India has signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the United States, with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Defence Secretary Ashton Carter doing the formalities in Washington. It is, perhaps, the most serious strategic mistake made by the country in its nearly seven decades of independent existence.
The text of the accord has not been made public and is unlikely to be at the request of the Narendra Modi government lest public scrutiny raise a political storm at home, providing ready ammunition to the opposition parties. The two countries, courtesy LEMOA, will use each other’s naval and air bases and facilities, it is said. But because the Indian Navy and and the Indian Air Force rarely stretch their reach beyond the Indian Ocean region in the one case and the western border with Pakistan in the other case, it is mostly the US military that will be reaping the benefits. Indian basing will permit deployed American forces to pull longer, more sustained naval and air operations in the extended region to realize US policy goals.
As repeatedly warned in my writings since Manmohan Singh first signed the deal with George W Bush in July 2005 and in my recent book, ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, there WILL be a heavy foreign and military cost for this loss of strategic autonomy. India’s stepping firmly into a treaty ally role of the US in all but name will mean several things:
1) Russia will necessarily begin distancing itself from India; the military supply relationship will become more attenuated. There will be no incentive for Moscow to treat India and the Indian armed forces as other than a cash-cow. The warmth will be gone but, as likely, so will valued Russian platforms like the Akula-II SSN, which will be withdrawn. Depending upon just how intimate the Indo-US embrace is, it’d be foolish for Moscow to risk Indians handling cutting edge weapons platforms such as the Akula when there’s every likelihood US naval personnel will be able to go over the boat with a fine tooth comb. As it is, Russians have always derated the most advanced Russian equipment before transferring/selling them to India by about 33%. This has been standard Russian practice to minimize the risk of technology theft not so much by Indians as by India’s “friends”.
2) Indian foreign and military policy will have to reorient itself to US policy likes and dislikes. This will strain traditional friendships with Russia and, in the region, Iran, Washington’s current bogey No. 1. So the development of the Chahbahar option as an alternative Indian land route to Central Asia through Afghanistan and to Europe (through Russia’s Northern Distribution Network) will suffer. As will India’s understanding with Tehran about using Chahbahar as naval base and the northeastern Iranian bases for staging IAF attack sorties to augment the Ainee air basing. India’s geostrategic imperatives will thus hit a brick wall. India’s fine balancing act in the Muslim world between the sunnis led by the Saudis and the shia by Tehran will fall down, as the US will insist that New Delhi put its weight on the sunni side of the scale, which will roil domestic politics and internal security.
3) With the special relationship with Russia receding, Moscow will have no compunction not to join up in the China-Pakistan nexus to form a formidable strategic triad as counterweight to the India-US tandem and, in the tactical sense, to cultivate Islamabad and the Pakistan military as its outpost of influence in South Asia and by way if retaining at least negative leverage with India. We can now expect that the Pakistan Air Force will begin to access superior versions of the Su-30, etc., and depending on the run of the play, even SSNs for Pak Navy on lease.
4) The treaty ally status that India had scrupulously avoided all this time — even after signing the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in Aug 1971, Indira Gandhi resisted President Leonid Brezhnev’s efforts in subsequent years to make this treaty the cornerstone of a Soviet Union-led pan-Asia collective security system — far from preventing, will make it easier for Washington to access India’s sensitive strategic programmes (Agni missile, SSBN, nuclear weapons cell at BARC, etc) and seek to undermine them by offering the usual inducements they offer to most Indians they want to co-opt — green cards, subsidy for children’s education the form of “scholarships”, positions in the US industry, thinktanks, and similar setups, as a means of increasing India’s strategic reliance on the US. Already completely penetrated at the highest levels, MEA and other ministries of the Indian government will soon act as extensions or camp offices of their principal counterpart Departments in Washington.
This is a mere stating of the time tested and proven US modus operandi that has worked elsewhere in the world.
5) But to reiterate the most problematic issue brought up in my earlier posts: LEMOA has within it an embryo the seed of enormous social disruption that the govt has simply not paid heed to — as it has not done to the strategic fallout of getting too close to the US: American military personnel posted in Indian facilities and bases, or on R&R, as is their wont, be socializing all over the place, As has happened elsewhere in Asia — in the Philippines, Okinawa, etc, a whole economy to service the military personnel will spring up, with an unending supply of “booze, drugs, and broads”, the latter procured from the countryside, as happened when the US military was in Vietnam, scarring an entire society for a generation and more. There will be lots children fathered by these often unruly high-spirited American soldiers and a host of attendant problems that the Indian govt and society are unprepared to deal with. The young US officer cadre types will frequent slick watering holes in big cities, take to squiring upper middle class women and leaving them in the same desperate straits as the women servicing the American troops at the lower social end. And there’ll be a surge in the drug traffic that will soon involve ever larger circles of impressionable Indian youth. If you think “udta Punjab” is bad, think “udta Hindustan”. This has been the inevitable pattern wherever there’s US military presence.
How will RSS react? What will RSS make of the social earthquake with massive corrupting of social values and family norms that’s going to come? And to think, one of its own — Pracharak Narendra bhai — triggered this social turmoil with his mindless policy!! Can there be a starker irony?
6) The social interaction between firangi troops and Indian women has all the makings of severe soceital disruption, of course. But it will also bring in its train some very harsh legal problems. For instance, under what jurisdiction will fall the illegal behaviour of US troops? Would American personnel be subjected to Indian laws, if so with what effect on the larger bilateral relations? Because the one thing Washington has always done is sought a different legal dispensation for its citizens. This is a sovereignty issue.
7) The above law & order sovereignty issues will be compounded by the far more significant sovereignty problems seeded by US military personnel guarding sensitive US military stores on portions of Indian air and naval bases sequestered for American use, hence, under nominal US jurisdiction. How’s this acceptable, and how does this mesh with the notion of absolute Indian sovereignty. Did anybody in MEA, in the entire Indian govt, consider such issues before falling behind the PMO’s mindless acceptance of LEMOA, with CISMOA and BECA to soon follow???
8) Whatever the level of intimacy, Washington will NOT tolerate resumption of Indian N-testing, so India will remain stuck between and betwixt, thermonukes-wise. Except now, any slightest move towards testing will be known to the US govt, which will move into snuff it out.
9) And finally the loss of diplomatic and foreign policy leverage is inherent in the situation of loss of autonomy. Balancing power is still the prime motivation of international relations. Power is fungible and always in flux. But balancing as between the various power nodes is what consequential countries do. With LEMOA, India has lost that latitude of foreign policy movement while gaining very little in return. India will still not be able to lay its hands on remotely advanced technology — it can have all the F-16s (and similar obsolete armaments) it wants, even produce them here — to give “Make in India” a regressive twist.
Balancing China, or dealing effectively with this country, India’s main rival in Asia, does not require India to surrender it sovereignty to, or side institutionally with the US. Maximum leverage is derived from maintaining equidistance. This is as an old foreign policy axiom, as old as Suntze and Chanakya, or as relevant as Britain’s ‘continental strategy’ from Marlborough’s time of preventing a dominant power to arise in Europe. All this maneuvring space is now lost to India.
Welcome to the 21st Century AMERINDIA — more American, less Indian. What of an independent-minded, independently acting, India? Forget it.