THE journey to becoming a subordinate ally of the United States has reached a decisive stage.
The first two-plus-two ministerial dialogue comprising the foreign and defence ministers of the United States and India, held on September 6, has given the India-US strategic alliance an institutional character. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the secretary of defence, James Mattis, visited Delhi for this inaugural meeting. The 2+2 dialogue will be an annual one.
With the format of the 2+2, involving the foreign and defence ministers of the two sides, the nature of the alliance has been given a clear focus – military and security collaboration.
Earlier, the same Sushma Swaraj as the external affairs minister and Nirmala Sitharaman as the commerce minister were involved in a 2+2 dialogue with their counterparts in the US state department and commerce department. Last year, President Trump suggested that this ministerial dialogue format be changed with the defence ministers instead of the commerce ministers. Thus, Nirmala Sitharaman has appeared in the new 2+2 in her role as the defence minister.
This reflects what the United States has always wanted – a strategic relationship based primarily on military and security cooperation.
LINCHPIN IN US STRATEGY
Ever since the United States decided that the Asia-Pacific region is their paramount strategic concern to counter the rising strength of China, India was assigned a key role. As the then secretary of defence, Leon Panetta, had said in 2012, defence cooperation with India was the “linchpin” of the pivot to Asia.
Before that, United States, under President George Bush, had pushed through the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal to be used as a lever to slide India into its role as a military ally. The India-US military framework agreement signed by the UPA-I government in 2005 was the precursor to the nuclear deal.
After the advent of the Modi government, the pace of forging the military alliance and the subordinate relationship quickened. In 2015, during the Obama visit, India signed up on the Joint Vision Statement for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. This was a declaration that India was on board the US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. In return, in 2016, India was certified to be a Major Defence Partner of the United States – a status given to NATO countries and military allies in Asia, like Japan and South Korea.
The Modi government renewed the Defence Framework Agreement for another ten years in 2015. It followed this up with the signing of the Logistic Support Agreement in 2016. Only the name was changed to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). This agreement enables US naval, ships and air force planes to use Indian naval and air bases for re-fuelling, maintenance and repairs on a regular basis. By this agreement, American warplanes or naval ships can use Indian facilities while conducting operations against third countries. Such agreements are in force between the United States and its military allies around the world.
BECOMING A MILITARY ALLY
Pursuing the military framework agreement, the United States had wanted three so-called foundational agreements which would lock-in the Indian armed forces with the US defence system. The first was the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which could be signed only after the Modi government took office. The second is the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and the third is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA).
During the 2+2 inaugural meeting, the CISMOA was signed with a tweaked name – Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). There has been a degree of stealth and subterfuge in signing these agreements which go against India’s sovereignty. To show that Indian interests have been safeguarded, there is a play of words, as far as the title of these agreements are concerned. Hence LSA became LEMOA and CISMOA became COMCASA.
But the play of words cannot hide the real nature of these agreements. For instance, COMCASA was signed under pressure. India is buying US weaponry on a large-scale, which far outstrips its purchases from Russia. For instance, during the last three years, US firms concluded thirteen contracts with India worth $ 288 billion. In the same period, Russia got contracts valued at $83 billion, according to the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
The United States was not equipping the sophisticated weapons sold to India with high-end communication systems. It demanded that India sign the COMCASA for doing so.
Under this agreement, the Americans will monitor the equipment supply to ensure that its confidentiality is not breached. It will entail opening Indian military bases for US inspectors to check the communication system. It will also enable the United States to monitor communications within the Indian military. Further, it will ensure that sophisticated weaponry brought from countries like Russia will become incompatible with other weapon systems.
This is one of the arguments being used against India purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia. US defence spokesmen have argued that this purchase would undermine “inter-operability” with the US systems and armed forces.
Given the subservient attitude of the BJP-led government, we can expect the signing of the third agreement – BECA – in the near future.
The yoking together of the two armed forces and India’s succumbing to the strategic designs in Asia has been taken further steps forward as per the joint statement issued after the 2+2 meeting. It was decided to establish secure hotline communications between the foreign ministers and the defence ministers of the two countries. The US has the largest number of military exercises with India amongst all the other countries in the world. So far, these exercises have been conducted between the three wings – navy, air force and army. Now the 2+2 meeting has decided that there should be trilateral military exercises involving all the three wings together.
