India Should Try Dispelling the Misconceptions Around LEMOA
India’s sovereignty is not endangered in any manner by signing the LEMOA pact with US, writes C Uday Bhaskar.
India and the USA signed the much debated and long pending military logistics exchange agreement on 29 August in Washington DC. This agreement christened as an India-specific LEMOA – (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) is a relatively minor procedural protocol and its original name is the LSA (Logistics Support Agreement ). The USA has inked LSA with more than 80 nations – most of who are not US military allies.
Interestingly, the two defence ministers – Manohar Parrikar and Ashton Carter in their press conference went to great length to highlight what the LEMOA is ‘not about’ – meaning they sought to correct the many misperceptions that have grown over the last decade since this agreement was first mooted.
The official statement notes:
The agreement does not create any obligations on either party to carry out any joint activity. It does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements.
Apprehensions are Misplaced
What the LEMOA does enable is a framework agreement that will allow for reciprocal provision of basic logistics such as food, water, petroleum, oils, lubricants and clothing; as also communication, medical , storage and training services – and repair/maintenance-cum-port services.
This is fairly routine in its substance, but the symbolism of India entering into any formal military agreement with the USA has acquired complex political and strategic overtones as evidenced over the last two days. Even before the ink had dried on LEMOA, the opposition parties in India voiced their serious concern in Pavlovian manner and warned the Modi government that it was compromising India’s sovereignty and surrendering its strategic autonomy.
However, this assertion is misplaced and the LEMOA remains an enabling protocol that will enhance the operational reach of the Indian military to the extent that this is constrained by the non-availability of a logistic hub. How this will be actually availed of will depend upon the tactical requirements of the day and one can envision HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) operations as one such exigency wherein LEMOA will be a force-multiplier.
LEMOA Is in India’s Interests
- LEMOA has paved way for
sharing of basic logistics such as food, water, petroleum as well as
communication means and medical services.
- LEMOA may come in handy
during disaster relief operations when India sends humanitarian relief to other
- Beijing is very anxious
with respect to the recent military alliance as it perceives a threat to its dominance
in the region.
- India will have to
dispel the perception of mistrust both within as well as outside the country.
Is China Anxious?
The strategic implications of LEMOA are best reflected in the kind of anxiety and ire exuded by China. Even before the LEMOA was signed in the USA, the Global Times (GT) – an influential Beijing media outlet that reflects the hardliner stance in China observed:
This is undoubtedly a leap forward in US-India military cooperation. US media highly applauded this deal, with Forbes hailing it as a ‘war pact’ and believing that India is shifting away from Russia, its Cold War ally, toward a new alliance with the US...If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia.
There are many factual inaccuracies in this statement with respect to the LEMOA, yet it is important to note the perception that has become gospel in China’s decision making elite. This is not a ‘war pact’, but the perception has stuck in Beijing which has become very anxious about India formally joining the US-led military alliance ever since the Bush administration worked towards a nuclear rapprochement with India.
This complex and contested tweaking of US legislation that finally resulted in the exceptional nuclear status accorded to India was concluded in late 2008 and Beijing remains infuriated – to put it mildly. One could aver that Asian ‘strategic troubles’ highlighted by the GT were catalysed when China decided to deepen its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) cooperation with Pakistan as also turn a blind eye to Rawalpindi’s support to terrorism. Is it a coincidence that the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 followed within two months of the India-US civilian nuclear deal being concluded ?
Dispelling the Perception
Minister Parrikar captured the challenge for Delhi when queried about the other two foundation agreements – the CISMOA and the BECA – and as to when India would sign them. Referring to the mistrust that has been generated both in India and the region (China) about closer India-US military cooperation and the need to dispel that in the first instance, he added:
Let me (explain) get the logistics of LEMOA into the public domain, then we will think about the other foundational agreements.
In keeping with the many paradoxes and contradictions that characterise the prevailing global strategic discourse, the perception about LEMOA has turned out to be a ‘bigger deal’ than the substance of the agreement.
(The writer is a leading expert on strategic affairs. He is currently Director, Society for Policy Studies. He can be reached at @theUdayB)
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