Modi’s LEMOA will make targets of Indian bases

Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar is set to visit the US Aug 29-Sept 1. News reports suggest he will travel thither expressly to sign the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a suitably worded derivative of the standard Logistics Support Agreement the US requires all its Treaty allies to sign. Parrikar was never enthusiastic about these “foundational” accords but is reduced to being the Sancho Panza to Modi’s Don Quixote.

The Americans are seeking enabling provisions in this agreement to specifically permit US naval and air elements to stage out of Indian air and naval bases, to repair and service its fighting assets, and to preposition critical, high-consumption, spares in special depots protected by US military personnel, etc. Such provisions are apparently proving the stumbling blocks.

Washington wants desperately to resolve these issues and is deploying the US Navy Secretary Ray Mobus and the US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to New Delhi to iron out these wrinkles so there’s a final document for Parrikar and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to sign end-August. To assist in this process is Ashley Tellis, the only non-head of state foreigner who can have an appointment with Modi whenever Tellis desires it, who is now in Delhi. He is “softening up” MOD officials and preparing the ground for mutually acceptable wording that both parties can live with, and Mobus and James can sign off on. The affable Tellis, the arch fixer, is relied on by the US govt to smoothen things whenever it gets rough in New Delhi. With his deep contacts at the highest levels in PMO and MEA and his reach into the Indian military, he is expected to show the way out. Who is to say he won’t succeed? (Of course. Mobus and James will push the F-16 induction in IAF and production, etc., but these are ultimately sidebars for the media to chew on.)

That the Bharatiya Janata Party regime of Narendra Modi is serious about signing the LEMOA despite its potentially very negative strategic impact, indicates the Indian PM has seemingly gone daft, losing what little strategic sense he may have started out with.

But why is the US so eager? As pointed out in earlier posts, Washington thinks accessing Indian bases and military facilities are crucial to the US sustaining its operational military presence in the Indian Ocean region. It will allow US combat aircraft and warships embarking from Indian bases to be switched east to the South China Sea area or to the Gulf region in the west to provide overlapping coverage in conjunction with the US 5th Fleet assets based in Bahrain and the new and extensive facility the US is constructing at Duqm on the Omani coast, on the one side, and on the other side, with the US military forces based in Singapore and Darwin in northern Australia.

So, what’s the problem with LEMOA? As one understands it, there are sticking points in the draft-agreement originally produced by the US Department of Defense for the Indian MOD to work on. These have to do with writing the enabling provisions in the agreement permitting Indian military facilities to be used for repairing and servicing fighting assets, and storing spares in US military protected encampments. A possible compromise, considering the politically sensitive nature of some of the enabling provisions — such as the one regarding US military personnel protecting these military stores depots and, hence, breaching Indian sovereignty, is for the formal LEMOA to be filled with ambiguous language, but for there to be an accompanying secret document/memorandum detailing the specific terms and conditions that will legally sanction the uses of Indian territory and Indian military bases/facilities/installations/military infrastructure in the prescribed manner. But howsoever much the LEMOA circumscribes the US military presence, it will still mark India as a secondary power and American camp follower.

Other sovereignty-related issues may arise out of the stationing of US troops and military personnel on Indian soil. Whether stationed here or on R&R (rest and recreation), US soldiers, sailors, and airmen — a usually rambunctious lot — in Indian cities will create awkward social, and law and order problems. US may insist that any arrested US personnel will be handled under US law, what then? The social turmoil that could erupt can only be imagined if the long record of US troops proving a handful for the local police and sourcing social disturbance in night clubs and eateries, by “dating” Indian women, etc. Consider the social wreckage left behind by the US military wherever they have been based post-1945. How about Okinawa, where notwithstanding the US military’s presence there for nearly 80 years, the Japanese have been protesting the routine excesses of US troops?

