BECA (oh, no!) in the context of Indo-US relations

Live: Mike Pompeo, S Jaishankar Joing Press Conference Begins After Meeting  On H1-B Visa, S-400 Defence Purchase, U.S. Sanctions On Iran Oil
[Pompeo & Jaishankar — That’s what we are looking out for?]

The 2-day annual 2×2 meeting involving the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US, namely, Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh and Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, respectively, begins six days before the American quadrennial elections on November 3 and the possible termination of tenures of Pompeo as US Secretary of State and Esper as the Pentagon boss. The chances of Joe Biden replacing Donald J Trump as US President are rated anywhere from the former squeaking through to registering a landslide win.

The ending of the one-term Trump presidency could quickly lead the Washington policy establishment, inclusive of the mainstream Republican Party which has been alienated and sidelined and has actively canvassed for Biden, breathing a sigh of relief and dismissing the last four years as an aberration. An aberration or whatever, it nevertheless revealed the basic self-centredness and the isolationist impulses at the core of US foreign policy. Trump gave his personal prejudices free run but was not ideological. He supped with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and was thick as thieves with Chinese president Xi Jinping while stomping on treaty allies in Asia and Europe because of his transactional belief that such tactics would best fetch America what he thought it deserved by way of substantive strategic/economic/political gain for putting out for its friends.

In Trump’s system the ask if promptly acted on fetched immediate returns. For instance, in May this year when Modi shipped hyroxychloroquine to the US peddled by the US president as remedy for the novel Corona virus, India received almost by return mail, as it were, relaxation in duties on Indian exports to that country. It was a glorified barter scheme at work and was only a variant of the usual Western liberal notions of world order requiring other countries to “follow the leader”, reflect its “democratic” values, mirror its strategic concerns, subscribe to free trade, and trust in multilateral organizations and treaty regimes that Washington can twist to protect its interests and secure advantages.

The US view of China as adversary predates Trump, of course. Nor has the Trumpian perception about India’s strategic usefulness in this part of the world differed from that of past Administrations. What was new starting in the new millennium was the unvarying insistence that India accept the 4+1 foundational accords to progress bilateral relations to a higher pitch. So we got the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in 2002 to safeguard intelligence shared by the US, the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) permitting each side to access the designated military facilities for refueling and replenishing military forces, the 2018 Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) valid for 10 years to facilitate interoperability, the fourth agreement up for signature at the forthcoming 2×2 meeting in New Delhi — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share geospatial and satellite data, and the ‘+1’ — the 2019 Industrial Security Annex that makes available to Indian private sector companies classified American industrial information to manufacture military goods previously restricted to the Indian government and defence public sector units.

In my books and writings, I have detailed why the four foundational accords while not being particularly useful to India may be a drag and end up actually hurting Indian military capability and conduct of operations, and undermining this country’s sovereignty. Take CISMOA, for example. In the guise of seamless communications between the fighting platforms of the two countries, easier penetration and hence the compromising of the most secret communications networks, including the Indian nuclear command and control links, has now been enabled. But in this post let me outline the reasons why I think BECA could be problematical.

The US has, via satellites, apparently digitally mapped the entire world. In military terms, BECA promises Indian forces and weapons platforms digitized maps so obtained of, say, China and hence the precise targeting coordinates for any Chinese military assets India may care to have in its crosshairs in a conflict. It will, in theory, also permit Indian missiles and other over-the-horizon standoff munitions once fired to reach distant points by helping them correct course mid-way and align properly to target in their terminal run for precise destruction. So far so good; where’s the hitch?

The trouble is the US, as dispenser and source of sensitive adversary target information, is in a position to monitor on real time basis the digitized data being accessed and, if its national interests of the moment are so served, to deny the user state such information and even to tweak the digitized data just enough to misdirect the fired weapon, and otherwise to dictate the outcome of such engagements. The US can then plausibly blame technical glitches in the Indian weapon for it going astray. No BECA can ever be drafted in such verifiable detail as to prevent the US from doing this. After all, India has no control over American satellites and, therefore, even less control over the kind of information they transmit at any time. So, there’s no guarantee that expensive Indian weapons fired at China will not be thus fooled around with by a third party. It needs no reminding that Indian and US interests even as regards China only overlap a bit but are far from convergent.

