In geopolitical terms, the status of the U.S.-India relationship is of critical importance because it intersects with the great power competition emerging between the United States, China and Russia. Washington wants an improved relationship with New Delhi, primarily because it will help balance against Beijing and Moscow. Right now, India is Russia's most important arms customer, and New Delhi also fosters a significant economic relationship with Beijing.
The Indian Express reported July 26 that the government in New Delhi has agreed to sign the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the United States. India reportedly asked the U.S. government to send the final text of the agreement to New Delhi so that preparations can be made to sign it during an upcoming September 6 meeting. The "2+2" meeting will occur between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and their U.S. counterparts Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Why It Matters
COMCASA is a military communications agreement that is critical for establishing further interoperability between the U.S. and Indian militaries — and for the past 15 years, the agreement has been pending, bereft of signatures. This new progress toward signing demonstrates forward momentum in the U.S.-India relationship, despite recent disagreements centered on Washington's potential use of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to sanction New Delhi for buying Russian military equipment. COMCASA will facilitate further cooperation between the United States and India and help the two maintain a strong relationship even as certain hurdles — such as the latter's ties with Russia — inevitably cause friction going forward.
The United States has been working hard to elevate the U.S.-India relationship, particularly as Washington looks to use New Delhi as a natural partner to balance China's rise and help secure U.S. interests in the Indian Ocean region. India, however, has been hesitant. This is partly due to India's historic preference for non-alignment, but it's also a reflection of the country's desires both to maintain a more balanced relationship with China and to preserve its historic ties with Russia, a traditional U.S. adversary.
After COMCASA and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the U.S. just needs India to agree to the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement to fully cement military ties.
The Indian government also harbored considerable doubts over signing COMCASA because of fears the agreement would give the United States too much visibility into Indian encrypted military communications, which it could potentially share with other countries. The recent U.S. softening of CAATSA, however, has helped mollify Indian concerns over U.S. trustworthiness and has undoubtedly helped pave the way for the upcoming signing.
In 2016, the two countries signed their first pact to improve military cooperation, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement. With the ratification of COMCASA seemingly imminent, that leaves just one more foundational agreement to sign — the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement — out of the three that the United States traditionally requires of non-allied countries to enhance military cooperation and interoperability.
On Our Calendar
- September 6: "2+2" meeting in New Delhi.