INDIA – US DEFENCE COOPERATION

As a signal of increasing defense cooperation between India and the United States, the two countries have been working on proposals for the following foundational defense agreements:

• Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).
• Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geospatial information and data.
• Logistics Support Agreement (LSA).

CISMOA permits secure communications interoperability between partners during bilateral and multinational training exercises and operations. As both India and the US are partnering in a large number of such exercises, appropriate benefits could be drawn from CISMOA. With integration of the communications networks and systems, the two sides would be in a position to mount military actions together. It would also enable unit and higher echelon commanders to converse with each other in peacetime and war using real time communications links, and share classified data and information.

BECA permits the exchange of topographical, nautical, and aeronautical data and prod-ucts. This makes possible the exchange of sensitive information picked up by sensors on satellites and other space-based platforms. With digitised maps, it wouldenable Indian missiles and combat aircraft to cue in on target coordinates.

LSA facilitates the provision of logistical support, supplies, and services between the US military and the armed forces of partner countries on a reimbursable basis, and provides a framework that governs the exchange of logistics support, supplies, and services. With LSA, the militaries of both India and the US would be able to resupply and replenish, and stage operations out of the other’s military air bases, land facilities, and ports.

These proposals are not new and have been under consideration for about a decade. The US has been pushing for signing of the foundational agreement, contending that it will allow them to have seamless technology transfer to India and foster greater strategic cooperation between the two sides. India remains circumspect however, as it is wary of being drawn into an irreversible strategic partnership with the US, which is focused on countering the Chinese threat in the region. India’s defence Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar, after his visit to the US in December 2015, had stated that India was “in principle” agreeable to these pacts but some more clarity was required from the US side. What India is mainly concerned about is getting drawn into US engagements in the region, which could be detrimental to Indian interests. For example, US military engagement in the Middle East will pose an obligation to India to provide logistic support for such forces. This in turn could jeopardise the safety of the large number of Indian workers in the region.

While the military advantages to accepting some of these accords is
immense, India would have to look intothe geopolitical and strategicconsequences of such a move.Ideologically, the left-of-centre Congressled governments, have invariably leanedtowards the Soviet bloc and post the ColdWar, towards Russia. The BJP led NDAhowever leans more towards the West.However, both parties have preferred tomaintain an equilibrium with respect tothe major powers, which has enhancedIndia’s political, diplomatic and militaryleverage, and contributed to stabilitywithin the international system. The civilnuclear cooperation deal with the US bythe Congress led UPA Governmentaligned India more closely with the West,though the country continued with itsindependent foreign policy. If the defence agreements with the US materialise, India will have to guard against being viewed as a client state of the US, much as Pakistan is viewed today. To that extent, the LSA must be confined to administrative support only, without US troop presence on Indian soil. A rebalancing of relations with Russia would also be called for to ensure that Russian support for India’s defence needs remains on an even keel.

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