Deleterious “Foundational” ags

Sujan Dutta of the Telegraph (Kolkatta) is usually a well-informed reporter and his Dec 6, 2015 story (at about GOI being pressured by Washington to accede to the so-called “foundational agreements” has substance. This subject has been tackled in extenso in my new book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ including the differences between the armed services about the advantage/disadvantage balance of signing them.

Predictably, the Obama Administration is emphasizing that should Delhi sign these accords, the last institutional barriers at the US government-end to high-technology transfers needed to make PM Modi’s ‘Make in India’ policy a success, would be removed. Indeed, if you listen carefully to Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie event to launch my book Nov 12 (at, you’ll hear him protesting my take on these agreements. I have argued for a long time that they violate sovereignty. For instance, the LSA (Logistics Support Agreement) requires that portions of Indian air, naval, army bases from where American military units would have permission to stage out of) will have to be carved out, and come under US dispensation and control. I said at Carnegie (and in great detail in the book) that this would be politically unacceptable. Tellis contested this reading. But one has only took at how the US air/drone ops out of the Jacobabad air base in Pakistan are managed, with parts of that base distinctly marked out where Pakistan military officials cannot stray, leave alone control, to see where this sort of agreement will take India. In fact, just how dangerous such ags may prove is evidenced in what happened immediately after the terrorist attack on Parliament, when the US govt and everybody else fully expected India to launch retaliatory air strikes. That’s when the US Embassy provided maps to GOI, among them of the Jacobabad Pak air base, where the area operated by the US military was clearly demarcated. In effect, it was Washington cautioning IAF to take care not to precision strike those delineated portions, if it did mount punitive attack sorties in the interior (and not just on targets in PoK). It is another matter that another BJP govt — Vajpayee’s, predictably, lost its nerve and did nothing, except uselessly announce a general mobilization for war!

In my book, unlike in Dutta’s news story, the Navy is as divided as the other two services. While there are many naval stalwarts, such as Rear Admiral KR Raja Menon (Retd) who believe that signing the LSA for instance would be a good thing as it will enable Indian ships to put in at Diego Garcia for rest, repair, and replenishment and thus enable the navy’s sustained coverage of the Indian Ocean. But as Dutta points out the Indian Navy already has a Fuel Exchange Agreement with its US counterpart (to facilitate the participation of US ships in the annual Malabar exercises, for example).

However, as I have long argued, the demerits overwhelm the merits of signing these agreements, in the main, because these will willy-nilly allow the US military access into the Indian military’s operational loop. Consider CISMOA (Communications Interoperability Security Memorandum of Agreement). It will involve as I have revealed in the book, US units openly to plug into the country’s military communications network right back to the highest command echelon. This is neither desirable nor even necessary. Interoperability has been facilitated during joint naval exercises, for instance, by utilizing the Centrix interface — a portable system that US naval personnel bring over to Indian ships during the exercise and operate, as channel for tactical ship-to-ship communications. This option protects the integrity of the communications systems of both parties. Such jerry-built solutions are always available to tide over particular situations. These may be suboptimal solutions but are quite adequate for the circumstances Indian military forces may find themselves in on occasions when they are cooperating/collaborating with the US military. BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for the sharing of geospatial data) is likewise a liability because it involves the sharing of micro-digitized maps. The specific problem here is not that the US has not digitally mapped India and sensitive areas within it. But rather having Indian digitised maps to compare with their own will help remove any anomalies and sharpen the US’ digitised targeting data sets, which can be potentially turned against India. Delhi is not given any such loaded gun to hold against the US.

Further, signing these agreements will permanently alienate Russia and may lead to Moscow shutting down its military supply relationship, which Washington actually desires, but leave India up a creek — a much reduced strategic entity without the room for maneuver in its dealings with the US and the West. This is something the BJP regime shouldn’t take lightly however much it may be inclined to get pally with the Americans, because there will be a hefty price to pay, other than further roiling the already unsettled domestic political milieu with the Congress Party led Leftist opposition even more determined to stop Modi policies in their track in Parliament.

The main aim of the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to Delhi a few weeks back was to convince the Indian govt to sign these agreements and it used the PM’s ‘Make in India’ programme as a shield behind which to advance its arguments. Except the US has always been wary of sharing and transferring especially military high technology, even to its closest allies. Just so one’s aware: Even though the UK signed on as financial partner to develop the F-35 combat aircraft and provided seed funding, Pentagon has denied it access to source codes for its avionics package. So, even if India signs these accords it is unlikely it will get really cutting edge stuff.

The Indian government with MEA in the van has time and again been bit of a sap, uncritically accepting whatever Washington dishes out by way of promises. Recall George W Bush’s about India enjoying the “rights and privileges of a nuclear weapon state” if only it signed the nuclear deal that the present foreign secretary K. Jayashankar as Joint Secretary (Americas) negotiated? It should induce enormous caution. Unless heedless of the past US record — which MEA and Jayashankar, are unlikely to remind him of — prime minister Modi wants to rush in because he thinks this will help him realize his ‘Make in India’ agenda. India has let itself be sucker-punched so often, what’s another devastating blow, right?

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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5 Responses to Deleterious “Foundational” ags

  1. Rituraj Rao says:

    One small change is required here. The above linked article has been written by Sujan Dutta not K P Nayar. The arguments, though, are quite solid.

  2. Thank you. Sorry for the mix-up in names.

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    You have given enough examples and counter points but do you get listened to by these people?
    Greece & Turkey relations and even the example of the two Koreas, are a good example of how countries lose out on their own world-view their own strategies by allowing a monkey to manage their relations for them. The Cats ultimately have more of a chance to get the bread, should they actually fight to get their respective share because that is how nature works, else the monkey is gonna take all the bread – that is also how nature works :).

    In our case the US is logged into, directly or indirectly, both onto the Pakis and the Chinese. Who and basis what rationale, will this sort of close military cooperation with US help in this Indo-Chipak melee. Already Lockheed has tried to hire the team that works on Indian Naval sensors. The less said about the Armoured corp and IAF, the better. US feels threatened for its Asian strategysing, by having Indians keeping out of their embrace in the region. Life would be so much easier for a Potus if Indian PM were to begin behaving like good-doggy-Erdogan. Probably a lot of our establishment does even believe in the ‘inevitability’ or ‘desirability’ of such a status. But it is an equal argument that the Indian PM and Indian Capacity will continue to get recognition only till the time India remains this obtuse. Nobody respects or cares for a sidekick.

    If we can do as well as we already are doing without these intrusive agreements then perhaps we actually do not need them. In any case with Raghuram Rajan in RBI, steering their macro-investments, what more do these bloody Americans think we Indians owe them. Modi ji needs to get out of this habit of tribute payments.

  4. Ashish says:

    @bharat karnad sir..ur views about LSA and other foundational agreements are absolutely correct and if signed will be threat to the sovereignty of our nation.I dont understand why the Modi government chickens out when we need to show spine. Ashley Tellis, in a Carnegie event, said USA needs to shift its focus from South Asia as it is of no use to American interests. Moreover, arming Vietnam with Brahmos and setting up military bases in Vietnam and other rim countries of China has not yet happened. I just wish ur thoughts are at least heard by slow moving MEA and policy makers in South block.

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