The third ministerial ‘2+2’ high level talks between India and United States were held on Tuesday, in Delhi. The key participants were Indian External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh, and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary, Mark Esper. The signing of Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) was the highlight of these talks.
What is BECA?
BECA is a strategic pact based on geospatial cooperation. It provides for the exchange of classified and unclassified real time map data. It will provide India with super accurate targeting for aircrafts, drones, and ballistic and cruise missiles. India will have access to data from US satellites and airborne sensors, which will give it unmatched target acquisition and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, to hit terror sites and enemy positions.
Effects on China
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.
Strategic stability is a state of mutual vulnerability achieved through having a survivable and credible second-strike capability, between two nuclear armed adversaries
It is not the first instance of military and intelligence cooperation between the two states; India and US announced Next Steps in Strategic Corporation (NSSP) in 2004, of which cooperation in the missile defense was one of the four cooperation areas defined. In 2008, United States inked the deal allowing for cooperation with India in the area of nuclear energy, which opened gates for India into the global nuclear commerce, through United States facilitating a waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It has become typical of United States to enhance strategic cooperation with India to balance against its emerging rival, China.
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This strategic cooperation between India and United States is proving to be disastrous for strategic stability in South Asia. In case of China, it can do nothing more than temporarily undermine its interests; these deals cannot and have not altered Chinese behavior in any significant way. Not only does China have an entrenched presence in the space domain, allowing it to conduct effective ISR against India, it also has a survivable and assured second strike capability, as it has deployed Ballistic Missile Submarines on constant deterrent patrols.
Strategic stability is a state of mutual vulnerability achieved through having a survivable and credible second-strike capability, between two nuclear armed adversaries. Such adversaries, having the capacity to absorb a first counterforce strike against their strategic reserves, and still retaining the capability to retaliate, leads to a state of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’. It is a win-win situation where none has anything to gain out of a first strike.
India will have, on its disposal, real time data provided by the United States, allowing it to hit nuclear sites in Pakistan
The most common route taken, since Cold War, towards maintaining a second-strike capability is launching nuclear weapons on submarines. Submarines are hard to detect, locate and, therefore, target, due to their stealthy and mobile nature and their high potential for maneuverability.
BECA makes Pakistan’s position vulnerable
India and Pakistan’s naval nuclear programs are still in a rudimentary phase, and thus, on the face of it, they do not have an assured second-strike capability against each other. Their Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) are still in the testing phase, while they do not have enough number of submarines to conduct round-the-clock deterrent patrols.
While BECA is a disaster for strategic stability, it is not good for arms race stability in the region as well.
In this situation, some sense of security was provided by the limitations in ISR capabilities on both sides. They could not hope to target and eliminate the other side’s land and air arsenal in a first strike, due to difficulties with locating and targeting widely dispersed warheads and delivery systems.
This deal will provide India with much superior target acquisition capabilities, through enhancing its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability. India will have, on its disposal, real time data provided by the United States, allowing it to hit nuclear sites in Pakistan. This vulnerability, on the Pakistani side, may encourage India to conduct a counterforce first strike to attrite Pakistan’s strategic arsenal.
It is true that India has a declared No First Use (NFU) policy, but advanced ISR, which can assist India in obtaining sensitive information regarding Pakistan, along with a missile shield – which might convince Indians that they can deny Pakistan advantage of retaliatory strike – can incentivize it to conduct a preemptive strike against Pakistan in a crisis. It is getting clearer that Indian security managers are increasingly getting uncomfortable with the NFU and have considered dumping it time and again.
United States means to strengthen India to contain China in the region. However, it has not made any formal announcement that the exchange of data and information will be limited to China
While BECA is a disaster for strategic stability, it is not good for arms race stability in the region as well. Such measures have usually led to arms race behavior in Pakistan. Pakistan has been fairly anxious since India got a waiver from NSG and is deeply unsettled by the developments in India’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program. Therefore, it has tirelessly worked to enlarge its nuclear arsenal, in order to deny India any conventional or strategic advantage in a potential armed conflict. BECA will intensify these tendencies even further, also motivating Pakistan to expedite its space program to compete with India in the domain of ISR.
Pakistan is rendered in an insecure situation due to the upward pressure created on its strategic arsenal by India’s belligerent posture. It is left with no option, but to engage in arms race, due to its security concerns vis-à-vis India.
United States means to strengthen India to contain China in the region. However, it has not made any formal announcement that the exchange of data and information will be limited to China. In an effort to contain China, United States is insulating India against Pakistan, leading to magnified threat perceptions in the region. The practices are proving to be detrimental for regional stability. They are eroding mutual vulnerability that has prevented a nuclear calamity in South Asia so far. It is imperative that, in their effort to balance against China through strategic partnership with India, US officials be mindful of their implications for Pakistan, and the damage it can do to the already delicate strategic stability in the region.
Tooba Ghaffar is working as a Research Associate at the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad. The author can be accessed at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.