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India’s strategic interests vis-a-vis the US

India’s strategic interests vis-a-vis the US


  • The United States (US) wants the flow of big data, and its security, storage and analysis to operate under a network-centric architecture erected and owned by it. The privacy of its own data is the prime obsession of the US.
  • However, it pays scant respect to the privacy of others. It imposes restrictions and demands on its allies to comply with its data protection laws.
  • It not only expects money from the importer of its arms and ammunitions, but also stringent commitment for protecting its intellectual property rights, crucial codes and data contained in the systems.
  • The US often issues diktats to allies regarding what they ought not to export to countries on the US hit list.


  • As early as 1951, India was apprised of the provisions of the Battle Act, 1951 (Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act), a US municipal law that debarred countries cooperating with the US from exporting to the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries that threatened US supremacy.
  • In 1953, when India exported a small quantity of thorium nitrate to China, the US protested and reminded India of the Battle Act, 1951.
  • In the late 1950s, when India was strategically aligned with the US on the Tibet issue, its commercial dealings with the communist countries were moderated by the US.
  • It also made India aware of the restrictions on the use of arms imported from the US.
  • Although India was under no legal obligation to comply with the list, it remained sympathetic to US concerns throughout the 1950s.

Contemporary issues

  • The Indo–US strategic relationship is once again on the upswing.
  • The US is promising India high-tech military equipment and expecting in return unflinching Indian loyalty to the US military’s strategic, tactical and technological outlook.
  • In the age of network-centric warfare, the US is not only selling hardware, but also the embedded software that would ensure that these weapons systems remain networked to the common grid in perpetuity. Breaking out of the grid could even result in their destruction.
  • Now, when the US Department of Defense is relying on open-source architecture and cloud computing for managing big data, one is not sure about the compromises we will have to make to become a good strategic partner to the US.
  • The main drivers of the defence closeness between India and the US are:
  1. the US “pivot to Asia,” which entails shifting 60% of US naval assets to the Pacific; and
  2. the US’s need to incorporate maximum military assets of its allies in the region to achieve its strategic goals in relation to a rising China.
  • It is for this reason that the US naval strategy often talks about enhancing its “global network” of partners, which includes South Korea, Japan, Australia, and India.
  • Such partnership is built by establishing “technical interoperability, common operational experience, and prioritized areas of mutual security interest”.
  • The desire for a “collaborative defence” flows from two main reasons:
  1. the persistent decline in the US’s defence spending since 2011, and
  2. the burgeoning Chinese fleet acting in tandem with the powerful Russian navy.

What are the specific agreements?

  • The trajectory of the India–US defence ties hinges on three “foundational” agreements:
  1. Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA),
  2. Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA)
  • India has already signed the LEMOA.
  • The current focus is on reaching an agreement on the CISMOA that allows interoperability between allies in an operational environment.
  • Interoperability builds teamwork, which enhances readiness and strengthens the military alliance. At the heart of interoperability is the networking of various strands in a battlefield. Networked assets provide secure and smooth flow of information, which enables a common picture of the battlefield to emerge.
  • Based on this integrated picture, the leader in command directs the right weapons system for quick action against a target.

What are the foundational agreements?

  • The three agreements referred above as the foundational agreements which the U.S. signs with countries with which it has close military ties.
  • They are meant to build basic ground work and promote interoperability between militaries by creating common standards and systems. They also guide sale and transfer of high-end technologies.


What does signing LEMOA mean?

  • LEMOA gives access, to both countries, to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.
  • India and the U.S. already hold large number of joint exercises during which payments are done each time, which is a long and tedious process.
  • Under this agreement, a mechanism will be instituted for book-keeping and payments and officials, who will act as nodal points of contact, will be designated on both sides.
  • The agreement will primarily cover four areas — port calls, joint exercises, training and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. Any other requirement has to be agreed upon by both sides on a case-by-case basis.
  • But this is not a basing agreement. There will be no basing of the U.S. troops or assets on Indian soil.
  • This is purely a logistical agreement. India can access the string of U.S. facilities across the globe for logistical support and the U.S., which operates in a big way in Asia-Pacific, will benefit from Indian facilities.
  • United States has signed a so called Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with NATO countries. Such agreements have also been signed with Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in our neighbourhood.

What is BECA?

  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation agreement would facilitate exchange of geospatial information between India and United States for both military and civilian use

What is CISMOA?

  • Communication and Information Security Memorandum Agreement would allow the interoperability of India and United States equipments.
  • By interoperability, we mean that there would be access to encrypted and secret technologies or communications.
  • So far United States has blocked sale of some of the advanced technologies and sensitive equipments to India on account of non-signing this agreement.
  • Signing this agreement would help because such advanced technologies and sensitive equipments are generally installed on US procured systems only.
  • This agreement could also be important for multinational operations related to rescue, disaster relief etc.

What the US intends to do with CISMOA?

