On 27 October 2020, the United States and India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), enabling greater information-sharing and further defence cooperation, to counter China’s growing military power in the region. The U.S. has four “foundational” agreements that it signs with its defence partners. The Pentagon describes the agreements as “routine instruments that the U.S. uses to promote military cooperation with partner-nations”. American officials have stated that the agreements are not prerequisites for bilateral defence co-operation, but would make it simpler and more cost-effective to carry out activities such as refuelling aircraft or ships in each other’s countries and providing disaster relief.
The Foundational Agreements
The first of the four agreements, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was signed by India and the U.S. in 2002. The agreement enables the sharing of military intelligence between the two countries and requires each country to protect the others’ classified information. The second agreement, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), was signed by the two countries on 29 August 2016. The LEMOA permits the military of either country to use the others’ bases for re-supplying or carrying out repairs. The agreement does not make the provision of logistical support binding on either country, and requires individual clearance for each request. The third agreement, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed during the inaugural 2+2 dialogue in September 2018. It is an India-specific variant of Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) that enables the two countries to share secure communication and exchange information on approved equipment during bilateral and multinational training exercises and operations. The fourth agreement, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), signed in October 2020, permits the exchange of unclassified and controlled unclassified geospatial products, topographical, nautical, and aeronautical data, products and services between India and the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). These are clearly the “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership” (NSSP), which was both a milestone in the transformation of the bilateral relationship and a blueprint for its further progress.
Indo-US Geopolitical Congruence
Harsh V. Pant, professor of International relations at King’s College London, highlights that, “India is key to the US’ ability to create a stable balance of power in the larger Indo-Pacific and at a time of resource constraints, it needs partners like India to shore up its sagging credibility in the region in face of Chinese onslaught.” Robert Boggs, professor of South Asia Studies at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, opines that the US “overestimates both India’s desire to improve the relationship and the benefits doing so would bring.” Notwithstanding such contrarian views, it is interesting to note that all these agreements have actually been signed. Despite traditionally close relations with Russia, it seems clear that with relatively economy, and depleting international petroleum requirements, and also reducing Russian international arms sales, Russia will gradually fall back as a global power. With economically and militarily rising China, the action is fast shifting from Europe and Atlantic, to the Indo-Pacific region. Like USA wants to dominate this region, India has serious security issues with China. Clearly USA wants to maintain a Uni-polar world and bi-polar Asia, where as China wants a bi-polar world and uni-polar Asia. With this matrix in mind, there is a need to view how Indian and American interests converge in the region.
United States Defence Platforms for India
As part of America’s policies to counter China, the US policies are geared to making India as one of the major defence partners. Since 2008, USA has cleared sale of the Boeing P-8I Neptune multi-mission maritime aircraft, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Boeing Apache AH-64E attack helicopters, Boeing Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, Lockheed C-130 J special operations aircraft, and the M777 155 mm Howitzer, among others. India and USA are in talks for sale of highly technologically advanced predator drones. The Lockheed F-16 Block 70 (F-21), and Boeing F-18 E/F Super Hornet are part of the Indian Air Force 14 new fighter competition. Also Boeing has also offered the recently upgraded, larger, Boeing F-15EX fighter.
High Level Exchange Visits
High level exchange visits between the two countries have increased many fold in last two decades. President Bush made a visit to India in March 2006. President Obama visited India in 2010, and again in January 2015 as the guest of honour at the Republic Day function. In June 2015, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited India and became the first American defence secretary to visit an Indian military command. In December of the same year, Manohar Parrikar became the first Indian defence minister to visit the US Pacific Command. Indian Prime Minister Modi and President Trump have had exchange visits. In January 2017, Peter Lavoy, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, declared that the partnership between India and the United States under Barack Obama’s administration had been “incredibly successful”. Lavoy stated, “I can tell you quite definitively that due to our partnerships, several terrorism plots were foiled. Indian lives and American lives were saved because of this partnership.”
