Has PM Modi Developed Cold Feet Over The Logistics Agreement with the US?

The Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi is conflicted and confused about just how close it wants India to get to the United States. The intimacy was to be cemented with the signing of the first of the three “foundational agreements”, the standard Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) the US insists on with its allies and strategic partners suitably tweaked for Indian sensibilities and called the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). It will permit US forces to refuel, replenish stores, afford rest and recreation (R&R) to its military personnel in India, and otherwise sustain their extended deployment in the “Indo-Pacific” region. It is a hallmark agreement that was supposed to crown the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s second visit to India, April 11-12, 2016.

The media was agog with this development, the public discourse leading up to it being peppered with reports and news commentaries welcoming the many benefits India stood to reap from this new and novel twist in foreign policy, one predicated on formal military ties with the United States. But then, virtually at the last minute, Prime Minister Modi had second thoughts and stopped the proceedings in their track, leaving Parrikar to lamely announce at the end of the delegation-level talks that LEMOA was only “a concept” of logistics support. Moreover, seeking an escape route for the BJP government, he added, that this agreement could be “signed in months, if not weeks”. What was left unstated was that, if it meets with hostile reception and turns into a political liability, the timeline could well stretch to never. Like the impetuous announcement by Modi in Paris to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft and peremptorily bury the medium multi-role combat aircraft procurement process, the decision on LEMOA, initiated with much enthusiasm, too could become a bilateral issue without closure.

The West-oriented English language media, quite unaware of the apprehensions creeping into the government’s calculations, went overboard. The unsigned document notwithstanding, a Times of India headline, for instance, screamed “Indian bases to open doors to US warships, planes”! Such was the tenor of most press reporting on LEMOA. By raising expectations and giving it a too positive spin, the media has exacerbated the situation for the Modi regime, which is caught between balancing public opinion and dealing with the growing political opposition to foundational agreements with the US led by the Congress party. The erstwhile Defence Minister, A.K. Antony slammed this accord as “a disastrous decision” and demanded its retraction, tartly reminding the country that “When UPA was in power, India had all along resisted such proposals [and] always resisted pressure from everybody to be part of a military bloc.” Not to be elbowed out of the picture, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) called it a “dangerous and anti-national” move, asked for its reversal, accused BJP of “crossing a line that no other government has done since independence”, and warned, it could end in “converting India into a full-fledged military ally of the United States.”

Parrikar has made much of the fact that LEMOA is limited in its ambit, and is not a license for stationing US troops and military wherewithal in this country. This is to miss the larger point that the mere fact of India’s agreeing to aiding and abetting the US in its military objectives is to compromise India, its national interest, and to introduce a foreign extraneous element into India’s strategic calculus and military decision-making. There will be no getting around the objective reality of US forces staging out of Indian bases and ports in military ventures India will have no say in. Absent Indian expeditionary policies, only the US will resupply in India – making this arrangement completely one-sided. The financial reimbursement for Indian supply of fuel, victuals, and other support, and for military infrastructure use, will do more to re-hyphenate India with Pakistan in US’ reckoning than almost anything else. Look at the hoops Islamabad has to jump through by way of US Congressional scrutiny to get the money legitimately owed it to understand the humiliations awaiting India.

While the response of the Leftist parties was along expected lines and the Congress party’s criticism a bit rich considering it was responsible for the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US that has stymied the country’s nuclear weapons capabilities, such reaction is precisely what the Modi government fears will allow the opposition parties to mock BJP’s “nationalist” credentials, make light of its patriotic effusions, and undermine its pretensions to militant guardianship of the national interest. This is no small political risk for the ruling dispensation to take because of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s somewhat cautious attitude to its America-friendly overtures, but more worrisome still, of the Obama Administration’s actions, in the traditional US policy mould that are guaranteed to rile Indian public opinion – Washington’s transfer of F-16 combat aircraft and Viper attack helicopters to Pakistan even as it talks up friendship with India. With friends like the US, who needs enemies?

