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2+2 Dialogue: With The Signing of BECA, India-U.S. Security Partnership Takes Center Stage

The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) frees India-U.S. bilateral relations from binding restrictions and security clauses mandated earlier within the establishment. With BECA, technology barriers have largely been overcome. Defence and Security take up the center stage of India- U.S. bilateral relations moving beyond the buyer- seller dynamic to greater partnership in Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.

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In third annual India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, Defence and Security take the center-stage of the India-U.S. relationship which is now elevated to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) frees India-U.S. bilateral relations from binding restrictions and security clauses mandated earlier within the establishment. 

With BECA, technology barriers have largely been overcome now. It will open to defence and security collaboration and exchanges that we see U. S. conducting with allies like South Korea and Japan in the region

India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar held crucial meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper in New Delhi. Pompeo and Esper  also held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. As reported, they discussed the issues of strategic importance. The meeting took place ahead of the third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue. Along, they met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Besides BECA, U.S. also reaffirmed its continued strong support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC as well as for India’s early entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

In a statement, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) called the 2+2 dialogue among the most “significant in propelling India-US ties forward”. The first edition of the dialogue took place in Delhi in September 2018, the last one was in Washington December 2019.
Defence, Security and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) 

The significance of BECA is better categorized as the final benchmark of India-U.S. bilateral relations as it allows the exchanges and unhindered access of their intelligence and advance military platforms. BECA is the last of four ‘foundational agreements’ that US enters into with its defence partners. The other three agreements signed between U.S. and India are General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018.

BECA will allow India to use US geospatial intelligence and enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. Indian can access real time topographical and aeronautical data and advanced products. BECA allows the sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts and data exchange. It will greatly enhance maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies. Both affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defense information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

India has already established the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) and positioning of a Liaison Officer from the U.S. Navy at the IFC-IOR will greatly benefit India. With advance Geospatial intelligence will  help India in tracking the surreptitious move of Chinese military in the Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea. India has also placed an Indian Liaison Officer at NAVCENT, Bahrain and confirmed the intent to assign additional Liaison Officers.
Noting the 15th anniversary of the inaugural U.S.-India Defense Framework Agreement, the Ministers commended what has become a comprehensive, resilient, and multi-faceted Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between India and the United States. The ministerial 2+2 declared commitment to deepening bilateral defense consultation and collaboration and to exploring opportunities to expand cooperative capacity-building efforts in the region. They also affirmed their commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and U.S. Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests.

The Ministers discussed the ongoing progress in the implementation of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), including the expansion of secure communications capabilities to include secure video teleconference capabilities between their respective Navies, Armies and Air Forces as well as between respective Foreign and Defense Ministries.They agreed the convening of the Military Cooperation Group (MCG) later this year to review bilateral military-to-military engagement including joint exercises, training and expert exchanges. India and U.S. will also conduct between the Special Forces.
Crucially, 2+2 ministerial dialogue advances with the inclusion of the Royal Australian Navy in the U.S.-India-Japan MALABAR Naval Exercise scheduled to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in November 2020. It was the fast paced diplomatic and defence exchanges that resulted in Australia inclusion of Malabar. It must be noted the shift and openness in Indian foreign policy that sets forth a concrete and robust joint military cooperation with US, Australia and Japan in the region.

Defence secretary Mark Esper also highlighted the importance of deepening maritime cooperation and the growing sophistication of U.S.-India naval cooperation- the PASSEX carried out by the Navies of both countries. India and U.S. looked forward to the convening of the next edition of the Tri-Services Amphibious TIGER TRIUMPH HADR Exercise and Army Exercises YUDH ABHYAS and VAJRA PRAHAR in 2021. Besides, India is also co-hosting the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leader Forum (SELF) in 2023.
The Ministers also discussed the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and stated their intention to fast track projects under DTTI. India and U.S. have already signed a Statement of Intent (SoI) at the 10th DTTI meeting to strengthen dialogue on defence technology cooperation on several specific DTTI projects as well as a DTTI Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for identification and development of joint projects.

DTTI has been focusing on defence innovation and ways to collaborate which led to the joint Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO-iDEX) and U.S. Defense Innovation United (DIU) in July 2020. 

Agreement will further boost up the defence co-production and R&D effort with leading Original equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) from U.S., making inroads for India’s entry into international defence supply chain.

India has attracted leading aerospace company like Boeing and Lockheed Martin outsourcing their key components with Indian companies like Tata Advance Systems among others. Recently, another aerospace OEM, Raytheon has already tied up with Air India for the MRO facilities in India through their subsidiaries Pratt & Whitney.

The Indo-Pacific and QUAD
While Indo-Pacific vision was reiterated on rule based international order -- free, open and inclusive— ASEAN centrality was also invoked.  Dialogue reaffirmed that closer India-U.S. cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They also emphasized that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law.
Besides BECA, the important highlight was the pact on Quadrilateral Ministerial meeting and consultations. The Second Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral Ministerial Meeting held in Tokyo on October 6, 2020. These Consultations would now be held annually. India and U.S. agreed to expand the scope of QUAD through various mechanism including initiating a dialogue among the development organizations of partner countries. They announced the collaboration between USAID and India’s Development Partnership Administration (DPA) and establishment of a permanent presence of the U.S. International Development Finance Cooperation (DFC) in India this year.

India -US Civil Nuclear Cooperation
Civil Nuclear cooperation was one of key elements of 2+2 Dialogue since project Division of Responsibility principles between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors at Kovvada, reached to the next level. It will be open for a techno-commercial offer. India-US Nuclear Project was initiated as milestone in the next phase of India’s civil nuclear program, raising the total capacity of nuclear energy in the overall energy mix. 

Talks are on for quite some time with US-based Westinghouse Electric Company for the establishment of six nuclear power reactors with a capacity of 1,208 megawatts (MW) each at Kovvada in Srikakulam district. But projects has been facing hurdles from both sides. Kovvada nuclear plant was proposed about a decade ago. In the beginning, local fishermen and environmentalists strongly opposed the project, even as the state government managed to acquire about 450 acres of land as against the required 2,000 acres.  Later, the project stalled as Westinghouse electric Company, almost went bankrupt in 2017. President trump during his visit had resolved to continue the civil nuclear project with  revamped Westinghouse Electric.

Ministers also agreed to speed up the Homeland Security Dialogue between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs. The mechanism for such dialogue will soon be finalized along the annual India-U.S. Cyber and Defence Dialogue which took place in September 2020.  They emphasized fostering cooperation for an open, secure and resilient supply of strategic material and critical infrastructure and to independently evaluate the risk associated with deployment of emerging ICT technologies, including 5G networks.  

NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR)- Photo credit NASA 

Discussion also centered around the India-U.S. Space Dialogue. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to launch the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite by 2022. India- U.S. Space Dialogue is among the most important initiatives in defence space program that will facilitate sharing Space Situational Awareness information while monitoring Chinese activities.