India and the US are primed to bolster their defence and strategic ties by signing the much-awaited Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The two countries will also work to achieve military cooperation and technology transfer.
In this article, we will discuss highlights of LEMOA, its impact and strategic importance with reference to India.
What is LEMOA?
The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is one of the three major foundational agreements between India and the US which facilitates the exchange of logistics between military forces of the two nations.
The Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) are two other foundational agreements.
Highlights of LEMOA:
1. A K Antony, who was the Defence Minister during the UPA regime, opposed all the three foundational pacts as it was deemed that the agreements would compromise India’s strategic autonomy by allowing the US troops to establish military bases in India.
2. However, LEMOA (previously the Logistics Support Agreement)) prohibits the US military from stationing its troops on the Indian soil. Also, India would not have to support the US if it initiates military action against countries that maintain friendly ties with India. The agreement will be country-specific for India and focus on providing support that will primarily include food, fuel and stores.
3. Both the countries have agreed that the pact aims to strengthen bilateral strategic partnership with an emphasis on global peace and stability. The agreement does not lend credence to the forging of any military alliance in the Indian subcontinent against China.
4. Both the nations acknowledged India’s participation in the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) multilateral naval exercise in 2016 as well as the Indian Air Force’s participation in the multilateral Red Flag exercise in April-May 2016 in Alaska. Naval forces of the US participated in the International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.
5. The two nations have also agreed to initiate navy-to-navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare, tracking commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean, etc.
6. They will widen collaboration under the Defence Technology & Trade Initiative (DTTI). Under DTTI by launching two new pathfinder projects on Digital Helmet Mounted Displays & the Joint Biological Tactical Detection System.
7. India and the US move forward in discussions in the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG) and the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC) in order to deepen consultations on aircraft carrier design and operations, and jet engine technology.
8. They noted the understanding ended with the conclusion for an information exchange annex (IEA) that will enhance data and information sharing specific to aircraft carriers.
9. Maritime Security :
i) The two countries have agreed increase cooperation in maritime security so as to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, including the South China Sea.
ii) To improve data sharing and commercial shipping traffic, India and the US will conclude a ‘white shipping’ technical arrangement.
10. Make in India :
i) In a bid to give impetus to the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, the US has shared two proposals to bolster India’s suite of fighter aircrafts.
ii) Defence ministers of both the countries have approved four major government-to-government project agreements in the area of science and technology, viz. Atmospheric Sciences for High Energy Lasers, Cognitive Tools for Target Detection, Small Intelligent Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Blast and Blunt Traumatic Brain Injury.
11. Indian Ocean: Both countries have expressed willingness to create a rules-based order conducive to peace in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean.
12. WWII heroes: India is working for repatriation of US’s military personnel who died in the Eastern Himalayas during World War II.
What does India stand to gain?
1. Logistical support: This will greatly help the Indian military as we lack the technology and ability to provide speedy assistance. The US extended logistical support to India during the Tsunami in 2004. Also, during relief operations conducted after the Nepal earthquake last year, the US provided India with digital maps and geospatial data.
2. Thus, the LEMOA will prove to be beneficial for India during peacekeeping operations, terrorist attacks, during natural calamities and other emergencies, etc.
3. Support to counter China’s String of Pearls: String of Pearls is a theory extrapolates China’s increasing strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It refers to a network of Chinese military and commercial facilities along the sea lines of communication which extends Chinese influence over strategic choke points in the Indian Ocean. India and the US have agreed to commence navy-to-navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare, among other aspects. This bilateral cooperation will surely help India to counter China’s ‘String of Pearls’.
4. Curbing piracy in Indian waters: Logistical support from the US will prove valuable to curb piracy in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. It will also help to keep a check on entry of terrorists through the sea (as was the case during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks).
5. New ventures under DTTI: Bringing together the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative with the Make in India campaign will surely boost bilateral trade relations between India and the US. It will facilitate the development of jet engine technology and aircraft carrier design. While the former will help India build new Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the latter will prove beneficial for India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vishal.
6. Strong foreign policy: The agreement gives teeth to India’s foreign policy, especially to act against the China’s dominance in the region. With frequent terror attacks and ceasefire violations by Pakistan and rising bilateral relations between Pakistan & China, India needs a strong partner to maintain balance of power in the region.
7. Keep Indian sovereignty intact: It does not allow the US to station its troops and create military bases on Indian soil. Further, the US cannot compel India to take part in its military actions around the world. For instance: Some of the NATO allies like Germany, France, etc. signed an LSA type of agreement with the US, but chose not be a part of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
Pitfalls of LEMOA
1. Political parties in the opposition have asserted that by signing the agreements, India is allowing the US to enter the Indian geopolitical territory. This may pose a threat to India’s strategic and sovereign defence sphere.
2. India is known for its Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) which was launched to keep its foreign policy separated from the cold war tactics of the US and Russia. Till date India has not become part of any such alliances, neither has it extended support to the NATO block and its misadventured blunders around the world.
3. However, with these agreements it will be difficult for foreign policy makers and think tanks to balance India’s sovereign stand on controversial issues. This may land Indian opinion against the US or Russia.
4. Many also contend that India’s increasing military partnership with the US may affect her ties with ally Russia that has been against the US on several fronts.
5. The agreement may also lead Chinese authorities to take an aggressive stance against India. Currently, China’s activities in the South China Sea has become the issue of concern as regards the ‘Freedom of Navigation’.
6. US’s policy does not totally favour India as it continues to provide military aid to Pakistan.
This agreement can be viewed as an instrument to reinforce strategic defence alliance with the US. In the present era of multipolarism, having a better geopolitical relations with multiple countries will prove beneficial for all the countries in the alliance. With rising external and internal security threats, India needs to have a powerful ally like the US to sustain peace and bring prosperity within and around its borders through cooperation in areas like logistics, technology and defence. Thus, the agreement will be crucial for India to sustain its geopolitical strength in the coming years.