Another decision of importance is that of posting liaison officers in the US Navy Central Command and the Indian Navy headquarters. The Americans have been offering to post an Indian liaison officer at their Pacific Command. India has shown more interest in posting an officer in the Central Command, which is headquartered in Bahrain. This has now been accepted. How India is getting integrated with the US strategy becomes evident from the fact that the United States Navy has changed the name of its Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command to inveigle India into its military architecture. It was not surprising, therefore, that an Indian naval officer attended the re-naming of the Pacific Command and the handing over of this Command to a new officer in June 2018.
The Modi government has also accepted the US proposal for a quadrilateral alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
All these developments are crucial steps in India becoming a full-fledged military ally of the United States. However, this is an alliance which is unequal and reduces India to a subordinate status.
The continuity of the pro-US collaborationist policy is because it is the policy of the ruling classes, not just a particular government. This shift took place in the beginning of the 1990s. Since then, whether it was the Vajpayee government, or, the Manmohan Singh government to the Modi government at present, the last two decades have seen the persistent quest for a strategic alliance with the US imperialism. This also explains why the corporate media, by and large, has welcomed every step taken to become an ally of the United States.
SANCTIONS THREAT ON RUSSIA LINKS
Two issues which came up in the 2+2 meeting highlight the subordinate status which the Modi government has accorded for itself. The first issue is the law passed by the US Congress called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). According to this Act, any country which enters into significant transactions with Russian arms companies security agencies will attract sanctions by the US. India has negotiated the purchase of five advanced S-400 triumph missile systems from Russia. This will attract sanctions as per the CAATSA. The Modi government is pleading for a waiver for buying these missiles from Russia. In the 2+2 meeting, the American side gave no commitment that a waiver would be provided. The Modi government is in an unenviable position. If it gets a waiver, it will be with conditions attached, i.e., a promise to taper off purchases of defence equipments from Russia. This would go against India’s security and national interests as Russia has been a traditional and reliable supplier of defence weaponry to India since the days of the Soviet Union. The United States has made its intentions clear that it would like to replace Russia as the main source of weapon supplies. It is going to use the military agreements and “inter-operability” to effectively squeeze India into accepting the position of America being the major supplier of weapons.
Donald Trump, with his emphasis on “America First” and reducing the trade surplus that India has with the United States, is piling on relentless pressure to buy billions of dollars worth of arms from US companies.
NO OIL FROM IRAN
The other aspect of this subordinate relationship is the US sanctions against Iran. Trump has withdrawn unilaterally from the nuclear agreement signed by the group of six countries with Iran. It has re-imposed sanctions on Iran in May. It has warned that all countries who are buying oil from Iran will have to cease to do so by November this year. If not, sanctions will be imposed on those countries and the concerned business entities.
After the lifting of the UN sanctions, India has been steadily increasing its oil purchases from Iran. Now, once again, the threat of US sanctions is haunting India. Earlier, during the Manmohan Singh government, India had cut down oil imports from Iran under the threat of sanctions. In the 2+2 talks, the US side made it clear that it expects India to reduce oil imports to zero. It may not impose sanctions in November, provided India is able to show that it is steadily reducing the quantum of imports. Instead, India should buy more oil from the US. Here again, India can be expected to comply with the US demand. The oil imports from Iran in the month of August, figures of which are yet to come, are expected to show a significant drop. As for the Indian investment in the Chabahar Port in Iran, US does not seem to have provided any specific relief.
NOTHING FOR INDIA
The two issues of purchase of Russian missiles and the Iran oil imports show that the US has bullied India to get its way. But the 2+2 talks have not given anything to India in return.
Trump’s team has pressed India to reduce the trade surplus by buying more American goods, including arms. It has demanded more market access and relaxation for foreign capital investments in India. On the other hand, there was no concession for India either on the question of the increased tariffs on steel and aluminum products, or, the relaxation of visa norms for Indians employed in the US.
Thus the much-vaunted nationalist – Narendra Modi – has proved to be craven when it comes to dealing with the United States and its imperial demands. The country is going to pay a heavy price for this capitulation.