Foundational Agreements and the Growing Indo-US Partnership

Photo Credit: AFP
Since the time Narendra Modi has been elected as the Prime Minister of India in May 2014, his foreign policy has been dynamic and innovative, to say the least. Unlike the previous administrations, which continued to be ambivalent on India’s attitude towards the world, the Modi Government has taken steps to break traditional barriers with innovative yet strategic decision-making. One of the prime focuses of PM Modi’s foreign policy has been the defence and military engagements with the US and its allies in Asia-Pacific. In addition to military exercises like Malabar with Japan and US, nuclear deal with Australia, India in January 2015 concluded a 10-year Defence Partnership agreement during President Obama’s visit to India. India and US in the Defence Agreement signed in January 2015 agreed on incorporating DTTI (Defense Technology and Trade Initiative) as part of bilateral cooperation in exchange of technologies and arms. DTTI’s incorporation in the bilateral defence agreement with the US marked a new phase and a stark departure from the previous UPA regime, which hedged on signing DTTI.

The incorporation of DTTI and the US proposals to share technologies in critical sectors like aircraft carriers and jet engines set the ball rolling for future military co-operation between the two countries. The US has been prodding India to sign three further foundational military agreements namely the LSA, CISMOA, and BECA as an enabler for transfer of critical technologies that India desires. On April 12, 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited India to conclude these Foundational Agreements.  India and the US announced that they have principally agreed on the terms of one agreement i.e. Logistical Support Agreement (LSA) and expect it to be signed in the coming months. There has been much skepticism over the nature of these foundational agreements, on what they mean in practical terms and what the geopolitical impact of the same is. Let’s look into the facts of these agreements and likely effects of its signing in the near future.

LSA, the first of the agreements, which India has agreed to sign, generally entails the sharing of military logistics like bases and refueling and providing facilities to armed forces, aircrafts and maritime vessels. The purpose of LSA is better coordination between the two militaries on the ground in the theater of war, peace, natural disasters, relief and rescue efforts, military training and exercises. However, unlike the other US allies, India placed some concerns with the US on hosting US military bases on Indian Territory. The objection raised by India on US military bases is valid given its sovereign autonomy. After intense negotiations, India has been able to gain concessions from the US on an India-specific LSA, which addresses India’s concerns. Under the proposed terms of the agreement, India will share its military facilities with the US on reciprocal basis only for refueling, relief, rescue and other logistical support. India has categorically stated that this agreement does not mean that US Forces will be permanently stationed on Indian military bases. India has further stated that coordination with the US under the proposed LSA will be on a case-to-case basis.

It is worth mentioning that even Philippines in 2002 signed a similar agreement MLSA (Mutual Logistical Support Agreement) with the US, whereby the Philippines and the US military agreed to share logistics and coordinate military activities. The said agreement explicitly laid out terms of the activities covered in MLSA i.e. supplies like food, Oil, water, lubricants, ammunition, etc as agreed between the parties. The MLSA further included repair, maintenance, training, transport and medical services. However it specifically stated that “No United States military base, facility or permanent structure shall be constructed, established, or allowed under this Agreement.” The proposed agreement of LSA which India has agreed to sign is on similar lines with India’s sovereignty not being diluted.  The LSA reaffirms that the storage units and other facilities shall always remain under the control and supervision of the host state. India has agreed to LSA given that the extent of military cooperation between India and the US has increased multifold in the last decade from anti-piracy efforts, Nepal earthquake rescue, and military exercises.

The other agreements which the US wishes India to sign as a precursor to technology transfers are CISMOA (Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). These agreements are contentious in nature as CISMOA primarily will enable the US and India to share encrypted technologies on critical weapon systems with each other. The US argument is that it requires this agreement to be signed to provide India with encrypted technologies like on the P8I and C-130 Hercules which the Indian Air Force operates. The US, in the past, has removed the critical encryption technologies while supplying these aircraft manufactured by Boeing to the Indian Air Force. Other arguments put forward in favour of CISMOA are that it entails the sharing of encryption and communications like radio frequency which would make the coordination between the two militaries easier in a war zone for calling for a military strike or missile defence system like the Patriot which works on certain US spectrum frequencies. CISMOA also means the greater exchange of command operations between the two countries with Indian and US commanders operating on each other’s facilities, technologies, etc. India and specifically its Air Force have steadfastly objected to this agreement as India uses various encrypted technologies of Russian and French origin on some of its weapon systems which it would not like to share with the US. The objections of India on sharing encrypted technologies of critical weapons systems seem valid, and it remains to be seen how the two negotiate on these contentious issues.

The third foundational agreement between India and the US is BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).  This agreement proposes to share geospatial data or sharing numerical data on target locations as well as forces stationed in the area. It also talks about sharing GPS coordinates between the two sides in the theatres of war as well as rescue and relief missions. India’s objection to this agreement is that it is on the verge of developing its own GPS System to map digital data of the Subcontinent and that it may not need this agreement. On the flip side, this agreement could provide India with the US’s GPS facilities outside of the Subcontinent especially in the Indian Ocean region and South East Asia as the military coordination between both the parties increases. Hence like LSA (agreed upon), both CISMOA and BECA need careful considerations and deliberations to resolve any clauses that could hamper India’s sovereign rights and its defence relationship with any other world power.

The conclusion of LSA between India and the US offers an entirely new prospect of military and defence cooperation between the two largest democracies on the planet. The signing of LSA would send a larger geopolitical signal to India’s regional competitors especially China, who is trying to create a Global Order-oriented from Shanghai. China’s rise and its creeping takeover of Pakistan has added a totally a new dimension to the geopolitics in Asia. China has recently even outpaced the US in aiding and arming Pakistan with $49 billion for the CPEC, JF-17 Fighter Jets (with RD 93 engines provided by Russia), submarines and missile and nuclear technologies. China also recently vetoed India’s attempt to get Pakistan-based terrorist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar banned for the Pathankot attack. The creeping Chinese colonisation of Pakistan presents a whole new set of challenges to India’s security doctrine with a prospect of a two-front war in the future. It is in this context that India needs to prepare a comprehensive strategic doctrine to augment its military and economic strength which will require the aid of countries like the US, Japan and even its old friend Russia to contain the Chinese dragon.

While the prospect of an Indo-US military partnership seems lucrative in the wake of a rising China; yet the agreements have some genuine apprehensions. India has reportedly asked the United States to stand guarantee for Transfer of Technologies by its military industrial complex. Earlier assurances of India’s entry into NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) for The Nuclear Deal in 2009-10 have yielded no results thus far. India’s entry into MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) was also recently blocked by Italy. When it comes to the US, the lucrative deals being made on offer like F-18 Super Hornets, aircraft carriers, etc in Make in India have so far turned out to be mere lip service. The apprehension in India about the US’s willingness to transfer technologies to India and its arms supplies to Pakistan is genuine. It is this trust deficit that the two powers will have to bridge if they are to work together in the Asia-Pacific. The United States will have to stand the test of time and deliver; for which it has repeatedly proved to be fickle and unreliable.Only time will judge whether Indo-US military agreements like LSA will prove to be a game-changer in the Asia Pacific Region.
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  1. Simple question,you gave US access to Indian Ocean(your backyard,it doesn't matter whether it's a case by case or not) and what it entails in future we don't know.In return what we got?UNSC,MTCR,NSG? Talk of ToT is just talk.No one will part their critical tech like jet engines to anyone.Here other than taking sides(or you can say balancing) what we got? Have we bargained enough? You gave an inch who knows how many yards they will take.

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