  • The CISMOA is important to the US because its strategy demands that various war elements belonging to allies be synchronised to serve the US command and control centre, which tightly controls all channels of communication.
  • This is achieved by establishing a common command and control architecture that is owned by the US government.
  • The common grid provides “plug and play” ecosystems, where multiple weapons systems can easily be integrated into a mission plan.
  • All future weapons systems manufactured by US defence firms will be the plug and play kind.
  • The plug and play concept for weapons systems development calls for the demonstration of interoperability at design time and puts a premium on a system that can exchange information and services with multiple systems.


How will it affect India?

  • In the context of India, this means that in order to be interoperable with its strategic defence partner, it will have to rely more and more on US-manufactured systems.
  • This is because systems purchased from Russia would not be able to plug into the secure communication and data transfer networks provided by the US.
  • In order to make the Russian systems compatible with the common grid, complex and costly interfaces would have to be established. This is likely to lead to tampering with the proprietary hardware and software.
  • India would get the worst of it, having to bear the cost of making legacy systems compatible and interoperable.
  • It is, perhaps, for this reason that ever since the discussions on “foundational” agreements began in the early 2000s, the US has gained the biggest share in the Indian arms market. It sells $14–$15 billion worth of weapons to India.
  • According to Ajai Shukla, a noted defence journalist who has studied a similar agreement between South Korea and the US, the CISMOA appears to be more intrusive than even the LEMOA.
  • The CISMOA will demand that Indians completely depend on the US for the maintenance and upkeep of the radio systems.
  • Besides placing restriction on the indigenous manufacture of communications sets procured from the US, the agreement will also enable US military personnel to occupy Indian military installations.
  • As things stand, India has not completely ruled out accepting such intrusive regimes. The negotiations are currently on to satisfy Indian concerns, but technological imperatives limit the scope of accommodating Indian concerns.


What are FCN Treaty Negotiations?

  • There is so much similarity in the manner in which negotiations on the three foundational agreements are proceeding, and the protracted Indo–US talks on the Friendship Commerce and Navigation (FCN) treaty post-independence.
  • The FCN treaty talks reopened immediately after India acquired independence. The aim of the treaty was to protect US investments in India and to demand for US nationals the same privileges and rights that British nationals and corporations enjoyed in India.
  • The US wanted complete “national” treatment in India for their enterprises; in short, an unrestricted entry for US capital into India. They were looking for removal of trade barriers on exports and imports.
  • India could not accede to their demands because these ran contrary to the Indian philosophy of planned and regulated trade and commerce.
  • The treaty was seen as a facilitator that would help India get dollar investments from the US.
  • Therefore, India did not want to upset the US by outright rejection of the treaty, nor did it want to send wrong signals to its Indian constituency by signing a truncated treaty.
  • The treaty was eventually not signed in its original form. It was tweaked and its provisions were broken down into three different agreements and signed separately.
  • In September 1957, India entered into a limited investment guarantee agreement with the US. Under this, the US government extended insurance to US investors in India against possible risk of currency inconvertibility with respect to their profits and capital repatriation, provided these investments were approved by the Government of India.
  • In November 1959, an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation was signed between the two governments. Finally, a proposal for concluding an Expropriation Guarantee agreement with the US was also approved by the cabinet.
  • The FCN negotiations continued for more than 10 years because the US adopted a more gradual approach rather than pushing it. This was mainly because the FCN treaty they had signed with the Chiang Kai-shek government in China in 1946 had been used by the Chinese communists to show how the nationalists had sold the country’s interest to US capital. The treaty generated anti-American sentiments in China and paved the way for communist victory.
  • It is, perhaps, this outcome that the US wanted to avoid in India. They did not want to push an unequal treaty on a newly independent India and provide political fodder to the Indian communists.


What may the future hold?

  • India will not be able to avoid signing the CISMOA for too long since it has already decided to be a part of the US defence network. Besides, India has been exercising with the US forces to develop interoperability.
  • The politico-cultural barriers will get dissolved and the sovereignty issue will eventually take a back seat. The US has much experience in dealing with “national interest” issues of the allies that hamper the progress of interoperability.
  • NATO had faced similar challenges in the early 2000s, when every nation in NATO was keen to protect its data and technology from their allies.

Way Forward

  • The fact that India is in itself a growing power, India should be wary of the status of US ally.
  • The centre of India’s geopolitical interest is multilateralism which cannot be built around common ground with the US as it is the US only which drives the international politics and institutions unilaterally.
  • In this respect however, it should also be remembered that the US provides India a potable factor to neutralise the hegemonic and expansionist character of China in our neighbourhood and beyond.
  • India should seek deep concessions from the US on the issues critical to India’s national interest like aid to Pakistan, role in Afghanistan, Chinese tendencies etc besides addressing the nuances in the agreements on the defence cooperation.

Practice Questions

  1. How do the strategic interests of India get compromised when India goes for closer defence cooperation with the US? Discuss in the light of agreements signed recently.
  2. What path should India tread in its efforts towards multilateralism? Critically examine the role of the US in India’s endeavour?


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