said.