2+2 today, decks cleared for key India-US defense agreement

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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo

 

2+2 today, decks cleared for key India-US defense agreement

India and the United States have a number of key defense agreements, most notably BECA, during the 2+2 India-US ministerial dialogue today. Long in the making, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA will allow India to gain access to precision data and topographical images – on a real-time basis – from the United States military satellites.

The US relationship is the most important of India’s bilateral ties, having grown in recent years on account of China’s belligerence. In the concluding part of a series on the US Presidential election, a look at how this relationship has evolved, and its highs and lows irrespective of whether the President has been a Democrat or a Republican.

The relationship with the United States of America matters to India more than any other bilateral engagement: economically, strategically, and socially. American Presidents can often make a real difference to bilateral ties, including on trade, immigration policies, and larger strategic issues.

Outside the fringes, the mainstream of political opinion favors stronger relations between the two countries. Anti-Americanism, once the knee-jerk reaction of the Indian elite, seems almost antediluvian today.

The Indian diaspora in the US is one of the most successful expatriate communities, and while their political preferences may differ — they all favor a closer bonding between their janmabhoomi or pitrabhoomi and their karmabhoomi.

Clearly, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump recognize the grave threat from China, but their response may be different. While Trump 2.0 may be willing to even more aggressively counter China, Biden is likely to follow a policy of “Congagement”: containment with engagement.

To be most effective, India’s China policy —many would argue — would have to be customized to the US’s response and coordinated with Washington. This has already generated, as it should, a robust debate.

A rising power like India has three clear strategic choices: Hedging; Balancing; or Bandwagoning.

A strategy of Hedging offers the prospects of continuing cooperation with China on areas of mutual interest while building India’s defenses and confronting Beijing on a la carte basis (at a time and place of new Delhi’s choice). A Biden Presidency may demand continued strategic Hedging.

Bandwagoning is a defeatist option of capitulation and accepting Chinese hegemony (“If you cannot beat them, join them!”). That would also exclude the US from the strategic options available; no self-respecting Indian would be comfortable with such an option.

Today’s discussions will add new vigor to India-US defense relations and mutual cooperation,” Singh tweeted after his meeting with Esper which lasted for about an hour in South Block. Esper was received by Singh for the ceremonial tri-services guard of honor. The talks, Singh said, were “aimed at further deepening defense cooperation in a wide range of areas.”

The Defence Ministry said that the two ministers “expressed satisfaction that (an) agreement of BECA will be signed during the visit”. Once signed, BECA will be one of the three foundational agreements, signed in the last four years, enabling closer military ties.

According to a Defence Ministry statement, the two ministers reviewed bilateral defense cooperation in a range of areas. “Both the Ministers discussed potential new areas of cooperation, both at Service to Service level and at the joint level.

They called for the continuation of existing defense dialogue mechanisms during the pandemic, at all levels, particularly the Military Cooperation Group (MCG). They also discussed requirements of expanding deployments of liaison officers,” the statement said.

In an apparent reference to China, sources said the Jaishankar-Pompeo meeting in Hyderabad House touched upon the “global situation and its contemporary challenges” and discussed “shared concerns and interests including stability and security in Asia.

” Sources added that specific issues will be taken up when the four ministers meet again Tuesday for the 3rd Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting — a rare in-person meeting when most diplomatic meetings are through video-conferencing.

This also assumes significance since India and China are locked in a border standoff in eastern Ladakh for more than five months and soldiers from both sides are looking at deployment along the border in the harsh winter ahead. The US has been extremely critical of Chinese aggression along the LAC in the last four months with Pompeo leading from the front.

The signing of BECA will allow India to use US geospatial intelligence and enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It will give access to topographical and aeronautical data and advanced products which will aid navigation and targeting. This could be key for Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between India and the US.

Sources said that the call between Pompeo and Jaishankar in June — after the June 15 Galway incident —set the stage and gave a political impetus to the already existing security cooperation apparatus in place. Also, Esper had called up Rajnath Singh in the second week of July.

International Desk, Ne India News

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