U.S. and Indian leaders took steps today to deepen the cooperation and ties between the two largest democracies in the world.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hosted their Indian counterparts, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar for the fourth Ministerial Dialogue between the two countries.
The meeting – commonly called the two-plus-two – stressed the shared commitment the two nations have in upholding a free rules-based international order to safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. The men spoke at a press conference at the State Department.
Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden held a teleconference meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that set the stage for the two-plus-two.
"Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to promoting regional stability, the rule of law, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and to expanding our strategic partnership with [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations]," Blinken said.
Austin noted that in the nearly 20 years of the bilateral defense partnership that the two nations have made tremendous progress. "Today's meeting shows that we're working together to build one of the most consequential partnerships of our time," he said. "We've made important commitments today that will drive technological innovation and cooperation in emerging defense domains, including space and cyberspace."
Austin announced that the U.S. and India will launch new defense space exchanges this year between U.S. Space Command and India's Defense Space Agency. "And I'm pleased to announce that just a few moments ago, we signed a bilateral space situational awareness arrangement," he said. "This will support greater information sharing and cooperation in space."
The two defense establishments are also deepening cooperation in cyberspace, including through training and exercises later this year. India and the United States are also expanding information sharing partnership across all warfighting domains, he said.
The U.S.-India defense trade and technology cooperation continues to grow, the secretary said. "We recently concluded, an agreement to work together on air-launched unmanned aerial vehicles through our defense technology and trade initiative," he said. "And today, we agreed to launch new supply chain cooperation measures that will let us more swiftly support each other's priority defense requirements."
After decades of India relying on Soviet and then Russian defense systems, the nation is buying more American defense platforms. "That is forging important and new ties between our defense industrial bases, Austin said. "We're doing all this because the United States supports India as a defense industry leader in the Indo-Pacific, and a net provider of security in the region."
Both democracies are worried about the People's Republic of China, which seeks "to refashion the region, and the international system more broadly, in ways that serve its interests," Austin said. "So, I'm pleased that we've identified new opportunities to extend the operational reach of our militaries, and to coordinate more closely together across the expanse of the Indo-Pacific."
He welcomed India's decision to join the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain. This is a multinational partnership designed to uphold the rules-based international order by countering non-state actors on the high seas.
"We've also committed to more high-end exercises together," Austin said.
At the meeting, the leaders agreed to reinforce ties with like-minded countries, including Japan, Australia and European allies and partners, the secretary said.
"Now as two of the world's largest democracies, the United States and India are linked by more than our common interests," Austin said. "We're bound by our shared values and commitments, including ensuring that the Indo-Pacific stays on a path defined by the rule of law and freedom of the seas and respect for territorial integrity of sovereign states. Today's two-plus-two ministerial reflects our deep commitment to maintaining open channels of communication on a range of challenging issues."
China is not the only threat. "As strategic threats converge, especially following the Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it is more important than ever, that we stand together to defend our shared values, and to preserve the international rules-based order," the secretary said. "And so, I believe that the investments that we've made together today will help to ensure that our shared vision of a secure, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region thrives in the decades ahead."