In the ongoing deliberations over signing of three foundational defence agreements with the United States, the defence ministry and the armed forces have reservations over signing them. Top sources in the ministry and the defence services said that despite a lot of insistence from the US, they are not yet keen to sign on the dotted line.
The three foundational agreements are Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geospatial intelligence. The US has signed these agreements with most of its strategic partners.
Both American and Indian officials told The Indian Express that progress on the foundational agreements will be at the top of the agenda during US Defence Secretary, Ash Carter’s visit to India in April. US officials confirmed that “both sides are working on them but there are still outstanding issues”.
LSA is seen as the most likely among the three agreements to be signed by the two sides. According to US officials, LSA facilitates the provision of logistical support, supplies, and services between the US military and the armed forces of partner countries on a reimbursable basis, and provides a framework that governs the exchange of logistics support, supplies, and services.
Senior Indian officials say that signing the LSA can lead to complications because of the situation in the Middle East. A large number of Indians work in these countries and considering the current situation in the region. If the US were to militarily get involved there and India was bound to provide logistics support to the US military, it would jeopardize the lives of Indians living there.
Indian officials feel that signing of these agreements will lock the country in an irreversible strategic partnership with the US, which is focused on countering the Chinese threat in the region. India, they said, doesn’t wish to be seen as a strategic ally of US against China and will thus view its options very carefully.
Officials also point to the US decision to sell eight F-16 fighters to Pakistan. “How can the US be a partner of both Pakistan and us at the same time?,” a senior official asked.
Senior officials of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force are of the view that there is little to be gained by signing these agreements in the present form. They contend that specific agreements can instead be signed for various platforms and weapons supplied by the US to allow them to benefit from full transfer of technology.
US officials have been insistent on India signing the foundational agreements for a decade now, since the days of the UPA government. They contend that it will allow them to have seamless technology transfer to India and foster greater strategic cooperation between the two sides.
“For example, CISMOA permits secure communications interoperability between partners during bilateral and multinational training exercises and operations and with the two countries doing so many exercises together, we can take full advantage of our resources. By signing BECA, the two sides will agree to the exchange of topographical, nautical, and aeronautical data and products which will be a huge plus,” said a US official.
The American efforts were resisted during the UPA era by AK Anthony, the then defence minister. After the BJP government came to power in May 2014, American officials have been expecting a positive signal from South Block. It has resulted in increased pressure from Pentagon on the Indian officials, including during the visit by defence minister Manohar Parrikar to the US last December.
Officials told The Indian Express that a paragraph on signing of the LCA, along with a reference to joint patrolling by the two navies, was included in the draft joint statement prepared by the Americans for Carter and Parrikar. The Indian side, however, removed that paragraph and it didn’t make it to the final statement issued at Washington DC.
At the end of his visit, Parrikar had told the media that India was “in principle” agreeable to these pacts but some more clarity was required from the US side. Earlier this month, he had stated that these agreements were still under consideration of his ministry and no final decision had been taken so far.