U.S.-India military cooperation: some rare good news in Asia
Oct. 27 was the final day of Exercise Yudh Abyhas 2009, where a mechanized infantry battalion of the Indian Army hosted a similar unit from the U.S. Army for two weeks of combined training. The exercise concluded with a complex live-fire assault involving tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and helicopter-borne infantry. According to Lt. Gen. A.S. Sekhon of the Indian Army, this training exercise was the largest the Indian Army has ever done with a foreign army.
This was the fifth annual iteration of Exercise Yudh Abyhas. In previous years Indian soldiers have trained in Alaska and Hawaii while U.S. soldiers have trained at India's counterinsurgency and jungle warfare school.
It is not only the U.S. Army that is developing a relationship with India. The U.S. and Indian air forces recently completed their fourth annual installment of Exercise Cope India. Malabar 2009, an annual U.S.-India naval training exercise, occurred in April, and added Japanese naval forces to the event. Previous Malabar exercises have involved U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault forces.
Although hardly trouble-free, the rapid expansion in the defense relationship between the United States and India contrasts sharply with the troubled security relationships the U.S. has with China and Pakistan. After much pleading, this week the Chinese government finally sent Gen. Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It was the first meeting at this level the U.S. has had with China since 2006. Admiral Timothy Keating, the recently departed commander of U.S. Pacific Command, fared no better engaging with his Chinese counterparts. In an interview with the Financial Times, Keating remarked, "I don't have their [senior Chinese military officials'] phone number. I can't pick up the phone and wish them happy birthday. I don't mean to be glib about it . . . [But] we don't enjoy the sort of communication that I have with almost every other military leader in Asia.
The U.S. security relationship with Pakistan has its own troubles. According to the Pew Research Center, only 16 percent of Pakistanis surveyed have a favorable view of the United States and 13 percent have confidence in President Barack Obama. On Oct. 28 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan and received an angry reception over perceived U.S. infringements of Pakistan's sovereignty and blame for the Taliban's bombing campaign in Pakistan's cities.
With little seeming to go right with Afghanistan, Pakistan, or China, U.S. policymakers should be pleased with warming U.S.-India defense ties. It is U.S. policy to support China's peaceful and harmonious arrival as a major power. The U.S. is also trying to find a happy ending to its troubles in Afghanistan. But good intentions have little to do with good results. When pondering Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, the U.S.-India defense relationship is something both countries will take comfort in - and may someday need.