Walking into the American trap
Three major military pacts presumably aimed at rejuvenating and elevating Indo-US relations to a new strategic level are being pushed afresh under the Narendra Modi regime after being shelved by the UPA government. The US defence secretary Ashton Carter is on the high octave mission to India to give a realistic shape to the pact. The way the system has been moving to accomplish the task it makes it explicit that the Modi government is more concerned of the USA interest than caring for the Indian constraints. Else there was no reason that the government would have agreed to the USA prodding to sign at the dotted lines when Ashton lands in India in April with the document.
The pacts, the foundational agreements, are the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA); Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). Describing the bilateral Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) as a "vehicle" for closer strategic ties, the US has stressed the need for India to ink the "foundational" agreements it has been pushing for 13 years.
The deal is loaded against India to such an extent that even a person like Dr Manmohan Singh, who was perceived as a friend of George Bush and also Barack Obama, refused to oblige the USA. While the Manmohan government had ducked the controversial political decision and let ties with the US drift, the Narendra Modi government has agreed to accept the American offer without bothering the latent impact it would have on India.
It is now an open secret that how much his refusal to oblige the USA had cost Dr Singh. During last three years’ of his rule he had to face many adverse situations and non cooperation. Now just before quitting President’s office, Obama is once again striving to have the deal through. Significantly this contentious issue was revived by the Americans immediately after Obama's 2015 visit to India. It was projected as an instrument to rejuvenate and upscale the flagging bilateral relation.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter will be visiting India in April and already moves are on have the deal clinched. The Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar who visited Washington in December 2015 held that India was "in principle" agreeable to these pacts but some more clarity was required from the US. Carter will be travelling to India within weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US on March 31 and April 1. Carter’s visit to India will take place against the backdrop of continuing tensions in the South China Sea. US continues to accuse China of "militarising" the region.
Intriguingly the USA has been pushing the agreement using the fear threat from China. America has been projecting China as the worst enemy of India. India has been alarmed by Chinese naval forays into the Indian Ocean and its involvement in maritime infrastructure on island nations. Incidentally the real threat is being pushed below the carpet.
True enough the UPA centre-left government was worried that the agreements would undermine India's strategic autonomy and it would also draw it into an undeclared military alliance with the US. The agreement on India-US Defence Relations signed in Washington in 2015 is a major step to prepare India to serve the US strategic goals in Asia. The Indo-US military collaboration began in January 1992 during the Narasimha Rao government. An India-US Army Executive Steering Committee was set up and the Indo-US Military Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1995. This agreement, the first of its kind, provided for officers of the Indian Armed forces being sent to the United States for training programmes, staff exchanges and joint exercises.
The US is pushing for "transformative defence technologies" for co-development and co-production with India under DTTI, which could become the hallmark of the Modi government’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative. The US has offered India 17 hi-tech items of military hardware for co-production and co-development under DTTI. Of the 17, India is understood to be interested in five, including unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and aircraft landing system for aircraft carriers.
The deal also provides substantial opportunities for the US defense industry to co-produce and co-develop with their Indian counterparts. The primary reason is they are attracted by India’s low-cost, well-educated, English-speaking, technically sound workforce. The Indian American lobby has played vital role in pushing the interaction between the two countries. Obama’s visit to India in January 2015 rejuvenated the India-US strategic partnership. It was during Obama’s trip to India that the decision was made to extend the defense agreement for further 10 years.
A closer look at the pack would reveal that the Global super power USA, in trying to cripple regional superpower status India enjoys in South Asia. Precisely this is the reason that it intends to have India’s military bases and ports under its own control and use, obviously through some agreement. As it appears to be certain, once the pact is inked, the USA would have complete control on all three powers of the region, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan and, thereby complete monopoly over the region. Under the UPA government India became a global strategic partner of the USA, the Indian military became USA’s most frequent partner in joint exercises, and the US displaced Russia as India’s largest weapons supplier. Significantly the BJP, during its 20 months in office, has tilted India still more strongly toward Washington, including forging closer military-security ties with the US’s most important Indo-Pacific allies, Japan and Australia.
A large part of the Indian strategic community also has objected to the deal. If finalised, the LSA would allow the US military to routinely use Indian army and air force bases for refuelling and otherwise staging its deployments. The proposed LSA is, without doubt, a part of the US policy to contain China. Little doubt with its domineering stance has been complicating the situation and relations. Also China’s hostility to India has been during last 50 years has been the reason for India throwing its weight behind America. But that does not, provide a rationale to India’s entering into a military alliance with the US which will compromise India’s sovereign rights and deny its right to make independent policy options.
In fact the Indian army has been concerned of compromising sensitive data by signing the LSA, CISMOA and BECA. But they have indicated that the agreements may be signed if ways could be found around some of the clauses just as they were found when it came to signing an end user verification agreement with the US in 2009. Even former defence minister A K Antony opposed the CISMOA, BECA, and LSA, as he believed that signing the agreements would grant the US military unencumbered access to Indian military installations and compromise sensitive data.