Defence Co-operation agreement with the US is necessary to counter China

As Donald Trump begins his Presidency, leaders in India face the question of whether to sign two long-delayed agreements to facilitate closer security cooperation with Washington. In New Delhi last week U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris offered a useful illustration of why the deals matter. Without them, he noted, India and the U.S. won’t be able to share vital information about China’s intensifying submarine presence in the Indian Ocean.

Chinese submarines have become a regular sight in the ocean in the past two years. Beijing says they’re needed for antipiracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, but New Delhi says that’s nonsense because subs are unsuited to chasing pirates in skiffs.

India fears a power play, especially as China arms its rival Pakistan and otherwise seeks to dominate Asia. Beijing has port access in Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and China recently built its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the Indian Ocean’s far-western edge.

India plans to spend more than $60 billion on new naval capabilities of its own, and some of its best tools are P-8 Poseidon long-range maritime patrol planes made by Boeing, which track submarines by sonar and other means. The U.S. military also uses the P-8 and trains regularly with Indian forces, but India’s version of the plane is less sophisticated, lacking certain advanced communications tools that would enhance cooperation with U.S. forces.

That’s because India has refused to sign a basic pact designed to protect sensitive U.S. radio and satellite communications technology. This is one of the three foundational defense agreements the U.S. has with 80 other countries, and it’s especially important in this case because of India’s close military relationship with Russia. India signed one of the pacts last year, allowing U.S. forces to use Indian bases for certain logistics, but the others remain unsigned due to Indian hesitation about getting too close to Washington.

“If we get these agreements signed, I think we will be at a great place,” Admiral Harris said Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi. “We will be able to do more interoperable activities.”

That, in turn, would complement other recent Indian moves, such as inviting Japan, a leading sub-hunting power, to join regular U.S.-Indian maritime exercises. India is also investing in new surveillance and other capabilities in its Andaman and Nicobar islands, near the strategic Strait of Malacca, by which Chinese subs can enter the Indian Ocean from the South China Sea.

Concluding the remaining agreements with the U.S. is a logical next step. It would also signal India’s strategic commitment and value to the new U.S. Administration.


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