India and the US are to embark on their most significant bilateral summit on September 6 when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mike Mattis begin their first ‘Two plus Two (2+2)’ dialogue with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Details of 2+2 Meet:
The 2+2 dialogue is to build a high level of trust between the two countries and promises to be the first of an annual series of dialogues held alternately in each country.
- India’s willingness with the US comes on the 10th anniversary of the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
- All the agreements are set to unfold under the looming shadow of a draconian law called CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).CAATSA, which came into force in April this year, imposes sanctions on two of New Delhi’s strategic partners: Russia, its largest arms supplier; and Iran, its third largest energy supplier.
- CAATSA empowers the US to impose ‘secondary sanctions’ on countries doing significant business with Russia.
- But Last month, the US Congress passed a modified version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which gives the US president the power to waive sanctions against India. It will allow India to sign a $5 billion deal to buy five S-400 long-range air defence missiles from Russia, which would otherwise have invoked US sanctions. But the respite is only a temporary one.
- Another issue is Iran. When the US imposed sanctions on Iran the last time in 2012, India complied and drastically reduced its oil imports. This time around, it cannot, because it has co-developed the strategic Chabahar port in Iran that gives India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan and the International North-South Transport Corridor, which drastically reduces cargo shipment time to Europe.
- The 2+2 ministerial dialogue, which was postponed twice this year, is likely to discuss defence deals for missiles, drones and helicopters worth over $5 billion and the possible initialling of two significant foundation agreements with the US-COMCASA or the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, which will allow India’s US-built military platforms to communicate with US and NATO platforms after the installation of special communication devices, and BECA or the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement that will allow the exchange of such information.
India – US Defence relations:
- The militaries of India and the US exercise more with each other than they do with any other nation. This year, they will hold their first-ever joint services amphibious exercise, to be followed by a joint service counter-terrorism exercise next year.
- The US is India’s second-largest supplier of defence hardware, having provided frontline equipment such as Chinook medium lift helicopters, Apache helicopter gunships, P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime surveillance aircraft, C-130 medium transport aircraft and C-17 heavy lift aircraft.
- In 2017, the US declared India a major defence partner under the NDAA 2017, the US military budget.
- On August 1, the Trump administration put India in the Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) list, which means India gets to buy high-end technology from the US.
- The US grants STA-1 only to countries that are part of all four-the Wassenaar Arrangement, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Australia Group. (India is yet to get into the NSG because of opposition from China.)
- On May 30, the US officially renamed its Hawaii-based Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command, INDOPACOM. It’s the oldest and largest US command. For record it has been said to have an area of influence from West Coast of Us to the West Coast of India.
- Washington clearly sees India as a regional counterweight to a growing China and an essential part of the ‘Quadrilateral’, an informal grouping of democracies comprising US, Japan, Australia and India.
- COMCASA is meant to provide a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that would facilitate “interoperability” between their forces — and potentially with other militaries
that use US-origin systems for secured data links.
- The general agreement signed by the US is called the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) but the name was changed to COMCASA to reflect its India-specific nature.
- It is part of a set of three military agreements that the US considers “foundational” for a functional military relationship. These are LEMOA, BECA and COMCASA.
- Indian Military experts are concerned about intrusive American access to Indian military communication systems, and about the violation of Indian sovereignty due to visits by US inspectors to Indian bases to inspect the COMCASA-safeguarded equipment. There is also a fear that a lot of Russian-origin and indigenous Indian military platforms may not be compatible with COMCASA.
- It is also a politically sensitive issue in India. The signing of LEMOA had earned a lot of criticism for the BJP government from the opposition parties. Moving into an election year, with India-US relations on a somewhat less strong footing, the government may be hesitant to sign the agreement now.