India shoots down US proposal for communications secrecy pact to maintain distinction with latter's NATO allies

India has also requested Washington DC to examine an “ideal” cross-posting of army, navy and air force officers at its Central and Pacific Commands.
Indian and U.S. national flags. (Photo | Reuters)
Indian and U.S. national flags. (Photo | Reuters)

NEW DELHI: India has shot down a US proposal for an “umbrella” communications secrecy pact to maintain a distinction with the US’ NATO allies but it has also requested Washington DC to examine an “ideal” cross-posting of army, navy and air force officers at its Central and Pacific Commands, the two theatres that largely determine military-to-military relations.

“The US will have to tailor the arrangements”, a highly-placed security official said, emphasizing the word, and explaining Indian policy to The New Indian Express on Wednesday. “We do not want to be described as a NATO ally”. Famously, President George Bush (the second) had described Pakistan as a Major Non-Nato Ally (MNNA) in 2004.

Proposals for more mechanisms in the defence relationship have been renewed in weeks leading to the first joint meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries likely in April. The Indian defence and foreign secretaries have recently concluded talks with their counterparts in the run-up to the inaugural ‘2+2’ ministerial.

“We will seek equipment-specific pacts,” the official said. He also went on to explain what that means after describing the importance of having liaison officers of all the services of the militaries in the US’ Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Pacific Command (PACOM), headquartered in Hawaii, that covers the rest of Asia and what is increasingly called the Indo-Pacific.

The area of responsibility of CENTCOM, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, in the US, covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of West Asia including the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden.

Though it has been of India’s interest to interact with CENTCOM, India-US military-to-military relations are the responsibility of PACOM at the theatre-level. Centcom and Pacom are only two of the US’s unified military combatant commands that span the globe. Pacom is the largest.

Explaining the significance of COMCASA, the official said “we might find it restrictive but a NATO ally of the US may not view it as such”.

The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is a re-naming of what was the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). The US agreed the change of nomenclature as an exception to make it India-specific. A change in nomenclature was also agreed by the US to the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) that was signed in 2016 after more than a decade of negotiations and was renamed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).

But the official in the security establishment says that New Delhi does not favour an agreement that will cover all military platforms, equipment and components that India could source from the US that may compromise information. At the same time, India recognized that ‘non-disclosure’ clauses were part of many contracts. The US insists that signing such arrangements will enable the sale or transfer of advanced military technologies to India.

Instead, the official said, it may be more prudent for India and the US to go the path of an End-User Verification Arrangement that was agreed in the past.

US’ military leaders describe the CISMOA, the EUMA, a Basic Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Arrangements as “foundational documents” on which rest the US’ military alliances.

In New Delhi, the view is that these arrangements are from a time and context that have changed since the Cold War when countries of the US-led NATO and the erstwhile Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact were eyeball-to-eyeball. NATO still operates while the Warsaw Pact was disbanded.

Current relations need to reflect that changed context, the official explained to TNIE. Instead of an arrangement that will cover all military transfers, India could consider “freezing a standard text” and then making that equipment and country-specific. That was roughly the process followed for the EUMA over years that India could otherwise find intrusive.

Under US law, inspectors from the Pentagon are required from to verify that military equipment exported from the US were being used for the purposes they were meant.

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The New Indian Express