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Evolution of Strategic Environment of India and the U.S.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, launched a foreign policy of non-alignment to assert neutrality with the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The goal of this policy was to uplift and defend the rights of developing and non-developing nations. In later years , India and the U.S. had considerably greater bilateral trade and investment in this strategic relationship, and India was declared a "Major Defense Partner" of the United States in 2016. The strategic partnership flourished in 2002, when India rendered assistance to the U.S. on September 11, 2001, a day of unprecedented shock and suffering. As French marshal Ferdinand Foch says “This is not a peace treaty, it is an armistice for twenty years”. After 15 years of negotiations, the U.S. and India signed a defense “foundational” agreement named General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002. GSOMIA facilitates security standards for safeguarding the critical information shared by the U.S. with India, as well as enabling collaboration by the U.S. defence firms with Indian defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs). Since then, the U.S. Secretary of Defence and the Indian Minister of Defense had established concrete measures to strengthen co-production of science and technology and to ensure provision of opportunities.

Rather than holding annual sessions, the U.S-India defense relationship is sailing ahead to more frequent high-level cooperation and defense trade, which has increased substantially. Both countries signed the End-User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA). This agreement aroused several oppositions from India, because the U.S. wants to inspect all the inventory that is transferring to India. The U.S. will have the right to inspect the intent of any weapon that is purchased by India. End-use monitoring was to satisfy the international commitments of the U.S. and it is precisely conspicuous of considering India as a client state, rather than a strategic ally. The signing of the long negotiating Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) between India and the U.S on October 27, signals further collaboration of bilateral defence and military ties. The expansion of strategic ties lies within four key pacts including, BECA.

Of the four foundational agreements, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed by two countries in 2002. It facilitates sharing of classified information from the U.S. government and its companies with the Government of India and defense public sector units, however this agreement excludes Indian private companies. The General Security of MIlitary Information Agreement was guided by direction from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President George W. Bush. India and the United States have charted a new course in their bilateral relationship. The India-U.S. Defence Secretary aimed at enhancing mutual capabilities in combating terrorism, environmental security and development of technologies for meeting catastrophic ruination. They highlighted the paramountcy of the ongoing Special Operations Airborne Exercise in building interoperability between U.S. and Indian armed forces, and concurred to conduct further exercises. Later on, the government led by Congress’s Manmohan Singh didn’t extend his hand in signing the other three agreements put forth by the U.S. amid concerns that these may lock India into an uncomfortably close embrace with the U.S.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, the signing of a second agreement panned out with the U.S. Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter. The second agreement, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed on 29 August, 2016 required a great deal of negotiation since its implications went beyond the Indo-U.S. plane. It would create potential opportunities for exchanging military logistics for either of the countries to re-supply or carry out military repairs.Since India and the U.S conducts a significant number of joint exercises, a system was instituted for book-keeping and payments and officials, who would serve as nodal points of contact from both sides. The four primary areas under this arrangement are port calls, joint drills, preparation, and humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Any other arrangement needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis by all parties. The Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) is a fine tuned version of LEMOA. One of the controversies around domestic political opposition to LEMOA was based on the misconception that this is an agreement negotiated and signed by the U.S. allies that also makes India one. In fact, however about 100 countries have signed the LSA, many of which are not U.S. allies. Another misconception of the LSA was that signing it would make India, especially in West Asia and East Asia, a part of American policies and conflicts. But this is not true either: Though most of the countries formally allied with the U.S. have not been dragged into these wars, let alone those simply signing the agreement. Moreover in a realistic sense, India is losing and winning tangible benefits. As one of the more basic advantages, LEMOA enhances India's outreach to conduct far-sea operations that have historically been comparatively small. The signing of LEMOA helped India obtain access to Djibouti and Diego Garcia's U.S. military bases. The agreement neither offers logistical assistance nor allows the military bases to be binding on either of the countries and thus requires individual clearance. LEMOA is symbolically important to signify India-U.S. ties. Links, however among some critics, rejected such close ties out of fear of China's aggression, claiming this partnership was alarming.

The third agreement, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed on September 6, 2018 during the inaugural 2+2 dialogue. In view of the national interests of both nations, COMCASA was signed. The bilateral dialogue was attended by the U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman. The agreement was focused on advancing defence systems and ensuring maritime freedom in the India-Pacific region. The data procured or communicated between the militaries of India and the U.S. cannot be disclosed to any person or entity without India’s consent. To take a quick example, it's like being able to share messages or communicate in real time and in a safe way with a friend on WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram. Signing COMCASA is principal for India due to various reasons. Primarily, the agreement enables the U.S. to part with its encrypted communication equipment, which is largely used for ground-to-air communication for the U.S. origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130, and P-81s. The military platforms of both the countries can operate on the same communication systems and without this agreement, the U.S. cannot part with sensitive communication equipment with India. The agreement also discloses that India will share the military deployments of China and Pakistan with the American intelligence.

The fourth agreement, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) was signed on October 27, 2020 during the third edition of the 2+2 dialogue between the two strategic partners. The signing of the fourth agreement was agreed in the presence of S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, and Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister with Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, and Mark T. Esper, Defence Secretary. According to the agreement, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will give India access to classified geospatial information as well as critical information. This may be the secret to Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between India and the US to improve the precision of automated cooperation. Just as your radio cab (or the GPS in your smartphone) lets you zone in on the way to your destination and helps you hit it easily and effectively, BECA can have a high-quality GPS for Indian military systems to handle real-time intelligence missiles to target the adversary precisely. Geospatial intelligence is also important for the response to natural disasters, in addition to the sailing of ships, flight of aircraft, fighting battles, and identifying targets. The signing of BECA derives from the promise reached in the joint statement during the February visit of President Donald Trump this year when the two sides said they were looking forward to the "early conclusion" of BECA.

In the sense of an increasingly hostile China, which threatens a wide number of countries in its region and beyond, and which has been violating many existing norms and facets of foreign relations, the strengthening of the frameworks of cooperation between the two military powers must be seen. India and the US have escalated under-the-radar information and intelligence despite the current standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, the longest and most serious in three decades. The signing of these foundational pacts with the US aims for the enhancement of mutual trust and a commitment to the long-term strategic relationship. Cooperation between the US and India will take place in a more coordinated and effective manner, rather than in episodic bursts, with these main defence pacts in place. Although LEMOA means one partner trusts the other sufficiently to reveal its precious properties, COMCASA means that one is assured that to link the two military powers, it can rely on encrypted systems. And the new agreement, BECA, ensures that without risk of compromise, countries will exchange highly sensitive information in real time. The US wants India to step away from Russian equipment and platforms because it claims that this might expose Moscow to its technologies and knowledge. To date, India is seeking the purchase from Russia of the S-400 air defence missile system, and this has become a stumbling point for American interlocutors. India, for its part, is wary of Pakistan's deep-rooted relations with the Pentagon, and of Washington's reliance on Rawalpindi and its exit policy for entry to Afghanistan. But because of China's clear and present threat, the strategic embrace of Washington by New Delhi is the obvious outcome. C-17 Globemaster III for troop transport, Boeing's Chinook CH-47 as heavy-lift helicopters, Boeing's Apache as tank-killers, P-8I Poseidon for overland surveillance, and Lockheed Martin's C-130J for airlifting soldiers have already seen at least five American platforms at the LAC.



Tina Joseph



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