The foundational agreements also fail to address the core issue of whether and how political and military intimacy with the United States serves India’s national interest. Yes, it is a strategic imperative for India to counter and neutralize China. Yes, it helps for India to join the rimland or littoral states in Southeast and Northeast Asia in configuring a strategically effective collective security system designed to crimp Beijing’s room for military and diplomatic maneuver. Yes, the emerging scenario demands that India more proactively use and deploy its military forces and strategic fighting assets in concert with the other affected countries on China’s periphery, who singly cannot offer resistance to China but together can firm up a strong front against China. This much is basic geostrategics. Should the US want to join in such an organically Asian security enterprise, India should have no objection.

But it is definitely detrimental to India’s vital national interests, its reputation as a would-be great power and, not least, its amor propre, for the Modi government to reduce the country to another cog in the American military machine and accept legally binding agreements that will compel India to provide assistance to American forces in the Asian theatre on missions now and in the future that may directly imperil friendly regimes, such as in Iran, undermine Indian interest, and undermine long term Indian political goals and strategy. But of far greater significance is the potential harm that will be caused to relations India has nurtured over time with putative foes of the US – in the main Russia.

Moscow alerted Delhi to the likelihood of immense injury to the traditional military supply relationship should Modi approve CISMOA (Communications Inter-operability and Security Memorandum of Agreement), for example. A draft-CISMOA was apparently ready for Carter’s and Parrikar’s signatures. It will result in Moscow promptly pulling the Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) out of the Indian Navy. More problematic, other collaborative programmes, such as Russian assistance in designing and developing a powerful nuclear reactor for the two indigenous aircraft carriers after Vikrant, and offers of super-advanced armaments, such as the latest variant of the Shkval anti-ship missile that, in its terminal stage, pops out of the water and homes in on target at hypersonic speeds, will shutdown.

Moreover, if one were to tally the sensitive technologies and hardware Russia has given, transferred, and is prepared to part with, and compare it with the sorts of technology the US is eager to sell India – the 1970’s vintage F-16 and F-18 combat aircraft and M-777 light howitzer and, as part of the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), development of tactical drones, battery pack, etc., it is laughable. That DTTI is touted as the vehicle for Modi’s “Make in India” programme, makes this a grim joke.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, the Modi government seems to have bought into the nonsense Condoleeza Rice peddled 15 years ago during Bush Junior’s US presidency, namely that Washington will help India become a “major power”. The gullible Manmohan Singh regime swallowed it whole, ignoring a small detail – no great power in history has helped an aspiring state become a consequential power and thus grow its own rival. True, the US duo of Nixon-Kissinger in the Seventies violated this axiom and gave China a leg up. Look where that’s gotten Washington. The US is confronted and confounded by an economic and military monster, China, it created. But India is not China, and even with all outside help it may not make it and, in any case, Washington won’t repeat that mistake. Recall in this respect that in return for New Delhi’s fulfilling the conditions of the nuclear deal, Washington had promised India “the rights and privileges” of a nuclear weapon state and entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India has complied fully but the quid for the quo is nowhere in evidence.

One had so desperately hoped – and this analyst was amongst the first to voice this hope as far back as 2011 — that the advent of Modi, a plucky provincial politician, who had pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, would root a liberal rightwing Edmund Burke-ian type of conservatism in the country, an ideology based on liberty and small government, and one that put a premium on the individual’s desire to better his lot by the dint of his own effort, and in so doing improve society and country. Most of all, one fervently prayed for the articulation of a grand national vision and the injection of commonsensical precepts into foreign and strategic policies. Instead, the BJP regime has not deviated an iota from the Congress government’s pusillanimous approach and outlook. India continues to acquiesce in security schemes on terms dictated by extra-territorial powers — US and China. For this to happen, rulers in New Delhi have had to be compliant and/or complicit, otherwise a country India’s size and potential simply cannot be manipulated.
Published in ‘The Citizen’ on April 14, 2016; available at http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/1/7426/Has-PM-Modi-Developed-Cold-Feet-Over-The-Logistics-Agreement-with-the-US

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Iran and West Asia, Japan, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Has PM Modi Developed Cold Feet Over The Logistics Agreement with the US?

  1. Bharat ji,
    Rafale jet deal negotiations are still going on.Once the negotiations are over, Modi government will sign LEMOA.We need Russia as a back up to bring French on line regarding rafale deal.France is also ready to give us Submarine nuclear reactor Technology(K-15 reactor).