The cautionary tale to have in mind is what happened when the intermediate range Agni missile was first test fired in May 1989 and was oriented to “target” by the US Global Positioning System (GPS). The launch was fine and the telemetry in the initial stage indicated flawless performance, but with Indian ships monitoring its progress and stationed at the planned endpoint in the Indian Ocean, the missile entering the terminal stage in its flight suddenly plunged into the sea. What happened was that the American GPS had just then “blinked” sending the missile off course! India thereafter used the Russian GPS. It is not hard to imagine such a thing happening with Indian munitions dependent on US-generated target data being misdirected in wartime. With what consequences for India can only be imagined.

This is why India so desperately needs to be self-reliant in armaments and strategic support systems at any cost, including accelerating the pace of launching and operationalizing an Indian constellation of satellites to provide the Indian military indigenous blink-proof GPS and targeting wherewithal not prey to the interests of any outside power.

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.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian assistance, satellites, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to BECA (oh, no!) in the context of Indo-US relations

  1. Sohamg says:

    So you say the info. provided by the U.S. satellites should be used to supplement intelligence gathered by India and should not be over-relied upon .


    Another wonderful article penned by your might pen, Mr. Kanrad.

    Considering India’s Indo-Pacific hostilities with China and Pakistan (and after signing BECA, India may have to include Russia and Iran among its adversaries in the Indo-Pacific theatre) , I think India is handicapped and doomed to spend majority of her defense budget fighting in the Himalyas be it in Kashmir, Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh and thus she will be forced to perennially under spend in her naval power and therefore lose the advantage to China, Pakistan and the above mentioned adversaries in the Indo-Pacific.

    There is only one strategy to save the day for my country. I believe India has to cut a deal with Pakistan in terms of jointly managing the Kashmir valley whereby India gets to control the Jammu region whereas Pakistan gets to control the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. Only this arrangement would help us free our resources to concentrate on our naval strength and face China in the Indo-pacific.

    I would love your extremely valuable opinion on this particular strategy of mine.

    Thanks and regards with best wishes

  3. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Sir re: your last paragraph, where you have talked about Indian GPS; how much NavIC will be effective in guiding our weapons platform, given its current 1500 kms coverage beyond Indian mainland?

  4. vishnu bhagwat says:

    Dear Bharat Greetings! Thank you. Cogent. Have the military and civil brass seen what you have written? Warm regards,
    Vishnu Bhagwat

  5. Gram Massla says:

    Good point. It makes no sense to depend on US satellites for Indian missiles. The US is taking advantage of Indian apprehensions to ram home unsavory agreements which will benefit only the US. Although unseemly it is to be expected; for why should the US not take care of its own supreme interests? Expect American experts to predict dire consequences on the border with the CCP’s malevolent intent to expedite such agreements. India need not panic. Though the CCP would like to be the prodigious teacher certain issues are holding them back. The first is an untried army. The second is the consequences of the asinine one child policy, with many of the sole males at the forefront. Large casualties will decimate families which are patrilineal. If war breaks out expect the CCP to depend almost exclusively on technologically advanced weaponry to avoid casualties. This is where the US satellites imagery would help. Therefore in the short term such agreements would fend off war. In the long term they are certainly detrimental. India needs to think out of the box.

  6. aarkay says:

    It is important for India to understand significance of developing precise domestic navigation system

  7. vivek says:

    what about gnss which india is developing, is it mandatory after bcca to use only US gps in indian mande missiles?

  8. Vaibhav says:

    Mr. Karnad. Can you please tell me about your next book? When will you publish it?

  9. Amit says:

    Indian indigenous defence capabilities are modest at best and hugely incompetent/inefficient at worst. There are huge organizational issues in Indian armed services, defence procurement and armament ordinance factories, and for all the big talk by HAL etc., we still don’t procure major platforms from Indian companies (except perhaps some naval platforms). All the while our northern and western neighbors collude and collaborate to put a lot of pressure on India. There is no way India can defend itself without allies at least in the medium term. So what’s the harm in collaborating with Americans? IMHO they are straight forward people and generally quite efficient. If the Pakistanis used and abused them for the last fifty years, and the Chinese sucker punched them for the same period, can’t India handle them with some degree of finesse? Neither can we make our own stuff, nor do we collaborate with the only power that can stand up to China. Isn’t this like ‘Dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka’?

