The Logistics Support Agreement the US has been keen on and which the visiting US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter had hoped to sign, has been put off. This despite advance notices in the media of the draft-Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a watered down variant of the standard LSA providing restrictive, case-by-case, access for the deployed military of each side to the other’s military bases for replenishment and R&R purposes, being ready for signature. However, LSA is “tweaked” it will still bear the taint of a formal military partnership, will be used more by US forces in the IOR theater than Indian forces will use American bases and, hence, will always be one-sided. Moreover, where’s the need for such an agreement tying India down, willy-nilly, to the US strategic camp when in these past many years, US assets have been refueled and replenished on an as and when requested-basis w/o any formal accord?
So, the signing of LEMOA is postponed. That’s a relief for the nonce. A last minute rethink may have been occasioned for the followings reasons: (1) It would have raised a political storm. However tattered the country’s unaligned status, deciding so overtly to go over to the US side, as it were, reduces hugely India’s room for policy maneuver. (2) The troubling transfer of F-16s and Viper attack helos to Pakistan in the face of Delhi voicing its discomfiture, suggests Washington’s ongoing military supply relationship with Islamabad is unlikely to be moderated even a bit whatever closeness may be achieved by higher degrees of military cooperation. Meaning in practical policy terms, while the US retains its policy latitude, India losses its freedom of action. (3) China can be kept quiet with fluid and contingent partnerships of the kind India has tried out, including with Southeast Asian states, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, and US, perhaps, far better than by signing on with the US. And most importantly (5) It will really throw a monkey wrench into the hardy and resilient Indo-Russian relations. Moscow had formally warned Delhi that should it sign CISMOA, for instance, the Akula-II in service with the Indian Navy would be immediately pulled, and the 2nd such SSN — the Iribis, will, of course, not be lent to India, and the transfer of other more advanced Russian military hardware could also be affected. Why specifically the Akula pullout? Because, per sources, the Russians fear that the air-to-submarine communications, which this agreement will technically facilitate, will permit the Americans to spoof the communications hardware on the ex-Russian SSN, etc., a risk the Russians are unwilling to take notwithstanding any assurances in this regard at any level by the Indian state. The ending of a Russian role in the country’s strategic armaments field will be a singular development, and perhaps grievously hurt India’s strategic posture in the future. This warning may have led to the draft- CISMOA, which was also negotiated, being put on ice.
Indira Gandhi signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in summer 1971 as cover for the military operations she expected to launch in East Pakistan later in the year. But she successfully prevented Moscow in subsequent years from using this document as a tool for Russian navy to gain permanent military access to India’s warm water ports — despite sustained political and diplomatic pressure from President Leonid Brezhnev. It is precisely military access when required that the US too seeks some 45 years later, except the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi, over-tilting to the West, is not proving as adroit in maintaining distance from the US or in balancing American, Russian and Chinese influences. Modi seems smitten by America (and the West, generally), and losing the plot on how to further the national interest. LEMOA is the thin edge of the wedge. It will be used by Washington to widen the US military and other presence in India, which an over-committed Modi, a little too gung-ho on the supposed technology benefits of getting close to America, will be unable to resist.
Before the prime minister proceeds down a ruinous path that will terminally hobble India, he should get some credible persons, even if informally, to do an objective analysis of the comparative levels of military technology the country has procured from the US and Russia, and if Russian tech TOT deals haven’t fructified, whether it is not the extant DPSU and public sector dominated-mil R&D system and entrenched arms import lobby to blame, and whether his “make in India” programme really needs such treaty intimacy with the US for it to prosper. Of course, if such a study is tasked to the usual lot of compromised, retired and serving, civil servants, MEA diplomats, and militarymen, we already know what their conclusions will be, and it will be a wasted effort.
Modi, Parrikar, and those advising them should pause and consider if they are doing the right thing by the country in light of the historical record of India’s relations with the United States, and US’ own interests in the immediate region and Asia, and its overarching deep political and economic interlinkages with China. Modi is here today, may not be here tomorrow, but India will always be there. Don’t do anything, Mr Prime Minister, that will harm India’s prospects.