New Delhi: India now has a 2+2 format dialogue mechanism on strategic and security issues with four of its key strategic partners, Russia being the latest. The three others — Australia, the US and Japan — are also ‘Quad’ partners.
Later on Monday, Russia will join the other countries with which India holds a 2+2 ministerial dialogue. This year, India also held its inaugural 2+2 talks with Australia. With the US and Japan, such talks have been going on for the last two-three years.
India held its first 2+2 dialogue with the US in September 2018, which took place in New Delhi between then external affairs minister late Sushma Swaraj and former defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and former US secretary of state Michael R. Pompeo and former US secretary of defence James N. Mattis.
The 2+2 dialogue is held between the foreign and defence ministers of two countries and is generally seen to be aimed at creating a mechanism under which the bilateral relationship takes a decisive strategic turn with greater integration of defence, security and intelligence apparatus.
A 2+2 ministerial dialogue enables both sides to understand each other’s strategic sensitivities more deeply, while taking into account the political nuances of the relationship, and also enabling the building of a more strategic grouping in a rapidly changing global environment, diplomatic and strategic sources told ThePrint.
The launch of the 2+2 with the US was seen as a “reflection of the shared commitment” by both governments to provide “a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-US strategic partnership and to promote synergy in their diplomatic and security efforts”.
So far there have been three rounds of 2+2 talks between New Delhi and the US, which have also proved to be instrumental in both sides signing the American defence foundational pacts.
2+2 talks with the US, Japan and Australia
The first US defence pact — Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) — which had been in the discussions phase for a long time, was signed after the first 2+2 dialogue.
During the subsequent two 2+2 dialogues, India and the US closely aligned their strategic interests under the Indo-Pacific framework even as they inked the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation.
“These 2+2 engagements do have significance beyond signalling and broader optics. They help sustain and strengthen India’s most important relationships. In international diplomacy, high-level engagement is the mark of a strong partnership. It allows each side to build and sustain trust and to ensure that the top priorities stay at the top of the agenda,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia, The Wilson Center, told ThePrint.
“A chief advantage of 2+2 talks is that they bring together the highest ranking defence officials to reinforce top security priorities — and this can transcend politics,” he added.
India held its first 2+2 dialogue with Japan – another Quad partner – on November 30, 2019, which culminated in New Delhi and Tokyo signing the ‘Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services’ between the Self-Defense Forces of Japan and the Indian Armed Forces, also called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement or ACSA, in September 2020.
The 2+2 ministerial dialogue with Japan had also angered China as New Delhi and Tokyo discussed maritime domain security and freedom of navigation.
“The 2+2 format of talks is an effective way to promote security cooperation. Recently, because China is using many types of methods including military, diplomacy and economy to expand their influence…China cannot modernise their military without an ample budget and neither can it continue the Belt and Road Initiative without a proper budget. Therefore, to deal with China, diplomacy including economic policy and military should be coordinated. And reducing China’s income improves the military situation. Therefore, 2+2 is a more effective way to deal with the problem of China,” said Satoru Nagao, Fellow (Non-Resident), at Hudson Institute.
“There is a possibility that the more India cooperates with Quad, the more China will escalate their pressure toward India in the Indo-China border area. If so, the Galwan incident was one of the typical examples. If China really believes and does so, compared with Quad, bilateral based 2+2 is easier for India to talk about security cooperation,” he added.
In September 2021, India held its first ever 2+2 ministerial dialogue with Australia even as both countries elevated their relationship to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and signed a key defence pact in 2020.
“While most of the negotiations and work happen in between at the official level, a 2+2 format dialogue, nevertheless, helps in bringing the countries closer and gives out the message of active engagement,” said Gitesh Sarma, former Indian envoy to Australia and former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs.
Why a 2+2 with Russia?
Russia is one of those countries with which a 2+2 format talk “fits perfectly” in India’s foreign policy, sources said.
While India and Russia have shared a strategic relationship since October 2000, which later got upgraded to ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ in December 2010, it is only now that both countries are having their first 2+2 format dialogue even as the bilateral ties are facing a number of troubles.
“To be sure, the India-Russia 2+2 does have a particularly strong signalling component when seen against the backdrop of the S400 controversy. It can be read as a reminder to Washington that the S400 deal and broader India-Russia defence cooperation will continue, regardless of US concerns. But surely this is something that Washington knows already. And there’s still enough substance to India-Russia relations that a 2+2 shouldn’t simply be seen as a gesture of defiance directed at Washington,” averred Kugelman.
According to Sarma, “Holding the 2+2 talks with Russia was much needed. This gives out a strong message to the world that India sees everyone to be on the same level. This is visible messaging. And this will also show that the defence to defence relationship between both countries is robust.”
He also underlined that having a 2+2 with Russia also means that India is “not in anyone’s camp” and that bilateral ties between Moscow and New Delhi are “traditional and comprehensive”.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)