Deepening Security Ties With the US a Sign of India’s Growing Confidence
Next week’s visit by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to India has raised the prospect of deeper security cooperation between the two countries. Rumours about impending defence sales may be unfounded, as might the expectation that several bilateral defence agreements – long under negotiation – will be concluded. The agreements in question include the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). These are modest, and largely operational and technical agreements that would facilitate information sharing and the provision of supplies between the Indian and US armed forces. Being reciprocal, both militaries could potentially benefit from these agreements. The US has also expressed a willingness to tailor them to Indian circumstances and address certain Indian concerns. As with all important international agreements, the devils are in the details, and an argument can be made that some of the agreements (e.g. LSA and BECA) provide India with greater benefits and have fewer latent risks than others (e.g. CISMOA).
The probability of these agreements being concluded during Carter’s visit is low. However, regardless of the merits of these specific agreements, they have become a proxy for a renewed discussion on whether and to what extent a defence partnership between India and the US is desirable. The Modi government has indicated the outlines of strategic cooperation with the US in the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, agreed in January 2015. But there are reports of opposition to the foundational agreements from within the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Analyst Bharat Karnad, similarly opposed in principle to closer cooperation with the US, has called the signing of these agreements “disastrous”. Meanwhile, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, India’s foremost public intellectual, has also questioned the wisdom of moving forward with these agreements without further debate. While the arguments being made by the MoD and Karnad appear to be circular – that closer partnership with the US is fundamentally undesirable, and thus arguments must be found to oppose the agreements – Mehta’s concerns are worth addressing. Indeed, they must be addressed because his arguments, and how they are framed, implicitly imperil a healthy debate on India’s national security interests.