Lt General Ghanshyam Singh Katoch, PVSM,AVSM,VSM (Retd) writes about the impending signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) this month.. The rationale for such agreements is couched in diplomatic reasons like coordination during natural disasters or in counter-terrorism. The fact is that such coordination is almost always done to get support in meeting the direct threat from another power.
On the morning of 13 December 2001, five Pakistan sponsored militants attacked the Parliament House in India. They killed seven security personnel in the initial moments of surprise before being shot dead by Indian armed police forces. This outrage led to the largest mobilization of Indian forces since the 1971 war. Though war was narrowly averted by extensive diplomatic interventions of the international community, de-escalation commenced only from Oct 2002.
At the beginning of the crisis (Operation Prakaram) India signed the first of the four foundational agreements that the US signs with countries with which it has close military ties as a precursor to building upon them. This was the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Thereafter as the crisis defused and India-China trade and other relations improved, the balance three agreements were in cold storage. Hu Jintao, who became the General Secretary of the Communist party of China in 2002 and President in 2003, gave impetus to improvement of Indo-China relations. In 2012 with the coming of Xi Jinping and his greater military assertiveness, not only was the US inclined to progress on the foundational agreement front with India, so was India.
Impetus to the balance three, the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) started with the coming of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance government to power in India in mid-2014, around the same time that China started building artificial island bases in the South China Sea. The first of these balance three agreements was signed in 2016; the next Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement COMCASA (the India specific version of CISMOA) was signed in Sept 2018.
In the India-US 2 plus 2 meeting scheduled for Oct 26-27, 2020, it is expected that the fourth foundational agreement ― BECA ― will be signed. There is no doubt that China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and aggressiveness in Ladakh have made the agreements politically acceptable and militarily imperative.
The question that is raised often is that with the signing of these foundational agreements is India heading towards a more concrete defence alliance with the United States? There is no doubt that China is a power to reckon with and is becoming a “great power”. But States balance or counter threats, not power. What is important is not how powerful another state is, but whether it is threatening. Presently without a doubt ― for India — China is threatening. The benefits of being an alliance seem obvious; a nation’s security gets strengthened with the support, especially military support, which an alliance partner extends.
If an Indo – US alliance forms will it last forever? The answer is No. Historically alliances have formed and then been diluted or terminated with the dissolving of the perceived threats. All governments recognise that in the constantly changing world they have no permanent friends or enemies, just national interest. That must be preserved. Yesterday’s enemy may the today’s friend or vice versa. The relationship between Vietnam and US is an example of the former. So why must India sign BECA? Firstly, because presently a major threat from China exists and it will not recede for the foreseeable future. Secondly, that threat is magnified on account of the Pakistan-China nexus. Keeping in view the stakes that China has in that relationship on account of the strategic importance of the CPEC to China, the nexus threat will persist.