  10. Response as email:
    Joydeep Sircar
    bharat karnad

    Mon, 26 Oct at 2:36 pm

    Signing agreements with USA is like embracing an untrustworthy leper. But you have put your finger on the solution. Our own GPS system, or GLONASS for critical targeting. That means signing BECA to please USA but not using it. Similarly we must have a invisible comm layer proof against American eavesdropping and interference to be used sparingly. One problem is that the Americans will use greed to suborn our key personnel, as Ravi Rikhye wrote in his novel so long ago. I hope people like you will keep shouting whenever you suspect something, and Doval and co. will listen.

  11. andy says:

    Wither strategic autonomy. The debate about what Indias strategic autonomy entails seems to be over. The last straw on the camels back is the Chinese belligerance leading to ongoing standoff at the Indo Tibet border in Ladakh. For the USA it’s a culmination of 20 plus years of pursuing India to get it into a strategic embrace, at last they seem to have successfully completed the quest. Having signed the other foundational agreements, it was only a matter of time that the last one,namely BECA was signed by India. Now finally there’s a deputy sheriff for the US in the Indo Pacific.


    Mr. Karnad,
    Just yesterday China sanctioned Lockheed Martin and Raytheon , 2 of the most pivotal companies of the US military-industrial complex over its decision to sell arms to Taiwan. Do you think the Chinese with this move can force the primary companies of US military-industrial complex to change their decision ? After all China has been the biggest market for aviation for a long time. Do you think this particular decision by China would impact US policy towards China and in what ways ?

    Thanks and regards with best wishes

  13. Dear Sir, the more I read your strategic opinions, the more I am convinced that, at least in the medium-term, India and Pakistan should join in a sort of lose federation, maybe some sort of EU of South Asia (to be extended gradually to other SAARC members) with common security and strategic platforms, which only pragmatic and wise intelligence professionals can set up; both in Islambad and Delhi there are many of them.
    Do you think it would be feasible and at what conditions, maybe alongside a Japan-led ASEAN revival, and with the political aim of independence from the China-USA bipolar system?

    • That would be an ideal solution and one I have plugged in my books. But in the prevailing circumstances, it is politically unrealizable because of petty, strategically narrow-minded, leaders and policy and military establishments on both sides with vested interests in the status quo.

  14. From Joydeep Sircar, by email:
    Thu, 29 Oct at 10:43 am

    Will you please consider a scenario where India and USA find themselves in an adversarial relationship. Is there a way in which we can ‘kill’ these agreements and restore our autonomy? If we are using some form of sharing software it should be possible, for the US will surely have such a kill switch to protect itself.

    Do you really think our crown jewels, the Strategic Forces, will be totally compromised ? Have we developed such a level of trust on the USA that we have forgotten how that country betrayed us on multiple occasions? We were able to prevent US penetration on multiple occasions, esp. Smiling Buddha. I do not believe Doval and co. are gullible and US-smitten, they are genuine patriots after all. They must have taken into account the possibility of US betrayal.

    Our NAVIC system needs to be strengthened to a level of accuracy to permit terminal guidance of our weapons. There is no alternative.

    • @Joydeep Sircar — signatory states are sovereign and can withdraw from any and all international treaties, accords and agreements at any time by offering valid reasons, or not at all. Should the foundational accords be ended, the US will of course require the return of all interface hardware, etc. The greater danger is — and this is the historical evidence to-date — that MEA/GOI have never exercised this option, and these treaties and agreements begin defining India’s policy parameters as I have stressed in my past writings.

      • vivek says:

        also doval an co is not going to sit in nsa position forever. in democracy govt and peoples in power can get replaced, and US has good experience of putting right people in any democratic country per their need

  15. Tony says:

    Trusting yankee is like trusting wolf to protect chickens. American policy making financial political elite betrayed their own white working class sons and daughters for their own personal greed . To trust the american blindly is to learn lesson in betrayal in a very hard way . Self reliance is the only answer no matter what the cost.

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