US-India BECA: Spy Eye in the Region

U.S. and India on Tuesday (October 27) signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which gives India more eyes in the sky.

Along with the two agreements signed earlier — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) — US and India complete a troika of “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation between the two countries.

Another cold war is in the making, some observers say, –“in echo of first cold war, the West’s “Five Eyes” spy alliance focuses on China,” says a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Bloomberg.

India and Japan being part of the Quad (Indo-Pacific strategy) are expected to ultimately dock in with this alliance, an observer says.

And given the current geopolitical situations in South Asia, “this newly acquired data can prove to be beneficial on both the northern and western borders of India, Captain Vikram Mahajan (Retd), Director of Aerospace and Defence at USISPF tells CNBC/ ET.

What is the Basic Exchange and Coop Agreement (BECA)
The two countries, India and US which signed BECA during the 2+2 India-US dialogue will allow India to gain access to precision data and topographical images on a real time basis from US military satellites. What does this mean:

  • BECA is the fourth and final “foundational” understanding the US has signed with India, thus cementing the military cooperation between both countries.
  • Two countries have already signed General Security of Military Information Agreement (2002), Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (2016), Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (2018) to exchange military logs and enable secure communication.
  • BECA will give India access to classified geospatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications.
  • Under BECA, the two countries can exchange maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data.
  • The agreement will allow the U.S. to share sensitive satellite and sensor data that would help India in improving accuracy and response of its strike assets including missiles.
  • India will be able to keep a close watch on the maritime movements in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and other areas of interest. Enhanced maritime awareness will improve India’s ability to track and target warships in the Indian Ocean.

According to Amb. G.R. Baloch based in Islamabad, BECA “will result in strategic instability in South Asia”, and “could provide incentive to India to the use of tactical nuclear weapons”, he says.

“It’s a serious development”, a senior Pakistani military official tells DesPardes. “Balakot 2.0 may be more accurate next time around”. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.

On a larger picture, BECA would enable India and the US to work closely in defense and foreign policy, observers say.

Over the last fifteen years, India and US have signed several enabling agreements which allow greater interoperability between the two forces.

Commenting on BECA (an agreement for geospatial cooperation), an analyst based in Asia Pacific who specializes in South Asia and US-China relations says, “What matters is how these two states (USA and India) view their own interests and preferences”.

For both the USA and India, they are focused on China, the analyst points out, “for different reasons and historical contexts.”

But the “US-Indian security partnership does place Pakistan in a tough spot” he adds, “because the exchange of terrestrial and maritime geospatial data from the US to India would likely include coverage of both China and Pakistan”. But this is just the latest development in a series of such developments (in the region), according to him.

Some dub such developments to include the great game in the region, and the emergence of unhinged geopolitical rivalries in the world, is an enabler, according to some observers.

One key challenge, according to the analyst “is the hierarchy of insecurity binding all these states”. “Pakistan’s core insecurity flows from India; India’s strategic insecurity is rooted in its perceived imbalance vis-a-vis China; China is focused on the USA, not India; and the USA, too, is focused on China, with some issues with Russia” is how the analyst explains the security-insecurity scenario –hallmark of geopolitics in the wider South Asia region.

According to a recent article by a research associate of an Islamabad-based think tank, “the deal comes in the midst of India and China’s stand-off in the Ladakh region and is putatively aimed at keeping Chinese activities in Ladakh and the Indian ocean region in check”.

China and Pakistan have India as their backyard.

Pakistan is at the lowest rung of the insecurity hierarchy, according to the analyst. “It (therefore) must deal with the most challenging security ecology of all”, says the analyst.

“But the greater the quandary, the deeper is the incentive for building state-society cohesion,” he points out.

“Power resides within the state-society paradigm”, he says, “and this is where the Pakistani elite has the greatest opportunity to forge a coherent, united, national narrative”.

According to him, “this is feasible, and possibly necessary. The question is, is the elite up to this very demanding task?”