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India-US Defence Cooperation: Let’s No Longer Sit on the Fence

Military cooperation with the US will give strategic advantage to India in ways more than one, writes Suresh Bangara.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read


Indian and US soldiers take a break from their joint Indo-US military exercise in Kumbhirgram, in Mizoram, April 6, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)

The India-US Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA) is a subject much discussed over the last decade, both in and out of Parliament. What then are the pros and cons of India signing agreements on LSA, Communication Interoperability and Security (CISMOA) Basic Exchange and Cooperation (BECA) with the US?

The objections raised by various participants broadly covered the following areas:

  • That it would provide unfettered access to Indian military bases.
  • It would not be a mutually beneficial and cost-effective arrangement to accept US terms of settling payments for logistics for use of our facilities.
  • The US would have greater familiarity with our equipment and preparedness.
  • It would affect our sovereignty.
  • It would adversely impact the independence of our foreign policy.
An Indian army officer inspects a US rifle during Indo-US joint exercise in Chaubattia, in Uttaranchal, January 26, 2006. (Photo: Reuters)
An Indian army officer inspects a US rifle during Indo-US joint exercise in Chaubattia, in Uttaranchal, January 26, 2006. (Photo: Reuters)
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Benefits of Joint Exercises

Since 1993, joint exercises have proved to be quite rewarding for both the participants. All three services have participated in highly advanced and specially designed exercises in each other’s military establishments. Much has been written about the value of ‘Exercise Malabar’ between the Indian and US navies as also ‘Exercise Red Flag’ between the two air forces.

The Indian army has been exposed to special and commando operations, while the American army has experienced the highly specialised environs for jungle operations in our facility.

US soldiers work out during a joint Indo-US military exercise as an Indian army officer (L) looks on in Kumbhirgram in Mizoram, April 6, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)
US soldiers work out during a joint Indo-US military exercise as an Indian army officer (L) looks on in Kumbhirgram in Mizoram, April 6, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)

Joint patrolling of energy routes in the Malacca Straits and to thwart transnational crimes at sea have provided invaluable operational opportunities.

The LSA provides cover for transportation, airlift, refuelling and storage services for not only military exercises but also for disaster relief cooperation. There have been cost savings due to reciprocal arrangements. Published reports indicate that in ‘Exercise Red Flag’ alone India saved $20 million.

Snapshot

Change Or Become Irrelevant

  • Beyond debates over loss of sovereignty, India would actually gain from cooperation with the US military
  • This is reflected in the increasing number of joint exercises which have been rewarding for both countries
  • Progressing from basic to advanced exercises proves India capable of safeguarding national interests
  • Non-alignment doctrine served us well after independence but needs refinement today
  • Deepening relations with Japan and Australia is evidence that India’s concerns over China are real
  • Defence agreements must be considered from a position of strength and maturity and not suspicion
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Safeguarding National Interests

The fact that for close to two decades both the militaries have graduated from basic to very advanced exercises and have managed to progress without providing unfettered access to each other’s military facilities proves that we are capable of safeguarding our individual national interests. Exposure to the globalised environment has enriched our abilities to deal with unregulated activities at sea, as also to use appropriate technologies to counter them.

While Parliament and the debate among experts focused on ensuring that our sovereignty remains unchallenged and that we retain our independence in crafting our foreign policy, the global environment has significantly changed. The old formulations of non-alignment which served us well in the early part of our independence needs refinement. A debate in 2013 on non-alignment too generated vibrant discussions.

The <i>USS Theodore Roosevelt</i> can be seen in the background as US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter flies in a V-22 Osprey after visiting the aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, in this handout photograph  released on November 5, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
The USS Theodore Roosevelt can be seen in the background as US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter flies in a V-22 Osprey after visiting the aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, in this handout photograph released on November 5, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Recognition for Look East Policy

The then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s Look East policy appears to have found serious consideration and recognition beyond our shores. Much after India attempted to operationalise the concept, the US shifted its focus from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific oceans.

The Modi government has made relations with Japan and Australia its strategic priority. Joint statements no longer hide our real concerns on China usurping maritime zones not authorised by UNCLOS. Freedom of navigation rights as per international norms are being endorsed in joint statements. We no longer sit on the fence.

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Maritime Security Strategy

The Indian navy has clearly articulated its maritime security strategy in a publication recently released by the defence minister. Primary areas of maritime interests, inter alia, include the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the littoral regions, the east coast of Africa, Straits of Malacca, Singapore, Sunda and Lombok and the Cape of Good Hope.

An Indian navy commando  stands guard  on the flight deck of <i>INS Vikramaditya</i>, the Indian navy’s aircraft carrier, anchored in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai,  December 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
An Indian navy commando stands guard on the flight deck of INS Vikramaditya, the Indian navy’s aircraft carrier, anchored in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, December 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

The secondary areas include Southeast Indian Ocean, South and East China seas, Western Pacific ocean and other areas based on the Indian Diaspora, overseas investments and political relations. Thus, even as we debate, we are preparing to meet uncertain future contingencies.

Demands on India

If national interests continue to be unarticulated clearly and remain vague, changing geo-political realities would impose several demands on India that would necessitate changes in the traditional concepts of interpretation.

Indian  and US army soldiers take part in a joint  military exercise in Kumbhirgram in  Mizoram, April 6, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)
Indian and US army soldiers take part in a joint military exercise in Kumbhirgram in Mizoram, April 6, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)

It is in this backdrop that the other two agreements which may have legislative and legal ramifications prior to release of cutting edge technologies from the US to India, need to be examined. CISMOA and BECA, with the latter having geo-spatial intelligence-sharing clauses, need to be considered from a position of strength and maturity rather than with deep suspicion and lack of confidence in our ability to protect our national interests. These documents are not cast in stone. They can be amended or revoked if required.

If, however, the hereto vague concepts of national interests continue to hinder progress both in the US and in India, perhaps circumstances may force us to find other paths of convergence to survive in a highly unpredictable world. We are at the cross roads – change or become irrelevant.

(Concluded. You can read the first part here)

(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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