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The First India-US 2+2 Dialogue: An Assessment

Dr. G. Balachandran was a Consulting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 14, 2018

    Sufficient time has passed since the first India-US 2+2 meeting was held to make an objective assessment of the outcome. Before the meeting there was much speculation about the issues that will be discussed and the likely results. These issues ranged from India signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA); the Indian purchase of the S-400 from Russia, the sanctions this action may attract under CAATSA, and whether the U.S. President will grant India a waiver; and whether India will get a waiver from another set of US sanctions if it does not reduce oil imports from Iran to Zero by November 4.

    While COMCASA was signed during the meeting, there was no positive or definite commitment from the U.S. on any of the other issues. That was to be expected as, even before arriving in Delhi, Secretary of State Pompeo had, in answer to a question on these issues, said:

    “They’re part of the conversation. They’re part of the relationship. They will certainly come up, but I don’t think they’ll be the primary focus of what it is we’re trying to accomplish here. There’s half a dozen things on the agenda that we’re really intent on making progress on. Those decisions are important, they’re important to the relationship for sure, but I don’t see us resolving those or having even – have intention to resolve those during this set of meetings of the Strategic Dialogue.

    There was also no movement on these other issues because no solution can be found for them yet because of the simple fact that no sanctions are currently in place because of either CAATSA or the Iran November 4 sanctions and, therefore, there can be no waivers now and one cannot expect the U.S. to give a blanket all time/all-purpose waiver to India at this point in time.

    There were, of course, some symbolic gestures towards India in the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, such as “full support for India’s immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group”, the call for “Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries”, and the call to “bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, and other cross-border terrorist attacks.”

    So, apart from whatever exchanges were made at the closed door meeting, the only public outcome that is significant and known is the COMCASA agreement, which has been a long standing request from the U.S.


    At present, the most important point about COMCASA is that it is a classified document and there is no information about its content or purpose. However, from various public observations and documents, one can infer the following:

    1. COMCASA is, in essence, the CISMOA (Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement) that had been suggested by the U.S. nearly a decade ago and resisted by India because of some concerns about its impact on Indian security. This can be inferred from constant U.S. official references to CISMOA between India and USA. As recently as December 2017, the US Congress had passed a legislation (NDAA 2018) which had required “The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State to jointly take such actions as may be necessary to advance the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation.” In addition, U.S. regulatory requirements mandate that all Communication Security releases to Foreign Nations be preceded by a CISMOA.
    2. COMCASA is supposed to be a revised form of CISMOA, after taking into account India’s concerns. Since there is nothing in the public domain to indicate what India’s official objections (not to be confused with various op-eds written without knowledge of the basic documents) were and how these had been overcome in the negotiated COMCASA, all post the 2+2 meeting writings are also speculative and subject to the individual author’s politics and prejudices.
    3. The U.S., for its part, has been extremely reticent about giving any details about CISMOA’s working. The official “Treaties in Force” published by the Department of State has a reference to only one CISMOA (with South Korea), although it is known from other sources that a number of CISMOAs are in force with non-NATO countries (Brazil, Morocco, UAE, South Korea etc.)
    4. There are only two drafts of CISMOA in the public domain: (a) the South Korea-U.S. agreement; and, (b) a copy of the CISMOA Boilerplate. The Boilerplate agreement is the basic CISMOA document. It has a number of articles and paragraphs of which many, not all, have been designated as non-negotiable. Subject to these non-negotiable paragraphs and elements, the boilerplate language can be modified to accommodate particular aspects of a bilateral relationship. The South Korea CISMOA follows very closely the Boilerplate CISMOA, with some modifications in the elements that are negotiable.
    5. An examination and evaluation of the non-negotiable elements of the Boilerplate agreement does not show any element which will have any unavoidable security risks for India. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that COMCASA is a negotiated CISMOA with changes in the negotiable elements of the Boilerplate agreement.

    If that is indeed the case, and there are strong reasons to believe that it is so, why was it necessary to change the title of the agreement from CISMOA to COMCASA? Again, one can only conjecture the reasons in the absence of an official explanation. The only readily discernible reason seems to be the use of the term “interoperability” in CISMOA. Given the volatile domestic political scenario in India, where there is very little articulation or agreement on what the essential elements of national security are, it is very likely that any “interoperability” agreement between Indian and US defence forces would have raised a political storm. COMCASA would seem an acceptable term especially when the agreement is classified and cannot be compared to any other CISMOA document!

    That brings up the question of the need for interoperability. Here, a strong case can be made for some interoperability between the Indian and U.S. defence forces. It is accepted by all studying India’s security concerns that India needs to have an as strong as possible situational awareness of/in the Indo-Pacific region, given the ever growing strength and presence of the Chinese Navy and especially its submarines in these waters. While India has some resources for such monitoring, with the induction of P-8is (which are the most potent resource for ocean monitoring and which cause great discomfort to the Chinese Navy), it is nowhere near the levels necessary and needed for the Indian Navy, and Indian security, to ensure a high degree of situational awareness in the Indo-Pacific region. The US too is interested in monitoring the Chinese Navy’s forays in international waters. It has brought to bear its immense resources to monitor such activities. This monitoring is done by various means such as satellite monitoring, P-8s, etc. It would be in the interest of both countries to share their Indo-Pacific environmental monitoring data. In addition, a number of other countries with close strategic relations with the U.S. (Australia and Singapore, for example) have P-8s and are monitoring the Indo-Pacific waters in their respective domains of interest. Unfortunately the U.S. gathers and stores such information through its COMSEC network. For India to be able to share this information it would have to field some compatible COMSEC equipment. Hence the need for a U.S. compatible and secure communication system. And hence the imperative for a CISMOA/COMCASA! There is no doubt or question that once implemented in the full spirit of the agreement, it will provide the Indian Navy, and India, with an extremely potent resource to safeguard its maritime interests and security.

    There have been suggestions that CISMOA/COMCASA will enable India to access high technology. This needs to be clarified. An agreement of this sort has no technology transfer and high technology access provision. What it would enable India to do is procure high technology munitions items that have built-in COMSEC equipment such as the Sea Guardian drones.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.