American Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday, wherein both nations emphasized the importance of building a stronger military partnership in the years ahead.

“This is a historic opportunity for our two democracies, a time of strategic convergence,” Mattis said. “As India takes its rightful place at the global table, India will find the United States to be a steadfast friend and partner.”

India has been making fast progress in their space program, while placing a simultaneous emphasis on defense in the face of heightening tensions with neighbor China in places like the Doklam Plateu, where Chinese and Indian forces participated in a two month standoff that came to fizzling conclusion nearly a month ago.

The United States has also found its relations with China strained in recent years, as the Asian nation’s rapid military expansion, coupled with its arguably unlawful claims of sovereignty over the majority of the South China Sea have placed American and Chinese interests in direct conflict with one another.  Couple that with China’s apparent indirect (and potentially quite direct) support of Kim Jong un’s North Korean regime, and it becomes clear that the U.S. and India have some common ground from which to base further military cooperation.

In a joint press conference after the talks, Mattis did not cite China by name, but explained that the United States’ decision to designate India as a major defense partner was based the stance that India is a “pillar of regional stability and security,” adding that it reflects our desire for a long-term strategic partnership in the 21st century.”

As we work to strengthen our defense relationship, we seek to expand our cooperation and building partnerships, also, across the region,” he said. “In particular, we applaud India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome their efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security.”

After discussing India’s aid in the War on Terror, as well as its support of increasing pressure on Kim Jong un’s North Korean regime in the face of continued development of banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile platforms, Mattis went on to address the future of Naval cooperation between the two countries, something could be seen as a direct result of China’s ever growing presence in the waterways of the region.

“In addition to our growing global cooperation, the minister and I reaffirmed our commitment to deepen bilateral defense cooperation, in particular, expanding maritime engagement as one of our top priorities,” he said.

According to the Defense Secretary, this partnership will soon lead to joint U.S.-India naval exercises intended to develop a higher level of military interoperability and cooperation, though he recognized that there remains diplomatic steps to be made in the development of the partnership.

Mattis has been developing cooperative relationships with a number of nations in the region as China’s aggressive behavior has pushed more leaders to seek alliances to help them resist Chinese pressure.  Last month, the former Marine General brokered a historic defense agreement with Vietnam, after China forced them out of their own oil rigs in the waters off the Vietnamese coast.

Cooperation in this area will improve the capabilities of both our militaries and reinforce the foundations for an enduring partnership,” Mattis said. “I look forward, alongside Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson, to convening the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue in the near future between our foreign and defense ministers. ‘Steady engagement’ will be our watch words for the path ahead.”


Image courtesy of the Department of Defense