India has put all its eggs in one basket – the US. After signing the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the U.S., India has remained traped into an American cage.
BECA is the last of the four fundamental agreements signed between India and the US to promote defense and military relations. The signing of the deal is predetermined to enhance intelligence gathering and sharing between the two countries. The US efforts to strengthen intelligence sharing aim to counter China, but for India, the focus is to counter Pakistan. This Agreement is a direct threat to China and Pakistan immediately, but equally dangerous regional stability. All neighboring countries of India are worried and scared that the US may support India in anywhere conflict in the region.
This Agreement has completed the process of the US-Indo defense alliance. Historically, India and the US signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, which provides provision for sharing and protecting military intelligence between the two countries. After the fourteen years-long periods of developing trust and understanding, they signed the second Agreement, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), in 2016. It facilitates access to use each other’s bases for logistics. Next, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed in 2018. This Agreement provides secure communication and exchange of information means between the two countries during exercises and operations only. The latest Agreement, BECA., provides India access to the US geospatial data and equipment for military purposes.
After completing all four deals, India can exploit the full potential of platforms sold by the US through data sharing and increased interoperability, such as P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. It is indicated that the strategic defense alliance with America will leave no space for friendship with China or regional nations.
India’s access to the US strategic data includes satellite and topographic data, geophysical, geomagnetic, geodetic data, and nautical and aeronautical charts. India will also get access to real-time information on the adversary’s movement from the US military satellites. This might provides India an extra edge over its adversaries.
Access to the latest and advanced date will increase the accuracy of Indian ballistic and cruise missiles by feeding them precise target information and location. It will also enhance the efficiency of Indian armed unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), for which it has shown interest in the procurement of these platforms from the US. The US is also interested and paving ways to sell armed drones to its partners. Delivery of the US drones and access to sensitive data will increase Indian targeting capacity and capability. It also enables the US to install advanced avionics and navigational tools on the US provided aircraft to India and install digital sensors on Indian soil.
With the signing of these strategic agreements, India is getting a US ally fighting against a common enemy. They raise the US expectations from India to act for promoting and protecting the US strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. The US administrations want to make India a balancer
to China in its Indo-Pacific strategy. However, they also have concerns about such efforts due to Indian shortcomings as a net security provider when delivering on the US expectations.
On the Indian side, the long-held Indian policy of strategic autonomy seems a remnant of the past due to the Indian superficial tilt towards the US, especially under the Modi government. India has been traditionally closer to Russia, but now it is under pressure to limit its defense procurements and turn to the US wholeheartedly.
People in India have unfolded their concerns on the growing penetration of the US in the Indian sensitive command center through the datasets under the COMCASA and BECA. A senior Indian military expert Pravin Sawhney pens that the data coming from the US sensors through equipment installed under COMCASA has given the US control to make cyber activities to compromise or corrupt the Indian systems just like the Israelis did it through Stuxnet in Iran. The US having a capability does not mean it will exploit it, as contaminating and playing with information will setback the US efforts to counter China. Raising his concerns over Indian tilt towards the US, Former Indian Defence Minister AK Antony has said that the US wants a stronghold and domination over the Indian defense market. It might disrupt Russia to sell its other high-tech and advance weapons to India.
Nevertheless, the signing of BECA and other agreements provide grounds for and indicate the desire for closer military cooperation in the future, principally in the US. It has implications for those regional countries with which India is not on good terms.
The repercussions for the region
As the intelligence and data sharing under the BECA enhance the targeting capability of Indian military platforms, they increase the insecurity of countries such as China and Pakistan.
India-China crisis during the Doklam in 2017 and recently in Ladakh may also have impacted upon the Indian decision making to sign COMCASA in 2018 and BECA in 2020. Instead of resolving the border disputes, India’s singing of BECA and other such agreements to gain military benefits against China will not augur well for peace in the region. It will intensify the geopolitical divide in the region resulting in conflicts.
China-India stand-off may have impacted Indian readiness to sign BECA with the US. For India, however, Pakistan remains a significant and core concern. Pakistan gets more coverage in the Indian strategic and public discourse. It remains central to the planning of the Indian military force structure. Additionally, Pakistan also becomes relevant to such developments because of the idea of a two-front war scenario with Pakistan and China that is being discussed in India’s strategic circles.
Pakistan’s concerns over the shift in Indian policy to counterforce targeting have been aggravated with Indian access to real-time and accurate data on Pakistan’s military infrastructure. India is developing a range of missiles that can be used for counterforce targeting in Pakistan. Real-time data on military targets in Pakistan would increase the lethality and accuracy of Indian missiles such as Brahmos and Nirbhay cruise missiles, Agni III ballistic, and K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Future Indian hypersonic missiles would also benefit from these developments.
Pakistan should seek clarity from the US government over the provisions of BECA and get assurances of not sharing any sensitive data on Pakistan’s military infrastructure with India.
Furthermore, sensitive information on the military and other infrastructure of other smaller countries will weaken their military and diplomatic bargaining positions vis-à-vis India. They will have difficult choices to make then on their relations with China and or to comply with the US and Indian interests in the region.
While India is engaged in SCO and BRICS, and may not fulfill its sincerety with the aims and objectives of these two major alliances, and tilt toward America more. India may be used by America to spy on SCO and BRICS, which may endanger the geopolitics. It is not possible that after signing such strategic agreements with the US, India may not keep its loyalty or commitment with SCO and BRICS, making them dysfunctional as it did with SARC.
It is time for the regional countries to strengthen further close cooperation with China, Russia, and among each other to counter the emerging threat from BECA. It is very much clear that India is entirely under US influence and may be used by the US to counter China and regional countries. It is more rational to reinforce regional cooperation to face the new challenges posed by the Indo-US alliance.
Author: Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, PakistanThe Pentagon refuted the information about Esper’s resignation at its own will