Importance of Foundational Agreements in Indo-US relations

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India and the US have done away with one more layer of hesitations of history when they recently concluded the foundational agreements. The recent signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement introduces another era of cooperation and mutual trust between what experts call the natural partnership. In this backdrop, it is important to understand all the four foundational agreements and their significance in the current times.

Foundational Agreements-BECA

What are the Foundational Agreements?

  • The United States enters into what is called ‘foundational or enabling agreements’ with its defense partners.
  • These agreements govern the nature and scope of U.S. defense partnerships.
  • For the US, these partnerships enhance the capabilities of the U.S. military in distant places through
    sharing information, platforms, and logistics.
  • In return, the countries in agreement receive the strictly controlled advanced military and communication technology seamlessly.
  • The US has more than 100 such agreements with its partners around the world as the US wants to maintain its supremacy in the world, protect its economic interest worldwide and deter its potential enemies.

The four Foundational agreements are as follows

General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)

  • It is the first of four foundational agreements signed by both the countries in 2002.
  • The agreement guaranteed that the two sides would protect classified technology that is shared between them and laid down the groundwork for further sale of US weapons to India.
  • The information under this agreement could only be shared between the US government and American companies with the Government of India and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU), but not with Indian private companies.
  • Recently, the signing of the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) which was added to the General Security on Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2019 has paved the way for the exchange and protection of classified military information between Indian and US private companies engaged in defense production too.

Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)

  • It is a tweaked version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) specifically for India and was signed in 2016.
  • LEMOA allows both countries to replenish from each other’s designated military facilities.
  • This includes billeting, transportation, petroleum, oil, lubricants, food, water, clothing, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, training services, medical services, and other logistical items and services.
  • While India had, in the past, provided logistical support on an ad hoc basis to American ships, LEMOA formalized the process and made payment easier since it can be carried forward and crossed off against future replenishment.

Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)

  • This was signed in 2018 during the 2+2 ministerial meeting between the two countries.
  •  The original US agreement known as Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) was changed to COMCASA to make it India-specific, just like the LEMOA.
  • COMCASA deals with secure military communication.
  • It allowed the US government to give military-grade tech avionics, communication systems without being concerned about its secrecy being compromised.
  •  After signing of COMCASA, India gets real-time high definition images and data and feeds from US assets that are keeping an eye on both India’s eastern as well as western borders.

Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)

  • This was the recent and the last of the foundational agreements that was signed recently during the 2+2 ministerial meeting.
  • The agreement allows both the countries to share all kinds of military information, for example, geomagnetic and gravity data, maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery.
  • Though most of the shared information will be unclassified, there also are provisions for sharing of classified information such as sensitive satellite and sensor data, with safeguards to prevent it from being shared with any third party.
  • Access to such information will substantially enhance the accuracy of Indian missiles and armed drones.

What are the advantages of foundational agreement for India?

  • With the conclusion of these foundational agreements, India will evolve as a serious military power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Region.
  • Though India used some of the benefits of these agreements in the past, the institutionalization of these agreements makes the use more seamless.
  • The agreements facilitate cost-savings while procuring and maintaining US-made military systems; and reduce logistical challenges to bilateral defense relations.
  • With BECA, it will be possible to keep a close watch on the movements of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.
  • In the case of Pakistan, for tactical operations like Balakot, India will be able to access satellite and other data from the US to verify the success of its hits.
  • The agreement may pave the way for India to acquire armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the United States’ arsenal.

Why agreements are important for the USA?

  • These agreements can provide the necessary impetus to the dwindling US influence in the Asia Pacific region with respect to China.
  • The USA considers China as its biggest threat of this century and it has always considered India a natural ally in the Indian Ocean. The Defence agreements formalize the defense relations with India.
  • The US would want to utilize India’s preponderance in the region and contain Chinese expansionist policies.
  • The US is well aware of the advantage India’s maritime geography provides for launching its operations against Chinese misadventures while being able to maintain its resources in a safe zone.
  • US does not consider Pakistan as dependable after the Osama Bin Laden issue and Pakistan’s degrading image as a rogue state supporting terrorism. It will reorient its strategic interests with pacts with India.
  • It would be easier to align Indian interests with those of the US on many international issues such as Iran and Russia. By increasing interdependence between the two countries through arms deals, it will want to decrease India’s relations with Russia. Those are specifically based on Russian weapons deals.

What were the concerns raised about these agreements?