A ‘two plus two dialogue’ is a term for installation of a dialogue mechanism between two countries’ defence and external affairs ministries. They would meet to discuss the two countries’ strategic and security interests. The goal is to establish a diplomatic, yet fruitful, conversation between the two countries’ respective heads of defence and external affairs. Japan is known to have drawn such a format in 2010, and they have such arrangement with the US, France, Russia, India and Australia. India, has such dialogue only with USA and Japan. The last round of such dialogue with USA has just been concluded in October 2020. This year’s dialogue had a special significance as it happened amidst Sino-Indian face of in Ladakh. India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper to New Delhi for the third annual India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. The aim was to elevate the India-U.S. relationship to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. The primary focus of discussions was the shared vision for the Indo-Pacific and global leadership. The Ministers reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order, underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, freedom of navigation and over flight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes. The Ministers welcomed the recent convening of the Second Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral Ministerial Meeting in Tokyo on October 6, 2020. Building on a strong record of peacekeeping cooperation, the Ministers decided to expand joint capacity building efforts with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific and to participate in multilateral peacekeeping training exercises. The Ministers discussed their shared interest in promoting a sovereign, peaceful, united, democratic, inclusive, and stable and secure Afghanistan, including support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. The Ministers reiterated their commitment to work together in close coordination at the UNSC and in International Organizations. The U.S. also reaffirmed its continued strong support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC as well as for India’s early entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). They applauded the significant step of the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). They also welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defence information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to deepening bilateral defence consultation and collaboration and to exploring opportunities to expand cooperative capacity-building efforts with partners across the region. They also affirmed their commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and U.S. Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests. The U.S. appreciated India’s leadership in establishing an Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). The Ministers welcomed the positioning of a Liaison Officer from the U.S. Navy at the IFC-IOR and the positioning of an Indian Liaison Officer at NAVCENT, Bahrain and reiterated their intent to assign additional Liaison Officers.
The Ministers welcomed the convening of the Military Cooperation Group (MCG) later this year to review bilateral military-to-military engagement including joint exercises, training and expert exchanges. They looked forward to interaction between the Special Forces of India and the United States. The Ministers also welcomed the inclusion of the Royal Australian Navy in the U.S.-India-Japan MALABAR Naval Exercise scheduled to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in November 2020. They also looked forward to the convening of the next edition of the Tri-Services Amphibious TIGER TRIUMPH HADR Exercise and Army Exercises YUDH ABHYAS and VAJRA PRAHAR in 2021. The U.S. welcomed India’s co-hosting of the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leader Forum (SELF) in 2023. The Ministers decided to work together to realize the development of their respective defence industries. Acknowledging India’s contributions to the global supply chain of major defence platforms and commitment to defence innovation, the Ministers reiterated the importance of Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and stated their intention to fast track projects under DTTI. They noted with satisfaction the signing of a Statement of Intent (SoI) at the 10th DTTI meeting to strengthen dialogue on defence technology cooperation on several specific DTTI projects as well as a DTTI Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for identification and development of joint projects. India looked forward to the participation by the U.S. Government and defence industry at the upcoming Aero-India in February 2021. Issues related to nuclear cooperation, counter-terrorism, cyber security, Information and Communication Technology (including 5G), Space cooperation, and COVID 19 containment were also discussed.
US will stand by India against China – Pompeo
In a provocative message to Beijing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington will provide any support to India as “deterrence” against China. The statement came in his only television interview to Times Now after the 2+2 US-India Ministerial Dialogue held in New Delhi. Pompeo’s statement is likely to ruffle the feathers in Beijing. In response to a question whether the US has decided to offer India more than just diplomatic assistance in the event of a conflict with China or Pakistan, Pompeo said, “We did sign a series of important agreements but the agreements themselves were less important than the central understanding that came alongside them. “What’s become very clear now is that there is a battle and the battle in the world is between freedom and authoritarianism, and India, like the Unites States, has chosen democracy and freedom and sovereignty and all the things that people of India care so deeply about. So when confronted by tyranny by the Chinese Communist Party, you can be sure that the US will stand by as partners. We will.” “There are things that India can do that we can’t and there are things that we can’t achieve alone together. We can be force multipliers and deliver really good outcomes, not only for the people of India or the Indo-Pacific region, but for the entire world. So, as India has now confronted this challenge up in the north, the US is ready to do the things it can do to help deliver safety and security to the Indian people and I’m confident that India will do the same for us all around the world.”
