The shifting trajectory of India’s foreign policy
- The Third India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of India and the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defence took place in Delhi on October 26-27.
Significance of the meeting
- The centrepiece of the dialogue was the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation.
Significance of signing BECA
- This marked India’s entry as a full member into the select category of nations entitled to receive highly classified U.S. defence and intelligence information.
- With the signing of BECA, India is now a signatory to all U.S.-related foundational military agreements. (India had signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), in 2016, and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), in 2018)
- By appending its signature to BECA, India is in a position to specifically receive sensitive geo-spatial intelligence.
- Welded together, the foundational military pacts effectively tie India to the wider U.S. strategic architecture in the region.
- The two-day meeting also discussed steps to take existing bilateral cooperation, including ‘military to military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues’, to a new level.
Analysis of the military pacts
- Previous governments had resisted attempts to get India to sign these agreements on the ground that it would compromise India’s security and independence in military matters.
- Built into the agreements are provisions for a two-way exchange of information which would dilute India’s claims of maintaining strategic autonomy.
- The U.S. says that the primary push for getting India to sign the foundational agreements was the threat posed by China, and by appending its signature India has signed on to becoming part of the wider anti-China ‘coalition of the willing’.
- By signing BECA India has effectively abandoned its previous policy of neutrality, and of maintaining its equi-distance from power blocs.
Impact on China, regional ties
- India’s willingness to sign foundational military agreements with the U.S., to obtain high grade intelligence and other sensitive information, would suggest that India has made its choice, which can only exacerbate already deteriorating China-India relations.
- Several of India’s neighbours (Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh), normally perceived to be within India’s sphere of influence, currently seem to be out of step with India’s approach on many issues.
- At the same time, both China and the U.S. separately, seem to be making inroads and enlarging their influence here. The Maldives, for instance, has chosen to enter into a military pact with the U.S. to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indian Ocean region.
- The impact of India signing on to U.S.-related foundational military agreements impact India-Russia relations, which has been a staple of India’s foreign policy for more than half a century.
- Policy planners have to pay greater attention at this time to offset its loss of influence and momentum in its immediate neighbourhood (in South Asia), and in its extended neighbourhood (in West Asia).
- India needs to ensure, through skillful diplomatic handling, that the latest UAE-Israel linkage does not adversely impact India’s interests in the region.
- India needs to devote greater attention to try and restore India-Iran ties which have definitely frayed in recent years.
- India must decide how a shift in policy at this time would serve India’s objectives in Afghanistan, considering the tremendous investment it has made in recent decades to shore up democracy in that country.
- Considering India’s new relationship with the U.S. and with its full membership of the SCO, which was conceived as an anti-NATO entity will test India’s diplomatic skills.
- India can hardly hope to count on Russia as a strategic ally at a time, when Russia-China relations have vastly expanded and a strategic congruence exists between the two countries. India will need to handle with skill and dexterity its relationship with Russia.
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