India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue
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Topic: General Studies 3:
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
In News: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper. Both sides were assisted by top military and security officials.
Aim: Further ramping up their overall defence and security ties and boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific at a time China is attempting to expand its economic and military clout in the region.
- The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.
- The first two 2+2 talks had been held in New Delhi in September 2018 and Washington DC in 2019.
- Both sides highlighted the need to take forward shared objectives and build capabilities across all domains so as to ensure a safe, stable and rule-based regional and global security environment.
- The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers. The U.S. has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China’s growing assertiveness.
- The two Ministers reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning “military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues” and also discussed ways to take bilateral cooperation forward
Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) was signed during the dialogue. The signing of the agreement would allow the US to share precision satellite and topographical data from its constellation of military satellites on a real time basis.
- This allows both countries to share sensitive information regarding satellite and sensor data.
- Will allow for expanded geospatial information sharing between the armed forces
- Enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
- It gives 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.
- The cooperation also includes sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data exchange on Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the 3,488-km India-China LAC.
- Also seeking to expand secure communication capabilities between respective militaries as well as between the foreign defence ministries
This assumes significance as talks are taking place at a time when India is locked in a tense standoff with China in eastern Ladakh and the Trump administration’s growing friction with Beijing over a host of issues including trade tariff and the Chinese military’s offensive manoeuvres in the South China Sea. The situation in eastern Ladakh and China’s overall aggressive behaviour including in the Indo-Pacific region are likely to figure in the talks.
The Indo-US defence ties
The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years. Both enjoy robust defence industrial cooperation.
- Through the US- India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, the United States and India work together on co-production and co-development of defence equipment.
- In June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
- The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.
- Signed between India and the US in August 2016.
- It allows the military of each country to replenish from the other’s bases: access supplies, spare parts and services from the other country’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can then be reimbursed. This is extremely useful for Navy-to-Navy cooperation, since the US and India are cooperating closely in the Indo-Pacific.
- The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
- It allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US military commanders, aircraft and ships can communicate through secure networks in peace and war.
- COMCASA paved the way for transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India to facilitate “interoperability” between their forces — and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secure data links.
What do these three pacts put together mean?
While LEMOA means one partner trusts the other enough to expose its valuable assets, COMCASA means one is confident that it can rely on encrypted systems to connect the two militaries, and BECA means it can share highly classified information in real time without fear of being compromised. All this signals the level of trust that has developed between the two countries and their militaries, faced with an increasingly aggressive China.
Now, with these key defence pacts in place, cooperation can happen in a more structured and efficient way, rather than episodic.
In relation to the ongoing border standoff
Amid the longest stand-off on the India-China border in three decades, India and the US have intensified under-the-radar intelligence and military cooperation at an unprecedented level, especially since June.
In a significant move amid a Sino-India border row, India had announced Australia’s participation in the upcoming Malabar exercise along with the U.S. and Japan, effectively making it the first military-level engagement between the four-member nation grouping – the Quad. The United States will keep working with India to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and will remain steadfast as India seeks to defend its sovereignty from external aggression.
India, the U.S. and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open, and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military maneuvering in the region. In November 2017, India, Japan, the U.S. and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the “Quad” to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.
Must Read: On the Quad, define the idea, chart a path
Connecting the Dots:
- Bilateral Relations between India and USA
- Short note: Peace in Indo-pacific region