Central & South Asia

India-US Relationship Is Now Official

As New Delhi moves to counter Beijing, closer cooperation with the US seems to be part of India’s new grand strategy.
Vikram Sood, Atul Singh, Manu Sharma, India US relations, India China relations, India China border dispute 2020, history of India China relations, India defense news, Narendra Modi Joe Biden news, US India cooperation agreements

© NINA IMAGES / Shutterstock

November 13, 2020 08:42 EDT

After decades of dithering, India has finally opted for American-led security architecture in Asia. In the latest US-India 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers, the two countries concluded a fourth foundational agreement. The four key agreements between the United States and India to date include the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA, 2018), Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA, 2016), General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA, 2002) and, as of October this year, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). This alphabet soup of little-known pacts has created the basis of a US-India entente. 

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The seeds of a new architecture have been germinating in the form of the Quad, a grouping of India, Australia, Japan and the United States. Indian scientists have gone on a missile testing spree, and the political leadership in New Delhi is not softening its stand on the India-China border. India is also boosting its defense ties with Southeast Asian nations threatened by China. It has offered the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines. BrahMos can be used against both land and sea targets. As an anti-ship missile, it has few peers. This missile effectively denies area entry to enemy surface combatants.

In addition to BrahMos, India might soon start selling Akash air defense missiles to its Southeast Asian friends. New Delhi is now clearly making moves to counter Beijing, and closer cooperation with the US seems to be part of India’s new grand strategy.

The Ghosts of 1962

In the war of 1962 over a disputed border, India lost disastrously to China, yet it did not establish closer relations with the anti-communist US for largely ideological reasons. The then-prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a socialist. Deeply influenced by the Soviet Union, he was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. Poor at realpolitik, Nehru tried to cultivate the US after 1962 even as he continued to remain close to the Soviet Union. The effort did not lead to much, and Beijing concluded that an Indo-US entente was improbable.

Since 1962, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has adopted an aggressive stance against the Indian Army. In contrast, India was chastened by the loss of territory and prestige. Therefore, successive Indian governments have adopted a diffident stance vis-à-vis Beijing. In 2020, this has changed. The brutal killing of an Indian colonel by the PLA triggered a ferocious response from Indian troops. A surge of patriotism followed. The Modi-led nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government drew a line in the Himalayas and has stood up to its northern neighbor.

Many in the English-speaking Indian and Anglo-Saxon media expected and predicted Indian capitulation, defeat and disgrace. The turn of events has proved them wrong. India has conducted its quickest Himalayan mobilization. It has used creative tactics, nibbled some territory hitherto held by the Chinese and put all three of its armed forces — Army, Navy and Air Force — in a state of high operational readiness. India has also conducted special operations inside Chinese territory and openly used Tibetan troops for the first time in its history. 

New Entente

In October, Modi’s government has shed India’s traditional Nehruvian diffidence and embraced the US wholeheartedly. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper joined Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar for the third annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi.

By signing BECA, India has gained access to valuable geospatial data, improving situational awareness for military operations and increasing the accuracy of its missile systems. COMCASA enabled Indian and US military platforms to network with each other. LEMOA allowed Indian and US militaries access to each other’s refueling facilities and military material. GSOMIA started the sharing of sensitive military intelligence data.

These four agreements enable logistics, communication and geospatial data sharing are in place, making India a de facto US ally. India has turned decisively to the US in part because it has lost faith in Russia’s ability to contain China. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, India and the US have steadily moved closer. However, relations have been greatly influenced by the chemistry of those in power in Washington and New Delhi. Successive governments have blown hot and cold. When there has been a change of power in either democracy, their relations have suffered in the transition.

Now, the 2+2 dialogue has moved decisively toward operationalizing the Quad. Previously, the Quad had not quite taken off. Australia and Japan have all shied away from closer engagement. This year, Australian sailors are joining the navies of Japan, India and the US for the Malabar naval exercise. This is a major change in political and military alliances in the region.

The latest meeting marks a watershed in US-India relations. No longer will American policy change if a new administration enters the White House. Even as Donald Trump leaves and Joe Biden takes over, the trajectory of US-India relations is likely to remain the same. Many in New Delhi fear that Biden is likely to initiate a rapprochement with China and pressure India to kick-start talks with Pakistan. Even if that turns out to be true, ties between India and the United States have now been institutionalized, and the countries have entered an entente, if not an alliance.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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