The relationship between India and US which has been on an upward curve for sometime now is seeing further intensity. The Defence Minister of India has signed the LEMOA agreement and US Secretary of state who is on visit to India is involved in strategic and commercial dialogue. Thus, some crucial decisions on strategic front and furthering of defence ties is taking ties to a new level.
Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA)
About: It is a facilitating agreement that establishes basic terms, conditions, and procedures for reciprocal provision of Logistic Support, Supplies, and Services between the armed forces of India and the United States.
Thus, it enables the Indian military, whether the Indian navy or Indian air force, to have access to logistics items like water, food, fuel, medical care etc. whenever need arises. And vice-versa.
Not about: The agreement is not about ‘basing rights’. India has cleared the air that it will not have any bases in USA and USA will not have any bases in India. India is not becoming a military ally to USA.
Just a logistics agreement?
More than the logistics agreement, it is the strategic binding between India and USA. Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is the lynchpin of the agreement. USA wants India to be rising power from point of view of DTTI. USA has put India at par as a defence partner and treat India as a non-NATO ally.
Also, USA has set up an India Rapid Reaction Action Cell in the Pentagon. They have enacted an arms act specifically for India so that DTTI empowers India with technology it does not have.
USA was keen to have the agreement but India was avoiding it for more than a decade. Hence, the agreement is also about getting India away from non-aligned policies, de-coupled from obsession with strategic autonomy and to identify with the USA strategies and USA regional policies in much more harmonious and holistic way. It was the litmus test for USA to see whether India was willing to have this sort of leap of faith to get closer in strategical and geo-political terms.
LEMOA is the stepping stone. It is going to lead to two more important agreements:
Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA)
Signing the CISMOA would enable India to get encrypted communications equipment and systems allowing military commanders to communicate with aircraft and ships through a secure network.
Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geospatial intelligence
BECA would provide India with topographical and aeronautical data and products, which will aid navigation and targeting.
USA is overwhelmingly superior military power. Thus, it is currently in India’s advantage as it enhances India’s sustainability in whichever area it wants to operate whether, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or any of current exigencies.
USA has 735 military bases of all kinds in different parts of the world. If it is in the agreement that India can acquire similar kind of logistics facilities in South China Sea, Asia Pacific or West Asia, that will be a big advantage for India.
India holds maximum joint exercises with USA. Earlier, when there was no such agreement like LEMOA, every time India sent aircraft to Alaska or American ships came to Malabar, India and USA had to sign in each case an individual agreement for that specific exercise for water, fuel and food. With this agreement, there will be no such worry.
More benefit than India as India will have less requirement of logistics facility than the USA.
India has taken leap of faith and considered USA an important defence partner.
India-US strategic partnership and geo-politics
The larger perspective should be of a major incremental addition to the direction of Indo-US strategic partnership. The discourse in India about Indo-US defence cooperation is changed. Until recently, many Indian ideologues went against this kind of agreement to USA but now they are supporting it and the change in discourse should be underlined.
There is an undeniable impact on other countries. In strategic and geopolitical matters, perception matters.
China: Though China may not be vocal but it understands the criticality of such agreement. It may or may not mind such kind of logistics agreement. China has base in Djibouti, has access to Pakistani ports and is also looking for opportunities with Iran. This allows China to take care of its requirements in the area even if India doesn’t offer berthing facilities for Chinese ships.
Pakistan has so far not given any reaction.
Russia: India and Russia have strong historical ties. Russia might get perturbed by such initiatives between India and USA. But, it also has not reacted so far. Recently, it entered into agreement with Iran at a summit in Baku which gives Russia access to Indian Ocean region through Iran’s port and territory.
The backdrop points out at creeping new cold war.
India’s interest is the sole priority
The government has done the right thing by considering whatever is happening in the neighbourhood and going closer to USA is in India’s interest at the moment. China, Pakistan, Russia have entered into similar agreements to strengthen their hold on strategic regions. Thus, India has also taken a step in right direction.
However, this does not mean India and USA are on same page on everything.
India and USA disagree in Afghanistan and are working there at cross purposes for 10 years.
India is wary of American stand in South China Sea where India wants USA to take a stronger stand against china. But India is not yet prepared to support USA openly and hence make references to freedom of navigation and refuses to mention China.
Thus, Indo-US relation works in bits and pieces.
End of Non-Alignment era?
This is an era of multi alignment and not non-alignment. India talks of strategic autonomy and yet India is multi-aligned. India still has good relation with Russia and Japan, EU and China. The challenge for Indian diplomacy will be to continue successful engagements with all.
The non-aligned orientation and era had ended after May 1998 when India did nuclear tests and in 1999 when Kargil happened. Post Kargil, India became closer to USA. With civil nuclear agreement, the larger geopolitics which provided for foundation of non-alignment of policy was no longer present. Then India moved towards strategic autonomy and is now engaging in strategic partnerships. Thus, to enhance India’s space in strategic autonomy, robust partnership with USA is the logical way to go now.
The final details of the agreement is yet to be released.