  2. Siddapp says:

    the BJP regime has not deviated an iota from the Congress government’s pusillanimous approach and outlook

    Couldn’t have put the truth more succinctly.

    Good that better-sense prevailed, before signatures were completed.

    It seems, India would forever be bound with incrementalism rather than big-bang changes in all spheres, be it military, economy or polity.

  3. Punjabi Sardar says:

    Edmund Burke-ian type of conservatism in the country, an ideology based on liberty and small government, and one that put a premium on the individual’s desire to better his lot by the dint of his own effort,

    To this I respond:
    Malachi Martin, in his highly readable (and non-sensationalistic) ‘Three Popes and the Cardinal’, writes that the notions of personhood and the nuclear family were the two major social innovations of Christianity:

    ‘The second fundamentally and peculiarly Christian contribution was the transmutation of the Roman word familia. In its Christian sense, it meant the nuclear family as we understand it today: a man, his wife and their children. Again, neither in Greco-Roman nor in Christian Jewish thought was there ever a word for or a clear concept of the nuclear family. This was a Christian concept and it brought the Roman term familia to mean just that.” pg. 81

    The best method is vedic Republic with King but autonomous villages & no state protection of melech religions. Need power for this though,

    Rest I agree I was really hoping this bjp would do hard shift to Russia with migs & storm ac simply because we have interest in a nuclear counterweight in the christian world. Similar to a strong Iran & Japan to counter gulf & china respectively.

    I see India’s role as similar to american in 1870s, rising economic power which plays all sides for material gain while keeping honor & interest.

    Americans never had honor but w/e

    End of day, us soldiers would have raped some little Hindu girls & Sardars like me would have start doing terrorist attacks on them. So better it’s not signed,

    Jai Hind

    • Shaurya says:

      An entire new generation will have to come up, that has immersed itself in vedic modes of thinking to reorient society around communities and resurrect VaranAshrma dharmas for the contemporary world. Cannot really blame Bharat as our generation really has not invested ourselves into those modes of structuring and our entire social-cultural value systems get derived from the western evolutions and not Indian due to many factors of history. But, good for you to point that out.

  4. Bharatji,
    After 1971 war when Indian Government decided to make a Nuclear Submarine, Indira Gandhi asked Soviet Union for technical help in making nuclear Submarine.Russians flatly refused to help India even a little bit.At that time France trained Barc scientists in the field of Presssurized water reactors at EL-4 PWR at Brennilis.

  5. Bharat Ji,
    Whether India signs Lemoa or not is not important.For India in order to become a first rate Power it is necessary to develop its own aeronautics industry.One cannot develop its own aero-industry without developing aero-engine.
    What about Kaveri engine ? Has it been cancelled ? If not then when will it be ready ?

  6. MS says:

    I had already thought of my response while reading your piece but then came across this line-“But India is not China, and even with all outside help it may not make it and, in any case, Washington won’t repeat that mistake. “.

    Since I can’t agree more with you on this-the evidence is there for all to see.

    I ask you this-You have a strategic bent of mind backed by knowledge of the details-Have you had the time to understand what ails our DRDO? Is it the same malaise affecting almost every PSU-is it about the work culture and the leadership team?

    And if it is about poor leadership whereby we are not able to foster talent and propel them to achieve goals faster, can we send our top 5 layers in DRDO to Harvard on regular training programmes-I am thinking from the management science that is west oriented. How is China’s work ethic in their state defence companies different from ours?

    I just wonder about these sometimes. We read better books on physics and maths perhaps but still not able to achieve here in India.

    • DRDO has faltered for several reasons: (1) Sarkari outfit — no incentives/rewards system, or share in patent and royalty for inventors/innovators, (2) Bad work culture and ethos — even bright persons at entrant level soon turn into time servers, (3) Worse program management w/o accountability, and (4) DRDO should be tasked to produce technology, not also develop and manufacture weapons/platforms, which should be the job of the private sector companies that are mindful of “bang for the buck” and are institutionally geared to prevent time and cost over-runs.