When it comes to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he said the entire world is the frontline. “The ambition, national rejuvenation, and the goal of CCP general secretary Xi Jinping is not local, it is not regional, and that desire is global. You see it in the Belt and Road initiative that extends throughout Africa and through the Middle East. This is a global challenge and the freedom loving world must take it on together,” he told the news channel. The US, he said, understands the challenge. “You can watch the things that we are doing. We’ve made it more difficult for China to invest in the US. We just want fair and reciprocal trading. We built up our military like at no time in history. Our diplomacy has shifted. We now understand the challenge that is presided by this seemingly great power and we stand ready to assist all freedom-loving nations all across the world,” he said. Pompeo said the US will provide any support to India to deliver the deterrence. “In any way the US is capable of providing support…we are confident that together we can deliver the deterrence. Like this is the mission, that’s the reason we had meetings like we had today here. What we spoke about today was doing the things that can deter the Chinese Communist Party aggression, not only against India but I’ll leave here…” “And I’ll go to Sri Lanka and Maldives and to Indonesia. There are places that have a common set of understanding of the challenge and I’m hopeful that these nations will unite to deter and prevent what precisely you are raising as a concern,” he said. Pompeo added that India and China are locked in a bit of a standoff. “Many troops on both sides, too close and we attempt, we think the Indian Government hopes for there to be a disengagement,” he said. In response to whether he thought there was a possibility of a de-escalation, Pompeo said, “I think anytime a nation shows weakness, you invite Chinese Communist Party’s aggression. We have encouraged the Chinese to de-escalate for sure. We think that’s in China’s best interest, we think it’s in India’s best interest and world’s best interest. That’s our mission. We don’t want a conflict there. We want peace everywhere.” One should never mistake working alongside another nation as giving up any sovereignty, Pompeo asserted.
India-U.S. bilateral relations have developed into a “global strategic partnership”, based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues. The emphasis placed by the Government in India on development and good governance has created opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral ties and enhance cooperation under the motto — “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go”, and “Sanjha Prayas, Sab ka Vikas” (Shared Effort, Progress for All). The India-U.S. relationship could be an “Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century”. Regular exchange of high-level political visits has provided sustained momentum to bilateral cooperation, while the wide-ranging and ever-expanding dialogue architecture has established a long-term framework for India-U.S. engagement. Today, the India-U.S. bilateral cooperation is broad-based and multi-sectoral, including nuclear and Space. Vibrant people-to-people interaction and support across the political spectrum in both countries nurture the bilateral relationship. A hotline has been established between the Prime Minister’s Office and the U.S. White House.
A Policy Planning Dialogue has also been started between the two sides in September 2015. There have been regular contacts at political and official levels on bilateral, regional and global issues. There are Foreign Office consultations, at the level of Foreign Secretary of India and U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs. Defence relationship has emerged as a major pillar of India-U.S. strategic partnership with the signing of ‘New Framework for India-U.S. Defence Relations’. Bilateral dialogue mechanisms in the field of defence include Defence Policy Group (DPG), Defence Joint Working Group (DJWG), Defence Procurement and Production Group (DPPG), Senior Technology Security Group (STSG), Joint Technical Group (JTG), Military Cooperation Group (MCG), and Service-to-Service Executive Steering Groups (ESGs). India and the United States have launched a Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) aimed at simplifying technology transfer policies and exploring possibilities of co-development and co-production to invest the defence relationship with strategic value. The U.S. recognised India as a “Major Defence Partner”, which commits the U.S. to facilitate technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners, and industry collaboration for defence co-production and co-development. Cooperation in counter-terrorism has seen considerable progress with intelligence sharing, information exchange, operational cooperation, counter-terrorism technology and equipment.
Header Picture Source: in.usembassy.gov