India-US Hotline: First one for Modi
In a significant step towards taking bilateral relations to a new level, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama agreed to set up a hotline between the top leaders for the first time. A hotline is supposedly used in the most crucial moments in international relations. According to Modi, this initiative would give India-US partnership “a new thrust and sustained attention.” Both Obama and Modi agreed that India and the US must have regular summits at greater frequency.
Although India maintains several hotlines with China and Pakistan at the military level, it is the first hotline that the Indian PM would have such a line of communication with any of his counterpart. The decision of establishing this new communication link is suggestive of the close rapport established between the two great democracies and ‘natural partners.’
In April 2010, during the Beijing visit, the then external affairs minister S M Krishna, signed an agreement to establish a hotline at the PM level between the two countries. Krishna had remarked on the shared values of India and China. Through this agreement, the two countries were able to celebrate the 60th year of diplomatic relations.
The agreement was inked as per the decision taken by the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in June 2009. Whatever be the reason – either technical issues or diplomatic loopholes, even after six years, India-China PM hotline has still not got operationalised.
If India-US hotline gets operational while the proposed hotline between India and China remains in limbo, Beijing would certainly interpret the development as a measure to put Indo-China ties in back burner.
Significance of Hotlines
The hotlines between leaders are usually secure telecommunication networks where the parties encrypt and decrypt the messages. The hotlines are considered as an effective tool to clear misunderstandings, clarify intentions and defuse tensions between nations with a bitter history.
The hotlines allow top-ranking officials to get the act together and collaborate in times of crisis. It ensures an unhindered channel of communication that goes beyond regular meetings and diplomatic correspondence.
Besides being a “crisis management apparatus”, it is believed to play a major role in allaying public concern about the risk of war. History tells us that nations have used hotlines to signal improved ties and as a confidence building measure. Such a line of communication also signifies the importance of the nations involved.
Historical Aspects of Hotline
In 1963, the first hotline was established, following which the subsequent hotlines took the shape of text-facility links, teletype, telex or facsimile. The only reference to a telephone hotline comes from an East German document in 1969. Between Greece and Turkey, the communication link was established in 1997. A direct line was created between NATO headquarters in Brussels and Athens and Ankara. During military emergencies, messages pass from either capital to Brussels. In the event of a crisis, NATO can then intervene immediately.
Over the years, the ambit of hotline was expanded to include routine political discussions other than just emergency calls during crisis.