US President Donald Trump left India Tuesday night after a whirlwind 36-hour trip, but not before sealing a $3 billion agreement for the sale of military helicopters, and with the understanding of India soon signing the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), the last of the four “foundational” agreements which America requires of its nearest politico-military allies.
BECA is crucial to the sharing of advanced satellite and topographical data for long-range navigation and missile-targeting. India and the US have signed the other three foundational pacts — General Security of Military Information Agreement in 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016, and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2018 — earlier, all of them by BJP-led NDA governments.
Although the Congress-led UPA after difficult negotiations clinched the historic civil nuclear agreement in 2008, which enabled India to break the shackles of nuclear apartheid, the Manmohan Singh government was sceptical about the foundational agreements. India’s armed forces — especially the IAF — were then thought to harbour an anxiety about being locked into US communications and geospatial systems as that would render incompatible the acquiring of sophisticated weaponry from other sources. This was linked to the overall geo-strategic apprehension of being hurried into a veritable alliance system — even if it wasn’t called that — as the US was changing its perception of China as being a strategic adversary. In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has actively courted the US even at the risk of depletion of India’s strategic autonomy. President Trump told the media that the PM had told him that if he had been President 30 years earlier, India would have sourced its military requirements from America even back then instead of going to other countries.
At the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad on Monday, with the US leader by his side, the PM noted the India-US “vision” — first spoken of in 2015 with President Barack Obama — was not confined to the Indo-Pacific, but encompassed the world, with India being ready to partner America on global challenges, including in the security sphere. It’s another matter that India’s resources are no match for such a goal, but Mr Modi’s orientation seems clear.
After discussions with Mr Trump in New Delhi on Tuesday, as the two leaders met the media without taking questions, Mr Modi spoke of attaining a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership with the US. These words themselves are shop-worn. Much depends on military, economic and political resources each side can bring to the table. The PM elaborated and said all aspects of the relationship — security, energy, technology, global connectivity and trade — will get a fillip. He underlined defence as a “vital” aspect. He underlined his keenness for India and the US to be a part of each other’s defence manufacturing and supply chains, as well as inter-operability and common military exercises. President Trump too underlined the military relationship, as well as energy and technology. What we are seeing here is the adumbration of an idea, rather than specific goals met on the US leader’s trip, except for the sale of some military hardware.