US President Joe Biden’s nominee for defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, has said that he would continue to build on the “strong defence cooperation” with India and ensure that the militaries of the two countries can collaborate on shared interests.
In written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Forces Committee, he said that he would “further operationalise India’s ‘major defence partner’ status and continue to build upon existing strong defense cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests”.
India received the status of major defence partner in 2016 when Biden was the vice president and Barack Obama was the president.
Austin gave an indication of continuity in Washington’s defence approach to India that was further enhanced during Donald Trump’s term as president.
“If confirmed, my overarching objective for our defence relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership,” he said.
Austin also brought a multilateral element to the cooperation with India by mentioning the Quad, the strategic Indo-Pacific group of India, the United States, Japan and Australia.
“I would also seek to deepen and broaden our defense cooperation through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements,” he said.
The Quad was revived during Trump’s administration and received a boost in its pivot to the Indo-Pacific as threats from China to the regional partners grew.
Austin is a retired US Army general and in addition to being confirmed by the Senate like all senior US officials, he will also have to get a waiver from Congress because US laws forbid former generals from becoming defence secretaries for seven years since their retirement.