While COVID-19 has brought the world to a grinding halt, India’s diplomatic ties with major powers too are witnessing the test of times. On one end, New Delhi’s ties with Beijing have hit the lowest with the stand-off in Eastern Ladakh in the landmark “Year of India-China Cultural and People to People Exchanges” commemorating 70 years of India-China ties. On the other end, India’s ties with the United States is experiencing an upswing- becoming more strategic and comprehensive in outlook, as evident from the signing of the last foundational agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on 27 October, in the event of the Third India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
The meeting was held in New Delhi between Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and their American counterparts US Defence Secretary, Mark Esper and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Here, the ‘timing’ and the security ‘circumstances’ acted as the key catalysts- calling off any form of apprehension in the Indian and American minds to seal the deal. To argue, ‘hawk-eyed on China’, BECA was the ‘need of the hour’.
Timing is significant given both India and the US are facing a spat in their diplomatic ties with China. While the US is at loggerheads since 2018 over ‘trade war’ and successive ‘diplomatic fallout’ over Washington’s accusation against China over handling of COVID-19; India is engaged militarily at the Line of Actual Control since April/May 2020- with a violent scuffle on 15 June at Galwan Valley that resulted into casualties in over 45 years. With plummeted tensions, the ‘China factor’ looms larger than ever in the security and political dialogue between India and US. BECA acts as the timely ‘game-changer’ in fighting an aggressive and assertive China- clarifying the unambiguity in New Delhi’s and Washington’s strategic thinking. Undoubtedly, the ‘Dragon’ is the ‘Elephant’ in the room!
With BECA, India and United States have pronounced their military ties. That is, so far, India had signed three of the four foundational agreements. The two countries have signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA); Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA); and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA); and finally, BECA – promoting interoperability between the two militaries and also making provision for sale and transfer of high-end technologies.
The Four Foundational Agreements Signed between India and the United States
|Name of the Agreement||Year||Principles of Agreement|
|GSOMIA||2002||Greater technology cooperation in the military sector.|
|LEMOA||2016||Provide access to each other’s military facilities concerning logistic support, refuelling, and berthing facilities for each other’s warships and aircraft on barter/equal-value exchange basis. Four key areas of cooperation- port calls, joint exercises, training, and humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.|
|COMCASA*||2018||Facilitate access to advanced defence systems such as transfer of high-tech avionics, encrypted communication, and electronic systems to India.|
|BECA||2020||Facilitates the exchange of geospatial information; allowing the US to share sensitive data to aid targeting and navigation with India.|
Source: Prepared by the Author.
Note: *United States calls it CISMOA- Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement
It is to note that the United States signs the four foundational agreements only with countries with which it has close military ties. Here, the watchword is ‘military’, and BECA more importantly is enough to signal a ‘red alert’. More importantly, as it concerns India, thereby, neither China nor Pakistan can afford to ignore.
Given India is caught defending its sovereignty by fighting with two fists- one, on the western front against Pakistan; and the second on the northern front against China- signing of BECA makes a ‘big deal’. Especially, with respect to China that is changing the course of the land dispute by its unilateral expansionist designs- as well-witnessed in the growing tensions at the LAC which has failed to de-escalate despite seven rounds of military-level talks. What calls for the stand-offs and transgressions between India and China is the clash of perceptions given the border is neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground. Given this existing gap, BECA will help India in averting China’s tendency of cartographic aggression as evident from its increasing transgressions along the LAC as well as robust infrastructure build-up. With BECA in place, India will have access to classified geo-spatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications. In this process, the communication agreement proposed between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the U. S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India will exchange maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geophysical, geomagnetic, and gravity data, as well as share high-end technology- reasonable for China to become anxious as its actions, will not go unwarranted. Besides, with precision being the key, the United States’ sharing of sensitive satellite and sensor data will be a significant booster to India’s military capability, especially, in striking targets with pinpoint accuracy. Thus, an imperative need for India to keep a close watch in the movements of the PLA along the Himalayan border as well as in mapping its footprints in the Indian Ocean. Besides, the much talked ‘collusivity’ between China and Pakistan to deter India will get closely watched- China and Pakistan need to ‘walk on eggshells’ around India.
Besides the strengthening of India-US, bilateral ties as also boosted under the QUAD partnership, signing of BECA was an imperative given the increasing skepticism over Xi Jinping’s aggressive push towards pursuing “Military-Civil Fusion” (MCF). With MCF elevated to ‘national strategy’, the Chinese civil sector has been enlisted directly into the country’s military-industrial complex, which holds security implications. As noted by the Pentagon, some of China’s leading e-commerce companies are directly supporting the People’s Liberation Army by providing them with drones for logistics; while some Chinese shipping companies are contributing to cross-sea transport drills, providing capabilities that could be leveraged for an amphibious landing on Taiwan or in the South China Sea – thus, raising concerns over China’s intentions behind its MCF strategy.
Given the increasing pace and scope of upswing in India-US ties, and with BECA getting signed, the security partnership will get further boosted in the post-COVID-19 world order- dispelling any speculation over the ties. With the stakes higher than ever, India and the United States have to and will play a bigger role in jointly balancing the threat and power in the Indo-Pacific. Every step forward in India-US ties will undoubtedly put China in a challenging position in fulfilling its great power ambitions. Thereby, anything that makes India and the US stronger together, will definitely unsettle China.
 See The Hindu Net Desk (2020), “Watch India and U.S. sign BECA,” The Hindu, October 28, 2020. Available online at https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/india-and-us-have-signed-beca/article32962324.ece, accessed on October 28, 2020.
 In addition, India and US signed MoU for Technical Cooperation in Earth Observations and Earth Sciences; Arrangement extending duration of MoU concerning cooperation with the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership, India; Agreement for the Electronic Exchange of Customs Data between Postal Operations of both countries and lastly, Letter of Intent for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences were inked.
 Elsa B. Kania (2019), “In Military-Civil Fusion, China Is Learning Lessons From the United States and Starting to Innovate,” Real Clear Defense, August 27, 2019. Available online at https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2019/08/27/in_military-civil_fusion_china_is_learning_lessons_from_the_united_states_and_starting_to_innovate_114699.html, accessed on October 28, 2020.