Insights into Editorial: Building US-India defence relations
After more than a decade of discussions on the topic, recently, India and the US signed an agreement on the provision of military logistics services. This will help India build a stronger defence partnership with the US.
The deal on military logistics exchange, known as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), was first mooted in the early 2000s. Although the agreement has been under negotiation for two decades now, the previous government was opposed to it. Why?
There was apprehension that the agreement would draw India into a de facto military alliance with the US. It should be noted here that this agreement does not involve giving away any bases.
What is LEMOA?
LEMOA will ensure that both militaries can share logistical support, supplies, and services on a reimbursable basis, and provides a framework to govern them. This may include food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, medical services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, training services, and other logistical items and services. It will also facilitate opportunities for “practical engagement and exchange”.
How does this agreement work?
For example, during a bilateral exercise with the US, the participant country’s unit requires fuel for its equipment.
- The unit cannot make the purchase unless it can pay directly and immediately.
- LEMOA agreement allows for the purchase by establishing a value for the purchase and the terms for payment, which could be replacement-in-kind or an equal-value exchange.
Why it was initially opposed?
- There is an apprehension that this agreement would lead progressively towards a form of informal military alliance.
- This has politically sensitivity involved in it too.
- Some experts also believe that by signing this agreement India may become a party to the ‘wrong designs’ of the US military in the region and in the process, compromise India’s strategic sovereignty.
Benefits of this agreement:
- Whenever the ships of other countries visit our ports or air bases, they go through a very long process of clearances through MEA, MoD and other agencies. This agreement aims at cutting short of these procedures.
- The exchange of logistics support facilities would further enhance bilateral defence cooperation as well as India’s strategic role, keeping in view the projected expansion of the Indian Navy’s role beyond the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- Financially too the agreement makes good sense for India. According to some official estimates, with this agreement in place, India would be able to save around US$20 million per war game, when Indian forces take part in any of the joint military exercises with the US on American soil.
- This will also help in significantly enhancing Indian armed forces capabilities including their response to humanitarian missions (evacuation of citizens from Yemen, trunami or earthquake response etc).
Can US set up military base in India by virtue of this agreement?
No, it can’t. Neither US nor India can set up base in each other’s country through this deal. There is no provision for any base or any sort of activities to set up a base in India.
Why is the agreement significant for US?
In face of a rampantly hostile China, this agreement will give US a credible foothold in China. According to a Forbes report, US Navy plans to deploy 60% of its ship in the Indo-Pacific. This agreement can give US, an easy access to Indian bases to refuel its fleets. It is probably the next best thing to having bases in the region.
Things to be taken care of:
- The logistics support should be limited to certain situations such as joint military exercises, interventions in disaster relief or any other situation mutually agreed upon.
- It should be taken care that the degree of autonomy in deciding what situation the agreement will apply is not lost.
- This agreement involves setting up of warehousing facilities in each other’s lands. It is worrying because such places have their own personnel guarding them.
- India should also make sure that it retains the ability to say no to access to logistics under exceptional circumstances.
What lies in the future?
India in future is expected to sign Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA); Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Intelligence.
- CISMOA would allow US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US higher commanders, aircraft and ships can communicate with each other through secure networks in peace and war.
- BECA would provide India with topographical and aeronautical data and products which will aid navigation and targeting.
- These are areas in which US is very advanced and agreement could definitely benefit India, although armed forces which use systems from many other countries like Israel and Russia are not comfortable with sharing information about their systems with US.
The logistics support agreement is a mutually beneficial agreement. But, the other agreements are not easy. They need larger consensus and greater discussions. The fundamental question is whether India possesses the political will to forge a closer relationship with the US, and at the same time have all its options open for any eventuality.