On Monday, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar are likely to hold a bilateral meeting followed by a joint press conference at the Pentagon. Weeks after India was designated as a major defence partner by the US, one of the key likely developments expected from this meeting is the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
LEMOA is a reworded version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), an agreement that allows US and its allies to avail logistics support facilities like fuel, spare parts and storage of the other party.
The experts seem divided on the repercussion of such an agreement.
Signing of the LEMOA “will be the equivalent of two porcupines who want to be friendly – exchanging a quill at a time”, writes Defence Analyst C Uday Bhaskar.
It is an India-specific agreement. I do think it will be in India’s interest in the long term in terms of being able to obtain fuel and logistics at short notice. At a time when India needs to maintain its presence in the region, this is a useful traction for India.
Bhaskar also underlined that the agreement, when it comes into force, is unlikely to be binding in nature and India will always have the right to refuse assistance.
Mincing no words, Strategic Affairs expert Bharat Karnad feels that PM Modi has “lost what little strategic sense he may have started out with.”
According to Karnad, LEMOA has “potentially very negative strategic impact” and “India is set to lose its sovereign decision-making status and strategic independence”
- LEMOA will still mark India as a secondary power and American camp follower.
- The “social turmoil” of stationing US troops - termed a usually rambunctious lot by Karnad - in Indian cities.
- A scenario wherein India may be involved in US actions against China or Russia or their proxies in Asia will be a disaster.
Foundational as LEMOA may be, the NDA can only sell it at home if it charts New Delhi’s own role in the Indian Ocean region for the next five to ten years. It is one thing for India to leverage the agreements to aid its role as a “net security provider” and another to be drawn into US-China rivalry in the region.
IDSA’s Saroj Bishoyi writes,
The agreement will help Indian armed forces to develop their capabilities, play better humanitarian assistance and relief operations, and to operate beyond the South Asian region in safeguarding its vital national interests.
Noting that a possible Republican win in the US elections will hurt US-India ties, Dr Rupakjyoti Borah, Research Fellow with Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, writes that “it makes perfect sense for New Delhi to make hay while the sun shines.”
When all is said and done, while it would be incorrect to dub India as a US ally now, it seems that there is a sufficient groundswell of public opinion and political capital in the country to favour a revamp of its ties with the world’s sole superpower.