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Guest Column - Force Magazine
Awareness of the Dance Floor
Demystifying the Indo-US maritime ties prior to PM Modi’s visit to the States
Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (retd)
By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (retd)

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness
James Thurber

As the world entered the last couple of decades of the 20th century, the sharply differing views and reactions of India and the United States (US) to unfolding global and regional events had brought bilateral relations to almost the nadir of the Nixon years. As James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden, the Washington-based editors of India: A Country Study have recorded (, “In the 1980s the Indian and United States governments had divergent views on a wide range of international issues, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Middle East, and Central America. Serious differences also remained over the US policy toward Pakistan and the issue of nuclear proliferation. India was repeatedly incensed in the Eighties when the US provided advanced military technology and other assistance to Pakistan despite the US’ concerns about Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme. For its part, Washington continued to urge New Delhi to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and, after the successful test launch of the Indian Agni intermediate-range ballistic missile in May 1989, called on New Delhi to refrain from developing a ballistic missile capability by adhering to the restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime”. This unhappy prelude makes the vibrancy of the India-US bilateral defence relationship in general (and the maritime relationship in particular) over the very next decade all the more striking.

The preceding edition of these ‘Maritime Meanders’ (August 2014, FORCE) had critically reviewed the remarkable progression of the maritime relationship between India and the US over the past quarter-of-a century (from the Nineties to the present time). In so doing, it also sought to highlight a few of the more significant challenges that have markedly slowed the pace of the process. In what we might now call ‘Part-One’ of the review, I had made much of the allegorical resemblance between this particular maritime relationship and a sophisticated performance of the Paso Doble. In the dance, as in the maritime relationship itself, bursts of frenzied movement between the partners are interposed with utterly frozen moments and periods of such ostensible ennui and indifference as to presage an abandonment of the dance altogether.

Just as musical ‘triggers’ are required for dancers to commence, freeze, move, or change the tempo of a dance such as the Paso Doble, so too have politico-military triggers been in evidence for these same actions in the maritime relationship between India and the US. In the latter case, the ‘Kicklighter Proposals’ of 1991 triggered the commencement of the military steps of the Paso Doble. After the ‘opening sequence’ was complete, a significant increase in tempo was first ‘signalled’ by the Indian prime-ministerial visit of May of 1994, and then ‘triggered’ by the US secretary defence visit in January of 1995. The first ‘freeze’ was ‘triggered’ by India’s nuclear tests of May 1998. Three years later, the ‘unfreeze’ was ‘triggered’ as much by India’s voluble support to America in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as by the US’ need to urgently lift the sanctions that had simultaneously imposed on Pakistan, as a condicio sine qua non for the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) to be launched against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Likewise, ‘triggers’ for quickening the pace of development of the bilateral maritime relationship included the tangible support provided by the Indian Navy in 2002 by way of escorting high-value US ships through the Strait of Malacca; US admiration for the demonstration by the Indian Navy of its speed-of-reaction, spread, reach and the comprehensiveness of its actions in the aftermath of the tsunami of December 2004, the signing of the ‘New Framework for Defence Cooperation’ in June of 2005, and, the signing of the ‘Framework for Maritime Security Cooperation’ in March 2006, not to mention the ‘US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement’.

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