Some of the concerns raised by the experts are as follows

  • These defense agreements pave the way for a military alliance and force India to compromise its strategic autonomy.
  • India may not be able to refuse to cooperate against its interests in the future in the case of Iran and Russia though at this point agreements seem opportune with respect to China.
  • The agreements, particularly the LEMOA, primarily benefit the United States since Indian ships are less likely to refuel and resupply at U.S. ports.
  • The agreements are intended to boost U.S. arms sales to India to the benefit of the U.S. economy and American workers.
  • Implementation of the COMCASA could reveal locations of Indian military assets to Pakistan or other countries as Pakistan is a partner of the USA in defense.
  • Experts also say that the Implementation of the COMCASA would be too burdensome for the Indian military, given the complex procedures of the US.
  • The evolution of technology means that in the future all military platforms will need to be integrated and networked. The U.S. is very particular about the integrity of its networks, and pressure could mount on India to remain firmly in its camp.
  • At any rate, it will not be possible to integrate Russian and American platforms. This could be challenging for the military planning of India.
  • An argument was also forwarded that moving ahead with these agreements would also open India to multiple levels of foreign threats and attacks which the perpetrators may not be capable of carrying out on US soil, but will find it easier to execute in India.

Do the concerns have merit?

  • Defense experts say that as far as the concerns regarding critical data going into the hands of Pakistan, they are unfounded as the data is not automatically transferred. Plus, these were the issues that were plaguing the early deal. They have been extensively discussed.
  • As loss of freedom of choice and sovereignty is considered, close examination of the facts behind some past incidents in which sovereignty concerns were voiced, even by allies, demonstrates that the situation involving India is decidedly different.
  • The US has more than 100 agreements with other countries. There are no serious concerns regarding freedom of choice. In cases the case is so, like Korea, Japan etc there are legally binding agreements for the security of those countries. For India, it is more of a partnership of equals and India too has substantial to offer.
  • Though India will not be using some LEMOA benefits like refueling in near future but the agreements could help in the long-term with growing India’s reach and interests worldwide.
  • India can now better manage security issues in the Indian ocean like piracy and Chinese string of Pearls tactics through US fleet presence in the region and integrated with Indian mechanism.
  • By these agreements, it is not mandatory for India to buy US arms and technology, and neither India is bound to provide base, refuelling, and other wartime assistance, say some experts.
  • During the period of negotiations for these agreements, India has finalized deals for S-400 with Russia and the US had to make exceptions for this deal and trade with Iran too. India is sovereign in its foreign policy decisions.

What impact these agreements will have on India-US relations?

  • The agreements begin a new chapter in mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries.
  • The two countries are democracies with converging political and economic interests. The defense cooperation makes them cooperate to deal with common threats that are present.
  • The complementary relationship is based on mutual benefit. Hence it is more sustainable
  • The strengthening of the mechanisms of cooperation must be seen in reference to an increasingly aggressive China, which threatens peace and stability in its neighbourhood and other regions, and it has been challenging established norms and aspects of international relations for a long time now.
  • When there is an ongoing standoff between India and China and the Chinese disdain for peace and stability makes it even more important for both the countries must put up a united front against Chinese expansionism.
  • Both countries have already teamed up with Japan and recently Australia in a quadrilateral cooperation for a safe and peaceful Indo-Pacific region.
  • It is now known that during the Doklam standoff the US provided India with locations and Chinese troop movements which were useful to contain Chinese schemes. The conclusion of these agreements will make it seamless and not on a request basis.
  • India and the US both are democracies. They strive to promote values of peace, stability, sovereignty, and peaceful coexistence. The agreement is important to protect these values against a revisionist power.

Way forward

  • Though the agreements have been concluded, it is important to see how speedily they are put to work.
  • India must upgrade its military setup to make full use of the pacts and put in place state of the art analysis and decision-making mechanism.
  • India must utilize this opportunity and build a strong domestic weapons manufacturing industry and be Atmanirbhar in defense.
  • The agreements are defense agreements essentially. India must be cautious of not allowing them to enter into political and economic decision making. India must maintain strategic autonomy at any cost.
  • Though India wants to diversify its defense basket, it is important to remember old friends like Russia and not allow closeness with the US overshadow old ties.
  • It is important to have independent foreign policy irrespective of these defense ties. Our policy in West Asia and other areas must not follow the American line. We have different interests than America on many fronts.
  • Although these are defense pacts, the perception must be managed not to look as aggressive pact against one country. This could be fatal. India has favored the model of collective security since Nehru’s times. The collective defense model is not sustainable and feasible for India.
  • The fear of Pakistani penetration of Indian critical information must be tackled with institutional and legal mechanisms of secrecy and security of data and must not be left to the discretion and blind trust. In international relations, it must be remembered that there are no permanent friends and foes.

Conclusion

The Indi-US relationship is touted to be the most defining partnership of the 21st century. The agreements only confirm the perception. India stands to gain very much from the defense pacts in terms of military preparedness and technology transfer. Though it is a distinct and decisive shift from past hesitations it must be kept in mind that the past hesitations were not without reasons. We must protect our sovereign right to make our foreign policy and maintain strategic autonomy to act in self-interest.

Practice Question for Mains

Critically analyze the benefits of the four foundational agreements signed between India and the US. Do they compromise India’s strategic autonomy? (250 words)

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