India and the United States signed a pair of major agreements to “enhance our military cooperation” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.
“We know the threats to stability that exist in the region, and the United States seeks to ensure that both of our peoples can live in peace and in freedom,” Pompeo said Thursday at the opening of a “2+2 Strategic Dialogue” in New Delhi.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with their counterparts in the Indian government for a summit to finalize agreements that will give India access to sensitive American military and intelligence capabilities. The agreement builds upon the Obama administration’s designation of India as the “major defense partner” for the United States, as U.S. officials in both parties hope that India can help provide a democratic counterweight to China in the region.
“We appreciate India’s role as a stabilizing force on the region’s geographic frontlines,” Mattis said after the meeting. “Your nation understands better than many: peace and prosperity are only attainable when all respect the principles of territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and freedom from coercion — all of these are fundamental to the rules-based international order.”
Those comments are a veiled rebuke of China, which has claimed sovereignty over contested islands in the strategically vital South China Sea and reportedly has threatened to invade Taiwan if the U.S. expands relations with the island government. (China regards Taiwan, the last bastion of the government overthrown by the Chinese Communist revolution, as a renegade province led by “separatist forces.”)
The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement was undertaken with those kinds of threats in mind, according to Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“Maritime security has been a focus area of our participation and cooperation,” Sitharaman said. “To deepen our ties in this area, we will expand our interactions on maritime domain awareness.”
The COMCASA agreement allows the United States to put the advanced technology on military systems sold to India, including the armed Sea Guardian drones.
“The US data link is considered the most secure communication platform, which will also allow India access to big data base of American intelligence, including real-time imagery,” The Economic Times of India noted. “COMCASA will effectively mean India sharing the real-time American intelligence on military deployments by China and Pakistan.”
Pompeo has other negotiations underway with India, including talks about reducing oil purchases from Iran. President Trump exited the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and renewed oil sanctions on the regime’s oil industry in an aggressive effort to deprive the Iranian regime of the finances for regional aggression. That has been one of Trump’s top priorities, even at risk of frustrating European allies who support the Iran nuclear deal.
But even that issue took a backseat to Thursday’s strategic play. “They will certainly come up, but I don’t think they’ll be the primary focus of what it is we’re trying to accomplish here,” Pompeo said Tuesday on his way to India. “This set of meetings . . . They’re really about things that are big and strategic and will go on for 20, 40, 50 years.”