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Prince Sharma asked: What are LSA, CISMOA and BECA agreements? Why the US wants India to sign them? Should India agree to it?

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  • Saroj Bishoyi replies: The Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-spatial Cooperation are the three foundational agreements that the US has been insisting on India to sign to further enhance the bilateral defence and strategic relationship. The US argues that the CISMOA and BECA would enable technology transfer and seamless communication between the military systems of the two countries. The LSA would help strengthen the capabilities of their armed forces to better deal with the security challenges of the 21st century by correcting logistic deficiencies. The agreements clearly puts emphasis on building interoperability and capacity of the emerging partners through joint military exercises, training, and defence equipment sales.

    The rapid global power shift from the West to Asia, rise of an assertive China and its territorial claims, and the emerging non-traditional security challenges have created geopolitical and geostrategic flux in Asia where the US increasingly expects India to play the larger role of a “net security provider”. The US believes that these foundational agreements will facilitate a strong defence and strategic partnership between the two countries and also help India build its defence capabilities to play such a role.

    During the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, the US had expressed its disappointment over India’s unwillingness to sign these agreements and not clearly indicating any specific reasons for its objections to it. Many Indian security analysts had pointed out that these agreements could lead to a formal India-US military alliance in due course and that it might upset India’s other important defence partners such as Russia. The defence ministry as well as the navy and air force chiefs too were of the view that there was little to be gained by such agreements.

    The India-US defence and strategic relationship has dramatically improved since the Narendra Modi Government came to power in May 2014. The two sides have not only agreed in principle to transform from mere buyer-seller defence relationship to joint research, co-development and production of high end defence equipment, but have also signed a “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” (January 25, 2015).

    The two countries have already finalised four ‘pathfinder projects’ for joint development and production under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and have expanded their strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as well. In fact, Modi Government’s current ‘Act East’ policy is now increasingly converging with the Barack Obama Administration’s “rebalance” to the Asia strategy where both sides are proactively engaging the Indo-Pacific countries.

    During his visit to the US in December 2015, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his American counterpart Ashton Carter reviewed the growing India-US defence relationship and “discussed ways to implement the defence related aspects of Prime Minister Modi and President Obama’s Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region”. Defence Minister Parrikar was also briefed about the value of signing the foundational agreements. Meanwhile, India has asked the US for “fresh proposals” that addresses its concerns. The LSA currently appears to be a “doable” agreement.

    It is important to note that the India-US strategic relationship has significantly improved over the last one-and-a half decade without these agreements. Defence cooperation has been the most visible aspect of this evolving relationship. The US has in fact emerged as the top arms supplier to India and currently India conducts more military exercises with the US than with any other country.

    Therefore, with or without these foundational agreements, the India-US defence and strategic relationship is going to expand further including in the areas of joint research, development and production of high end defence technology. However, having these agreements will yield greater benefits for both the nations. Both sides need to make vigorous efforts to build consensus and arrive at a more acceptable version of the agreements, consistent with their respective national interests and policies.

    For more analysis on the subject, please refer to my following publications:

    Saroj Bishoyi, “Logistics Support Agreement: A Closer Look at the Impact on India-US Strategic Relationship”, Journal of Defence Studies, 7 (1), January-March 2013, pp. 151-172.

    Saroj Bishoyi, “India-US Security Cooperation in Asia: Can India be a Net Security Provider?”, in S.D. Muni and Vivek Chadha (eds.), Asian Strategic Review 2015: India as a Security Provider, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 166-193.

    Saroj Bishoyi, “Onus on US to Boost Defence Ties with India”, The Pioneer, December 12, 2015.

    Posted on January 15, 2016