The United States and Maldives have signed a defence framework agreement aimed at deepening cooperation towards maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. The pact will see the two countries engage in military-to-military dialogue at senior levels and in joint activity relating to maritime domain awareness, response to natural disasters and humanitarian relief operations among other things.
But more important than its bilateral component are the pact’s implications for regional geopolitics. In the context of growing overlap of Indian and American strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific regions, the US-Maldives pact puts Maldives more firmly on India’s side in the India-China contest for strategic influence in the Maldives. Under former president Abdulla Yameen, Maldives’s economic ties with China had soared, triggering concern in New Delhi that the resulting economic indebtedness would culminate in Male ceding strategic ground to the Chinese. The US-Maldives defence pact is likely to ease such apprehensions.
The pact signals the dramatic change not only in India’s relations with the US but also in how India is looking to enhance its own security and other interests. A few decades ago, India was strongly opposed to the presence of extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean.