In 2013, New Delhi managed to sink US plans for a status-of-the-armed agreement with the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago best known for its high-end tourist resorts. The agreement was to provide a framework for existing defense activities between the U.S. and the Maldives and not create a “new military presence,” Washington said at the time. They were perceived as a threat to their security and position in the vicinity. As recently as 2013, India stood in the way of the Maldives signing the status-of-forces agreement with the United States. China`s influence in the archipelago, which increased between 2015 and 2019, seems to have changed India`s thinking about it. India welcomed the defence pact between the United States and the Maldives. A senior Indian official told The Hindu that the Indian embassy in Male had been informed of the negotiations and that a copy of the two-page document had been signed. Although details of the framework agreement have not yet been released, it is considered to involve fundamental cooperation between the U.S. and Maldivian navies and instructs both sides to plan their initial discussions on defense and security dialogue. The U.S. statement quoted Minister Didi as saying that “defense and security relations would bring enormous added value to the excellent partnership between the United States and the Maldives, defined by common peace and security principles and interests of Indopazifik and IOC amid growing threats such as piracy and terrorism.” She tweeted that the deal was “an important step in defense and security cooperation between the United States and the Maldives.” Long before the framework agreement, the United States had proposed to then-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik the draft status of forces agreement (SOFA) in 2012/2013. Waheed had replaced the duly elected predecessor Mohammed Nasheed, now speaker of parliament, who resigned in the face of a joint protest from the opposition.
The defense deal shows the amount of water that has made its way around the ocean since 2013, when India opposed Washington`s proposal to sign a status-of-the-armed forces agreement (SOFA) with the Maldives, ensuring that the idea remained stillborn. However, Indian officials told The Wire that New Delhi supports the deal because there is a clear signal about the Maldives` position in the Indian Ocean region. “It couldn`t be clearer that the Maldives says it is part of the Indo-Pacific,” one official said, using the term in its political sense. While significant in itself — India and the United States have long watched the islands visit with growing concern — it is extremely interesting to note that the U.S. decision to deepen its military relations with the Maldives was taken in consultation with India, which has long expressed unease at the idea of interference by extra-regional powers in its backyard. The Hindu noted yesterday that not only did India welcome the deal, but that US officials showed Indian officials a draft agreement between the US and the Maldives. The enthusiasm generated by the New Delhi agreement on the U.S.-Maldives defense pact stands in stark contrast to the circumstances in which the U.S. recently proposed a defense agreement with the Maldives. The message was an allusion to the Maldives, south Asia`s smallest nation, in the broader context of the agreement. “IndoPacific” referred to the U.S.
strategy for the free and open Indo-Pacific oceans that President Donald Trump introduced for the United States in the Pacific and large areas of the Indian Ocean. And “IOC”, the Indian Ocean region, is where India has great strategic concerns. The Wire has learned that while India is largely aware that talks are ongoing, the text of the deal was not shared until the signing in Philadelphia on Wednesday. . . .