Sushma Swaraj, in her opening remarks during the first edition of two-plus-two talks (2+2 dialogue), held on September 6, stated that she was confident the outcome of the talks will help unleash the untapped potential between 2 biggest democracies – India and US – and will further elevate the level of engagement.
Here is all you need to know about 2+2 Dialogue and why it’s so crutial for both the nations.
What is the 2+2 Dialogue?
‘Two plus Two’ is the term used for the institutionalisation of a dialogue mechanism between 2 countries consisting of the key ministries of defense and external affairs. It has been billed as the highest level of the bilateral meet between 2 countries. This format type has been drawn from Japan, which used this dialogue to hold strategic interactions with the US, France, Russia and Australia. Now, India and the US have moved to strengthen their strategic relationship by initiating the 2+2 diplomacy.
The dialogue took place in New Delhi on September 6-7th. After being postponed twice in the past – April and July, the US defense secretary James Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo finally held talks with the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman. This was agreed upon during PM Modi visit to US President Donald Trump in 2017. The 2+2 dialogue replaced the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between the foreign and commerce ministers of the two countries that was held during the Obama administration. India and US have had two rounds of these talks earlier.
Why is it so crucial?
This dialogue will be a great opportunity for the 2 nations to strengthen their relations, especially when diplomacy between the 2 is going through one of it’s worst phases since a decade. Amidst the rocky relations, the 2 countries will try to push past array or irritations and see this dialog as a vehicle to elevate strategic relations between the 2 nations. Experts hope that this dialog will help change the current narrative surrounding the bilateral relationships amid economic and trade issues. Further, just a day before the dialog, US Defence Secretary – Jim Mattis – said that the Trump administration recognises this dialog as an opportunity to grow US-India strategic partnership, deepen security relationship, broaden friendship and ensure more safety.
There have been several disagreements over trade issues between India and the US. Tensions are heightened earlier this year when Trump lashed out at India for imposing high imports on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He called these tariff as ‘unfair’ and threatened a similar increase in tariff on Indian motorcycles exported to the US. The economic differences further deepened between the two during July this year as both the democracies have been stuck on sanctions, raising import duties and tariffs among other trade issues. For example, India imposed raised duties on 29 US products as a retaliation for US’s decision to impose higher tariffs on Indian steel and aluminum exports. Thus, during this tensed phase, the dialog will help the nations focus on strategic ties.
At a personal level as well, Trump mimicked the Gujarati accent of PM Modi – who can speak and understand English but prefers to talk in Hindi. This move was seen by experts as a spark which could cause tension between the 2.
What was expected to be on the table?
The foreign and defense minister have of India and US have ‘big and strategic’ items to discuss. The dialog will be a focus on strengthening strategic, security and defense cooperation between the two countries. There are speculations that the primary agenda would be ironing out the differences over the Russia and Iran issue. There are 2 things the US does not want India to do – buy S-400 air missiles system from Russia and import oil from Iran. Time and again the US has been imposed heavy sanctions against Russia and Iran. Not just that, they have also threatened to sanction countries, including India, who trade with either nation. Russia has been India’s the major supplier of defense and military equipment and at the same time is the third largest importer from Iran. This compels India to make a Sophie’s choice. Thus, experts feel India will use this dialog to sentitivise US’s aggressive stance and ask for waivers under sanctions plans.
However, Pompeo did point out that the primary focus will not be Russia and Iran. Although the decisions regarding these issues are important, but they should not be resolved in a meeting set for strategic dialog. He said the meeting will be about things that will go on for 20, 40 and 50 years – one of them being future defense deal. As the US has designated India as a ‘major defense partner’. However, for the 2 nations to access cutting-edge technology, some foundational agreement needed to be in place.
What was the outcome of the meet?
During the dialogue, Swaraj and Sitharaman held separate meetings with Pompeo and Mattis respectively. As per official sources, a number of key bilateral issues were discussed during the meeting. The meeting has been termed as a ‘productive’ engagement.
One of the biggest outcomes was the signing of the COMCASA deal – which will enable Indian armed forces to securely communicate with each other. This pact had been stalled year after year owing to India’s reservation about opening up it’s military communication to the US. This military-information sharing pact is strategically important for India as we can now access US technology including hi-tech defense equipment, armed drones etc. This was done keeping an eye on China’s increasing foray into the Indian Ocean. The acquired technology like the drones, for example, could help us keep surveillance. A part of the pact might also deter the US from imposing sanctions on India for the Russian missile deal.
Further, we’ve agreed to hold first-ever joint military exercises off the east coast in 2019, set up a direct hotline between the defense and military chiefs, discussed the rules of H-1B visa rules etc. Both the countries agreed upon their roles in each other’s economy to bolster their future ties.