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India-Saudi Arabia Defense Ties Blossom

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Even as India refuses to join the U.S.-led sanctions regime on Iran, New Delhi is simultaneously cementing ties with Tehran’s long-standing rival, Saudi Arabia. Last month saw the first-ever visit by an Indian defense minister to the kingdom in a move that signals as much New Delhi’s willingness to emerge as a net provider of security to Saudi Arabia as Riyadh’s desire to look beyond Pakistan for its security needs. At a deeper level, the visit underscored the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council -- of which Saudi Arabia is the largest constituent -- and India now view each other as indispensable enough not to let the absence of a formal security agreement get in the way of building broad-spectrum ties.

India’s engagement with Saudi Arabia follows the classic paradigm of economic ties building up to a critical mass that subsequently catalyzes a defense dialogue. Saudi Arabia is India’s biggest supplier of oil -- Iran comes in at second place -- and hosts as many as 3 million Indian expatriates on its soil. Ever since King Abdullah’s visit to Delhi in 2006 and his inauguration of a “look east” policy for Saudi Arabia, bilateral trade has been on the rise, touching $26 billion this year. For New Delhi, Saudi Arabia has now come to represent a key focal point at one end of the Indian Ocean, where India sees itself as a net provider of security intended to keep energy and other trade flows from being interrupted. ...

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