New Delhi (NVI): India and the US today signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), a crucial strategic pact, amidst assertion by the American Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that the two countries are taking steps to strengthen cooperation against all matters of threats, including those posed by China.
The BECA, which will give India access to accurate geo-spatial data with several military applications using the American satellites, was signed after the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between the two countries here.
Besides Pompeo, it was attended by Secretary of Defence Mark Esper from the US side and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar from the Indian side.
The pact between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence and India’s Defence Ministry entails sharing of military information, including maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geodetic, geophysical, geo-magnetic and gravity data.
While the information to be shared will mostly be of unclassified nature, there is a provision for sharing classified information as well with proper safeguards in place to ensure that the information is not shared with any third party.
The agreement, signed at a time when India is locked in a military faceoff with China, will allow US armed forces to provide advanced navigational aids and geospatial intelligence which will improve Indian military’s accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons like cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones.
The BECA is the fourth and last of foundational agreements between the two countries. The other three already signed are — the 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.
After the meeting, Pompeo said at a media interaction that “India and the US are taking steps to strengthen cooperation against all matters of threats, not just those posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
While referring to the Coronavirus pandemic which emerged from China’s Wuhan city, he said, “Our leaders & our citizens see with increasing clarity that the CCP is no friend to democracy, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
Earlier, at the meeting, Pompeo said, “Today is the real opportunity for two great democracies like ours to grow closer, as I said on my trip to India last year when I called for a new age of ambition in our relationship. I think we’ve delivered on that over this past year. There is much more work to do for sure.”
He said the two countries need to cooperate to confront the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom and to promote peace and stability throughout the region.
“Together our two countries are building a better future for our people based on our shared set of values and our cultures, our defense ties, our scientific collaboration, and mutual prosperity,” the US Secretary of State said.
Esper emphasised on institutionalizing and regularizing cooperation between India and the US to meet the challenges of the day.
“Today we meet in the midst of public health, economic, and security challenges around the globe, which the partnership between our two nations has better prepared us to address and deter,” the US Secretary of Defence noted.
He pointed out that this year marks the 15th anniversary of the first U.S.-India Defence Framework and third 2+2 Ministerial.
“We have strengthened our defence and security partnership considerably since then, especially over the past year, during which we advanced our regional security, military-to-military, and information-sharing cooperation,” Esper said.
“Our focus now must be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” he added.
Rajnath Singh said the meeting today was taking place “at an extraordinary time” and referred to the “reckless aggression on our northern borders”, which is posing a challenge to India. This was reference to Chinese aggression on the Ladakh border, where the Communist party is trying to change to Line of Actual Control.
The Defence Minister also talked about coronavirus and said, “This pandemic is something that we have never experienced in our lifetime. Our economies have suffered losses. People have been affected by the pandemic, and a number of those have succumbed, which is a number that is far from insignificant.”
Jaishankar said India and the US can make a real difference by working together in respect of regional and global challenges or in the context of respecting territorial integrity, an oblique reference to the Chinese aggression on the Ladakh border.
“We live in a more uncertain world with much greater stresses and sharper fault lines. For most countries, that means giving security a greater salience in their foreign policy. As major powers, this is even more so in our case,” he said.
He noted that over the last two decades, the Indo-US bilateral relationship has grown steadily in its substance, facets and significance.
“The accompanying comfort levels today enable us to engage much more intensively on matters of national security. This format is clearly tailored to that purpose,” the Indian External Affairs Minister said.
“At a time when it is particularly important to uphold a rules-based international order, the ability of India and the US to work closely in defence and foreign policy has a larger resonance,” he said.
“Together, we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity,” Jaishankar said.
Although he did not elaborate on the regional and global challenges or on the aspect of “respecting territorial integrity”, the indication was clearly towards the Chinese aggression on the Ladakh border with an aim of changing the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
China launched the aggression in May and has amassed over 50,000 troops along with heavy artillery and air assets along the LAC. India has also mobilised the matching number of troops and military assets to meet the challenge.