There’s however a far more significant and deadly set of military and national security problems the Modi govt has obviously not given thought to. Consider this scenario, because Iran is very much the US radar: US bombers and strike aircraft, say, fly out of Indian bases to strike Iran. That would torpedo Indo-Iranian relations, of course, but also expose the Indian base(s) in particular, and India in general to retaliatory attacks, entirely legal under international law. But let’s make the scenario more plausible by assuming USAF aerial tankers take off from India to refuel US bombers coming out of Bahrain, on sortie to strike Iranian targets. This doesn’t in any way lessen India’s complicity in the US strike, or weaken Iran’s legal basis for counter-striking India and Indian military targets. This is precisely the sort of situations that could be created by signing LEMOA or any other “foundational” agreement with America.

Conceived above is a scenario involving a lesser power, Iran. But what will happen if India is in any way involved in US actions against China or Russia or their proxies in Asia? It will be a disaster.

If the MEA and PMO haven’t conceived of these dire, but very real possibilities, have the Indian armed services too been so seduced by Tellis’ pleasing demeanor and so deterred by Modi’s manifest desire to please Washington that they have sworn off their duty to alert the govt to the dangers of the course it is following? The pity is the political opposition is in complete disarray and cannot adequately play the Cassandra and sound the tocsin.

The fact is the Modi govt cannot have a LEMOA that will not violate Indian sovereignty. Where’s the urgent need for it, in any case, unless India’s security needs are conflated with those of America’s. As it is, there’s an arrangement that’s been followed since PM Chandrashekhar’s days in the early 1990s when US aircraft could refuel, etc here in India, with permission being given on a case-by-case basis. What are the arguments for upending it, unless the goal, by whatever means, is to make India a formal US dependency.

Unfortunately, my warnings post-1998 N-tests of the strategic perils of getting too close to the US, will come true. Whatever Modi may say, however he may justify the LEMOA, India is set to lose its sovereign decisionmaking status and strategic independence. Ironically, this is the doing of Modi, a man I had very early extolled as the singular nationalist hope to make India a great power. But Narendra Modi, alas, is in a long line of Indian rulers who, lacking strategic vision and the will not to subordinate India to any country in any way for any reason, will bring India down.

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.
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13 Responses to Modi’s LEMOA will make targets of Indian bases

  1. Punjabi Sardar says:

    Having melech soldiers on our soil, also gives them leverage. They will intermarry & infiltrate our elite & destroy u. Like Rome was destroyed. Of course, a baniya understands none of these things but an IIT-ian may. Let’s hope Parrikar doesn’t sign. AryaVart Zindabaad।।

  2. &^%$#@! says:

    Very fine article. However, I find it difficult to believe that some of the very pertinent points raised in the article have not been brought to Modi’s attention. IMHO, his actions are deliberate. Despite the multitude of risks involved, the fact that Modi persists with his policies raises very serious concerns. I am not prone to conspiracy theories. However, given the deliberate and concerted actions by the Modi regime in towing the US line (which include suppressing/freezing the Agni program and other strategic activities), one could not be faulted for even entertaining suspicions that Modi is a US planted “Manchurian Candidate” of sorts.

  3. MS says:

    Unlike India, the other countries like Iran, China and the great Russia will make strategic moves that require confidence and thereby a risk taking move to get rewards. Iran could ask India to vacate Chabar and allow China in-China and Pak will do the damage that is beyong imagination-they will make chess moves-build pressure on the sea and grab territory in the north.

    So, I mean, Iran will make this move much before the scenario of an American jet taking off from India happens.

    We have shown that we are the only country of this size and such fast speaking English people, who do not take strategic bold actions. Our “pristine” water sources from the north-that you have discussed- are under threat. And we need water the most.

    Lastly, do not expect military to oppose this LMOA because on the ground it is not a collective body but the individuals in the military and no body will stick his neck out if the leaders have decided. Tellis would know it and will get red carpet treatment everywhere if what you say is true about his hotline to the top here.

  4. MS says:

    Sorry. You HAVE NOT discussed the threat to our pristine water sources. Just that there other scenarios playing out too, and you write about them well.

  5. Maximus says:

    Some nations like to rule, bully and subjugate, and some nations like to be ruled, bullied and subjugated. Guess three times which dna India has got. To extoll a rookie PM to strategic heights, before push came to shove, was not very wise, Mr Karnad. Especially, when all likelihood was cueing right from the beginning that the PMO will be strategically amateurish,excruciating – focused on poll results and good headlines (bear hugs!) for crude folks back home. Keeping up appearances, was all over the town.

