India May Sign Major ‘Defence Pact’ With The US To Thwart Pakistan-China Nexus

India may be on the verge of signing the ‘long-overdue’ third foundational military pact with the US in order to counterbalance the Russia-China-Pakistan (RCP) nexus. 

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The ongoing confrontation between India and Pakistan has further emphasised the significance of the third India-US treaty. Foreign policy and defence experts say that there has to be a bigger effort to close the deal as the RCP axis is turning out to be a big threat to regional peace.

These experts are of the view that China’s violation of international norms in recent years, particularly its construction of military facilities on forcibly occupied and reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, and its growing military and economic power pose a strategic challenge to the countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including India and the US and their allies and strategic partners.

They feel that the growing Russia-China-Pakistan nexus is a matter of concern not only for India but also for other countries in the region and that the India-US strategic partnership makes eminent sense as a hedging strategy for both countries.

India has already signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). However, it is yet to sign the third, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). A country needs to sign these three pacts to obtain cutting-edge weapons and communications systems from the US.

COMCASA is one of the three foundational defence pacts that need to be signed by a country in order to obtain high-tech military hardware from the US. Before COMCASA, India had signed the LEMOA in 2016. However, the two countries are yet to begin talks on the third agreement, BECA.

“The growing China-Pakistan nexus in terms of nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles and military hardware is a matter of concern not only for India but also for the other countries in the region,” says Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), a fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). “India must join the US and other strategic partners, such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, to establish a cooperative security framework for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, for the security of the global commons and to deal with contingencies that might arise,” he says.

“Defence cooperation, a key component of the Indo-US strategic partnership, must be taken to the next higher trajectory to enable the two countries to undertake joint threat assessment; contingency planning for joint operations; sharing of intelligence; simulations and table-top exercises, besides training exercises with troops; coordination of command, control and communications; and planning for operational deployment and logistics support. All of these activities must be undertaken in concert with Australia, Japan, South Korea and India’s strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific,” he points out.

COMCASA was signed last year and the two countries agreed on working together on the entry of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The agreement, which was pending for almost ten years, was aimed at opening the way for the sale of more sensitive US military equipment to India. It is to be noted that India was designated as a “major defence partner” by the US in 2016.

COMCASA was pending for a long time as India feared that it would open up its communications network to the US military. Those who were opposing it had said that the agreement could also jeopardise India’s established military ties with Russia and access to their weapons.

K.P. Vijayalakshmi, Professor US Studies, Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University feels if there currently exists a partnership that causes genuine concern in New Delhi, it is the China-Pakistan axis, which is seemingly invincible. She feels that India has enjoyed a long historical relationship with Russiam, which has withstood the pressures of time. “But yes, there is serious need for BECA to be signed because of the benefits it offers to India’s intelligence requirements in the context of counter terror operations. BECA would initiate a set of protocols between the two countries for sharing intelligence associated to mapping and geospatial activities in real time. This agreement will be considered crucial for India-US ties as it finally gives the two an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric,” she says.

“The three pacts would signal the start of a new era, coinciding with the recently updated US-India defence framework. While the Information Security Agreement (ISA) stops India from sharing US technology with other countries, BECA would facilitate exchange of geospatial information between India and US for both military and civilian use. BECA would set a framework through which the United States could share sensitive data to aid targeting and navigation with India,” she adds.

India and US have become much closer in recent years, seeking ways to counter-balance China’s spreading influence across Asia, especially in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The US has emerged as India’s second largest arms supplier, closing $15 billion deals in the last ten years.

Over the past year, Indian and US militaries participated in five major exercises, executed more than 50 other military exchanges and further operationalised the 2016 LEMOA agreement, which enables militaries of both countries access to each other’s facilities for supplies and repairs.

As Vijayalakshmi puts it: “India, so far, seems to have leveraged its position and agreed to sign agreements that are beneficial to it. This level of invigorated bilateral defence cooperation based on the signing of foundational agreements like LEMOA and COMCASA needs BECA as a final building block for a deeper US-India strategic partnership. It is clear that US-India partnership is already paying rich dividends especially with regard to Pakistan.”

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Originally Published in Sunday Guardian