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Why Modi staying in power matters for naval ties with US

March 01, 2017 16:18 IST

The Indo-US naval relationship is thriving under Prime Minister Narendra Modi but he has not been able to break up the "entrenched" bureaucratic obstacles as much as he set out to do, a top American think-tank has said.

The Center for Naval Analyses in its latest report has warned that the thriving relationship might come to a halt if the BJP does not win the 2019 general election.

"Prime Minister Modi, in particular, has been an effective advocate for the relationship, despite Washington's initial hesitation to embrace him because of his role in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat," said the report titled 'The Future of US-India Naval Relations' which has been authored by Nilanthi Samaranayake, Michael Connell, and Satu Limaye.

Under the Modi administration, the benefits for the navy-to-navy relationship are evident, said the 50-page report.

"The establishment of the aircraft carrier technology working group is an achievement that would not have been able to materialise a decade ago," it said.

Giving another example of progress in ties, it said trilateral MALABAR exercise with Japan in the Bay of Bengal was not considered possible so early in the Modi administration, given the 2007 MALABAR controversy.

"Yet, it took place in 2015, only a year after Modi entered office," it said.

"In fact, Modi has used his authority to circumvent bureaucratic roadblocks that, while they might not have derailed the relationship, certainly could have arrested its forward progress," the report said.

However, the report rued that, "Modi has not been able to break up (the) entrenched bureaucratic obstacles as much as he set out to do."

"If the BJP were to lose the next election, for instance, or if his administration were to shift much more of its focus to dealing with domestic political issues, forward momentum in the mil-to-mil relationship could stall, with likely implications for USN-Indian Navy engagement," it said.

The CAN, however, stated that that the US Navy and Indian Navy engagement plans are limited by decisions at the White House–PMO, State Department–Ministry of External Affairs, and Department of Defence–Ministry of Defence levels.

In addition, India will continue to face capacity challenges, extending to the Indian Navy, the report noted.

Moreover, India interprets the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea differently than the United States regarding military activities in exclusive economic zones, it said.

Since New Delhi's stance is arguably closer to Beijing's view on this important issue, this is a point of potential disagreement that could flare up unexpectedly, according to the report.

New Delhi policymakers do not support the Indian Navy participating in US Navy Freedom of Navigation Operations that appear to be directed against China, CAN said.

Recommending the US government to continue to build on progress in bilateral naval ties, the report calls for reinforcing successes in current and previous navy-to-navy engagements.

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