New Delhi: The sad truth is that the Americans got what they chiefly wanted from the two plus two dialogue, namely the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement or COMCASA, while the Indian side neither desired nor gained anything in return. The Americans cannot be blamed for the one-sided show. Messrs Michael Pompeo and James Mattis knew exactly what they wanted. They came to India with well-prepared briefs. As usual, the Indian side carried the equivalent of blank slates to the dialogue. Sushma Swaraj (the most hapless foreign minister the country has seen in decades) and Nirmala Sitaraman (po-faced as ever) diligently filled in whatever was required by Washington. In parting, the Americans threw in some words of praise for the hosts. The Indian side duly exaggerated them and fed the lot to the ever-hungry press, which loyally emblazoned the embroideries in headlines. COMCASA has interoperability written all over it which the Narendra Modi government chooses not to see. COMCASA was inevitable. If not now, it had to be signed in the next couple of years. A growing alliance with the United States brings its own logic. What’s galling is that India capitulated without even the pretence of a fight; and thereby hangs a tale.

India approached the two plus two dialogue with two extraneous issues. The first is Iran oil imports which must reduce to zero by 4 November for India to avoid facing US secondary sanctions related to Iran. The second is the S-400 Russian air defence system whose acquisition has become a prestige issue for the Indian military going beyond its sound performance in Syria. Did India bring up US-India-specific issues in the two plus two? None of importance as far as one can tell. This magazine had warned against approaching the dialogue unprepared. And Pompeo had made it clear en route to India that S-400 and Iran were not central to the two plus two. The Modi government, however, refused to believe anything other than its own narrative that US waivers for S-400 and Iran oil were on course. In the end, it came to nothing. Pompeo firmly said no decisions were taken on either issue, and as likely as not none will be taken to benefit India’s sensitive trades with Iran and Russia.

The iron logic of COMCASA is that it will enmesh India deeper in the worldwide US security system. How much India benefits from COMCASA will depend on India’s contribution to US security efforts worldwide. Since these are negligible currently and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future, the spinoffs for India from COMCASA should also be modest. But with COMCASA signed and sealed, the United States will push India for the purchase of big-ticket weapons systems and simultaneously dissuade it from looking at Russian and other non-US alternatives. As of now, therefore, it appears rather remote that the United States should agree to the Indian purchase of S-400. The closer India and the United States get, the more distance it will put with Russia. Indeed, there may come a time when the Russians could develop reservations about selling strategic equipment to India.

The American side at the two plus two dialogue also virtually closed the Iran option. Paying lip-service to India’s predicament does not mean endorsing India’s ties with Iran. In all likelihood, the United States will adhere to the November deadline and punish countries that do not fall in line. It could facilitate alternative sources but at the cost of pricing and sovereignty. The Indian government is unrealistically hopeful of a US change of heart. But why should that happen? To preserve India’s strategic partnership? But that is scarcely strengthened, to play the devil’s advocate, if India trades with a US foe. The same argument applies to the Chabahar project. The United States considers Iran to be playing an insidious role in Afghanistan supported by Russia, China and elements of the Pakistan military. In the circumstances how can it countenance an Iranian logistical link to Afghanistan ostensibly controlled by India but over which it will have little true oversight powers?

The power differential between the United States and India often warps the outcome of dialogues. With the state of the world being what it is, India stands everything to lose by aligning itself with the authoritarian bloc led by China and Russia. That leaves the West and particularly the United States as the only worthwhile options. Still, it would have been respectable for India to put up a fight for COMCASA and gain concessions from the United States. For that, it had to be prepared, and it was not. But now that COMCASA is a reality, India has to re-imagine relations with the United States and realize them. It has also to revisit Non-Alignment and see how it can be salvaged without wrecking relations with the United States. Meanwhile, relations with Russia are unlikely to return to the old footing, while enmities with China will deepen. These in themselves represent tectonic shifts which require the fullest study and understanding in India. On them rests the future success of India’s geopolitics.