    • Shaurya says:

      I think this part was quite clear from the very beginning. Modi brought to him “managerial” and execution skills of a project manager, not a CEO focused on strategic execution for a large country. Modi’s mantra is, he will take whatever plan there is and make it work better. MNREGA is an example. I have accepted this fact and no longer rile over it. There is no point expecting something from a person, who has not promised a strategic changed and has not shown the capability to execute a strategic mission.

      Have to say, the Aam Aadmi want to hear and see the Modi kind. Another man Arvind Kejriwal also understands this populist approach. Democracy does have the habit of throwing such leaders. China’s claim is it is a meritocracy and hence produces better leaders to solve issues.

      India used to have a specialized category of people, dedicated to the issues of governance. Unfortunately, we threw that away and replaced it with a colonial act.

      • S3 says:


        “Democracy does have the habit of throwing such leaders”

        You stopped just one inch short of my conclusion: democracy is just the continuation of the old colonial policy of divide and rule.

        View at

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Maximus: One of the primary causes for the quagmire India finds itself in, lies in the fact that at an individual level, Indians lack conviction. The average Indian has no moral/ethical/judgmental/behavioral Red Lines which he/she will not cross, and, will not permit anybody else to do so either regardless of the consequences. Everything is negotiable, and cravenness is often endowed/justified with high sounding and meaningless philosophical rationales. Sometimes, it is even equated with high strategy. What can one expect in such a situation?

  6. Shaurya says:

    Would the LEMOA be acceptable if the “forward provisioning” parts are NOT in it, as some have reported?

    Not desirable, but is it acceptable given that a decision to do so has been made.

  7. &^%$#@! says:

    Does Parrikar have some sleep disorder because he seems to perpetually doze off. He’s asleep at the wheel as Indian Defense Minister (though he shows immense alacrity & alertness when it comes to meeting the US Defense Secty. Carter and signing foundation agreements), he was sleeping during Modi’s “Make/Fake in India” speech, and now it is alleged that both he and Jaitley were asleep during Modi’s August 15, 2015 address. See:


    (Please replace all instances of “DOT” with “.”).

  8. sid says:

    “extolled a siingular nationalist hope”….. It’s a sad day to see People’s Modi, becoming like dynastic Dilli rulers
    There are enough un-police-able places already & adding more of them will only add to problems, as Bharat Karnad mentions.
    There’s no word, if signing this agreement will yield spinoffs or benefits.

    People who have a career to make & good-life to lead, can’t be expected to stand up & get shot delivering hard-message.
    One can only hope, there’ll be a miracle,… like the 282 moment on 16-5-2014, NaMo & Team will stand up for what they talked.

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

    RE “To assist in this process is Ashley Tellis, the only non-head of state foreigner who can have an appointment with Modi whenever Tellis desires it, who is now in Delhi. He is “softening up” MOD officials and preparing the ground for mutually acceptable wording that both parties can live with, and Mobus and James can sign off on. The affable Tellis, the arch fixer, is relied on by the US govt to smoothen things ”
    A graduate from University of Bombay, Tellis has held several key strategic position in the US government, including Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the National Security Council for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia, senior adviser to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and senior adviser to the US Ambassador to India. Having grown up in India, Tellis was one of the key figures who was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement between the two nations.

    The author of several books including India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture Strategic Asia 2016-2017: Understanding Strategic Cultures in the Asia-Pacific and Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform (2014), Tellis is currently a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Holding Post-graduation and Doctorate degrees from The University of Chicago, he is known for specialising in areas of international security, defense and Asian strategic issues.
    Ashley J Tellis on Indo-US relations: Indian government needs to amend its liability law on nuclear industry

    India, in recent months, has looked to push its agenda to be included in Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG). In an interview to Live Mint this September, Tellis said that that to have a dynamic nuclear energy sector, Indian government needs to amend its liability law in order to protect its own domestic nuclear industry and suppliers, for their own benefit. Talking about Indo-US relations, Tellis said that the trade relations between the two nations is the biggest weakness. On US ties with Pakistan, Tellis claimed that US is no longer worried about upsetting Pakistan and is keen to form deep ties with India.

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