      • MS says:

        Point No 2 -bad work culture resulting into even bright persons at entrant level soon turning into time servers :-)) is a difficult problem to solve-all such issues would require tremendous effort. There have been instances of IBM being turned around by Louis Gerstner or a company becoming into what we know as GE or a fresh new venture just making it possible to land a rocket on an offshore platform.

        But to turnaround the culture, work ethos at DRDO will be a big task, if achieved would not only hellp us but also worthy of story telling.

        Anyway…just saw the headline that Rafale has been gifted the reward.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @MS, WRT your comment “And if it is about poor leadership whereby we are not able to foster talent and propel them to achieve goals faster, can we send our top 5 layers in DRDO to Harvard on regular training programmes-…”, surely you must be joking.

      Management is not taught at Harvard or any fancy school. They’ll just return with phony American accents, or stay back as waiters and janitors. Did you know that the Bombay Dabbawallah’s who daily deliver on time in rain, extreme heat whatever, and despite appalling infrastructure, over 500,000 meals to office workers, AND THEN collect the empty utensils and return them to the point of origin, ALL with an error rate of less than 3% constitute the best supply chain management system in the world? I don’t think there are too many Harvard or Wharton alumni in that group or their managers.

      WRT your comment: “I… just wonder about these sometimes. We read better books on physics and maths perhaps but still not able to achieve here in India.”, this is plain wrong. The Chinese students I have closely worked with both in the US and in China have the most modern and up-to-date technical literature books and even have their pirated Chinese translations. More importantly, they seriously study them.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        Actually, the Bombay Dabbawalla’s have one mistake in 8 million deliveries (or 16 million since they deliver the empty utensils back to the point of origin). I’d like to see a Wharton or Harvard management program teach anybody this rate of accuracy. It exceeds six sigma! I personally know of an incident where a certain country kept this fantastic chain under the closest of observations, which also involved 2 surveillance satellites continually tracing the paths of these humble folk, just to try to learn what makes them tick!

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    There is a basic problem with BJP that it has failed to understand. Probably because of its insular growth.

    They know well that India is an organic growth with its own indeterminate future that will be governed by Karma Sidhaant. So they talk and walk the Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. What they do not seem to be understanding is that a working principle that can be extended to people of a single country cannot automatically be extended to other countries and its peoples. ‘Dekhte hain aage kya hoga’ is good when you have to bet. Betting is implicitly one sided. So if Hindus are betting that Muslims will eventually see reason – that is a bet – not a contract. And when these bets are off, nobody knows. But before these bets are off, they just may produce something that may be useful in unexpected ways, even if small. This is betting. Betting may yield good results or bad ones, even same betting may yield different results under different circumstances at different times.

    Between countries there are agreements and contracts, which if fulfilled, create trust and if not fulfilled, create distrust. You cannot just hope to go an open ended route with any country. ‘Relationships’ with countries are essentially a zero sum affair. China cannot win without undermining the stance of countries that stand against its goals. India cannot either win without undermining the stance of other countries if they go against ours. ‘Dekhte hain aage kya hota hai’ attitude does not work here. If and when, India is weak, outsiders will be more then happy to exploit this attitude with no fear of counter reaction.

    With a one sided LSA/LEMOA or CISMOA, we cannot protect ourselves. People cannot begin to argue both ways. Either decide that LSA is helpful and show how it helped Pakistan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Philipines, Taiwan. Or decide that LSA does not help and as a consequently stop making a mockery of the importance of GoI’s promise, in the international circuit.

    Same goes for 36 Rafales. We had no need to declare a high value stance in Paris without having had Paris commit in like terms. That declaration surprised everybody, including supporters of Modi. In transactions between countries a clear stance helps rally supporters. At least the Parrkar’s stand that overpriced Rafales will be bought only when they meet the budget requirements and not otherwise has helped clear matters. Clarity helps. We Indians owe Europeans or Americans, nothing. They are not our countrymen that we have to bet on them.

    All the three forces have a big laundry list of capital items to be acquired. And all three, treat this list less as a matter of priority and more as a matter of opportunity. In such a case either decide that weapons imports are primarily about international strategic posturing and act accordingly or decide that weapons imports are essentially about plugging capability gaps and keep the posturing for UNO and MEA. In both routes there has to be somebody and some rational basis to decide and exploit the decision properly.

    Same goes for S-400 and M-777.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.