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Indo-US Relations: Pragmatism and Realpolitik Likely to Prevail 

Strategically important agreements like LSA can no longer be delayed on flimsy grounds, writes Suresh Bangara

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
LSA pact which has been ratified by 80 countries would enable our navy to extend its radius of operations.&nbsp;(Photo: PTI/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

On 22 and 23 December, I had written two articles on the emerging geopolitical realities of the Indo-US cooperation in the military domain. This was based on two decades of military engagement between the two. The maiden visit of Manohar Parrikar to the US in December last year and the deliberations with his counterpart Ashton Carter had raised predictable headlines in the Indian media. Predictable because of the confusion caused in our minds on issues related to India’s national interests, the bedrock of non-alignment on which entire generations have been brought up in the midst of the rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the world.

The continuing Indo-Russian cooperation, the vicissitudes of the Indo-China relations, the consolidation of the ‘Look East policy’ initiated by Shri Narasimha Rao, the redeployment of US assets to the Indo-Pacific region and PM Modi’s priority to engage with Japan and Australia are not isolated events of history. That there is a method in the perceived madness in the initiatives taken on the foreign policy front, would perhaps be comprehended only in the years to come.

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Snapshot

Politically Contentious LSA

  • India and US agreed in principle to share military logistics, moving an inch closer to signing the LSA pact.
  • The US Defense Secretary said that India and US now need to finalise the draft.
  • India apprehensive about the logistics agreement as it will draw the country into a military alliance with US, undermining the former’s autonomy.
  • Expanding influence of China in South China Sea as well as the Indian Ocean may compel India to revisit its foreign policy.


 Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his US counterpart Ashton Carter at the India-US delegation level talks, in New Delhi, April 12, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his US counterpart Ashton Carter at the India-US delegation level talks, in New Delhi, April 12, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
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Changing Contours of Geo-diplomacy

On the political front, coalition governments in the past, with the support of the Left, continued to view the US as an undesirable ally. The rapidly changing power balance, the belligerence of China with her economic and industrial might and her all-weather support to Pakistan failed to change the script on nonalignment until the academic and strategic community challenged the attempt to ratify a document titled “Nonalignment 2.0”. Faced with criticism and redundancy of the effort made by a private group of individuals, the document initially not placed in the public domain, soon vanished.

However, a fresh debate consistent with the changed geo-political scenario and viewed in the context of geo-economics resulted in what was termed by Gautam Sen (Pune) as geo-diplomacy. The new Modi government launched immediate and realistic measures to make the foreign policy relevant to the changing times.

A serious debate followed by a discussion on the historical perspective of the national interests of India and its consequences, as late as in November 2015, opened many avenues for action. Parliament had noted more than a decade ago that India had no worthwhile Defence Policy – a fact underlined by Jaswant Singh in his talk on “What constitutes national security in a changing world order. India’s strategic thoughts.” (published in June 1998)



 Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar greets US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during his visit to Naval Base Karwar, Karnataka, April 11, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar greets US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during his visit to Naval Base Karwar, Karnataka, April 11, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
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Why LSA Needs to be Concluded?

It is in this backdrop that the return visit of Secretary Carter becomes significant. The significance is accentuated by the discussions on board the Vikramaditya, arguably the most potent platform in our inventory. Historically it is considered symbolic to hold discussions and allude to intentions on the deck of a majestic war machine.

The current headlines relate to the two parties agreeing to sign the long pending Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). The pros and cons of this agreement have been outlined in my article. Suffice to say that for the very reasons outlined therein, the LSA needs to be concluded. That this agreement which has been ratified by 80 countries would enable our navy to extend its radius of operations, needs to be factored in. It would also realise the stated objectives of our document on Maritime Security Strategy which was released by Parrikar in October last.

As regards the other two agreements i.e. CISMOA and BECA, much depends on the quality of discussions on the release of cutting-edge technologies for use by the Indian Armed Forces and I might add, whether the White House is “Trumped” or not! That bridge can be crossed later.

The need of the hour is to have the conviction in our ability to ensure that the national interests of India can be more than adequately protected. Agreements such as LSA cannot be delayed on flimsy arguments with little substance.

(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command)

Also Read:
India-US Military Agreement A Logical Corollary To Evolving Ties
India-US Defence Cooperation: Let’s No Longer Sit on the Fence

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