Has India Put Its Sovereignty at Stake by Signing LEMOA With US?

Nothing defines a treaty ally or a client state of the United States better than the “foundational” accords now on the anvil, the first of which – the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) – was signed in Washington by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and defence secretary Ashton Carter on 29 August. The other agreements are CISMOA (Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement relating to geospatial information). A secondary but still important document – the End User Verification Agreement – relating to US-sourced systems was formalised some years ago.

A statement was issued by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It stated that: “the agreement does not create any obligations on either party to carry out any joint activity. It does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements.

It is supposed to be reassuring, but pending the release of the actual text of the LEMOA, it only raises troubling questions.

Sure, as per this accord, India and the US will have reciprocal access to each others’ bases and military facilities. The trouble is the Indian military will hardly ever use US bases because their operational attention is limited to territorial defence, which does not require staging out of distant bases.

On the other hand, the US has some 900 bases in 130 countries to service the worldwide deployment of American air, naval and land forces. In the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and in the Gulf, the US is massively ensconced in Diego Garcia, and has its Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain, with the Duqm port on the Omani coast being developed as a massive all-services military complex that could, in a few years, emerge as the main US military hub in the extended area.

Dangerous Fallout

Even with these facilities, the US has felt a great need to have India on its side, enabling its military units to embark from peninsular Indian ports and air bases in order to cover any trouble spot in the IOR and landward Asia with relative ease. And this could pose a serious problem for India in terms of which country gets into Washington’s cross hairs. The number one US adversary today is Iran, which happens to be a close and intimate strategic partner of India.

India and Iran have just signed an agreement for investment of Indian monies to develop the Chabahar port on the North Arabian Sea, strategically located just 70 miles west of the Gwadar port that China hopes to work up as a home base for its Indian Ocean flotilla of warships. Chabahar provides the land route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, with a western branch joining up with Russia’s Northern Distribution Network connecting India with Europe through the Baltic ports or St Petersburg and cutting cost and transit time for Europe-bound Indian trade (that otherwise takes the longer, more expensive, sea route).

India simply cannot afford to allow US military operations against Iran to be sourced out of Indian ports and air bases. But once in, which Indian government will have the mettle to stand up to the US?
Loss of Strategic Autonomy?
One of the criticisms is that the Indian military will hardly access US bases as India’s focus is limited to territorial defence.
On the other hand, US accessing Indian bases can wreak havoc on the foreign policy front.
If US decides to target Iran, it would pose a dilemma for India which is counting Tehran as a strategic ally in developing the Chabahar port.
It would be a grave attack on India’s sovereignty if US military operations are carried out from Indian ports and air bases.
India’s foreign and military policy will be guided by the Pentagon and Delhi, which may not be necessarily in our interests in the long-run.
Published in The Quint, Aug 31, 2016, at https://www.thequint.com/opinion/2016/08/31/has-india-put-its-sovereignty-at-stake-by-signing-lemoa-with-us-manohar-parrikar-ashton-carter-chabahar-gwadar

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, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan 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, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, society, South Asia, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Has India Put Its Sovereignty at Stake by Signing LEMOA With US?

  1. SANKET says:

    Once again MR karnad a very poor analysis. The most sorry part of your analysis is the xenophobic attitude towards presence of American personnel on our land. Drugs, women and booze today are part of many societies and the presence of American military personnel has , if any, only a miniscule effect.Take the example of Goa. Your favorite country’s( Russia) mafia is ruling roost there. The peaceful culture of Goa is tattered by booze,sex and drugs. I have never seen American military personnel roaming around in the streets of Goa. What should India do then? Close our country to all Americans or worst, all foreigners. Become a Cuba or North Korea. They truly call you a conservative strategist. Such conservatism will hurt India more than any imagined American servicemen.
    As far access to military bases are concerned it is a two way traffic and not one sided as you mention. Your obsession with China threat has made you loose focus on other parts of globe. Why can’t India go beyond territorial defence? In fact by saying this you are contradicting yourself as you have previously called upon India to go beyond its shores to take on China. LEMOA will help us achieve that MR Karnad no matter what you say.Indian access to Okinawa,Guam , South Korea, Diego Garcia, Oman, Qatar and numerous other American military bases will help us not only counter China but also Pakistan and other asymmetric threats such as piracy and drug trafficking. But sadly you lack the vision to see this. It is important that you get out of your cold war mentality to improve your analysis. Your view on India alienating Russia with signing of LEMOA is equally absurd if not laughable. Russia like Pakistan is bankrupt. Sanctions and low oil prices have hurt it’s economy badly. It cannot afford to sale weapons to Pakistan without getting adequate money which a beggar Pakistan does not have. Pakistan cannot even buy subsidised vintage stuff from Americans. Russia is not going to sale weapons and technology to Pakistan just to send a tough message to India. As far as Russia getting closer to China is concerned, that is already a reality no matter whether India signs LEMOA or not. Time to get practical MR Karnad…..

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

    Here’s a crypto Christian Mihir Swarup Sharma supporting LEMOA.

    Here’s another show of support by an Officer whose daughter is married to a Managing Director of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace of the India centre

    Here’s P. Chidambaram supposedly non-committal and apprehensive but ends up suggesting ‘benefits’ for India at the end.

    Here’s another joker who has figured it all out already.

    No sir, the concern is not of being seen close. It is of being close. What has EULA got for India – A transport aircraft that can only fetch water? or a ship that cannot be used in war? or an ASW aircraft that cannot find submarines?

    So what exactly is it that a mua chamcha, will get for India after LEMOA?

    Here less than a month after signing of LEMOA, the only thing the incumbent PM is good for now:


    The response from State Department:
    “”Suggestive of any kind of sanctions, we’re not there,” the State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at his daily news conference.
    He was responding to a query on a recent statement by the former US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad that the US now needs to seriously consider the option of imposing sanctions against Pakistan.”

    So come again, what are the seekers of “enlightened self interest” going to get for us. The 123 agreement was subjected to the Hyde Act, Indian Nuke liability was diluted because of US concerns, the LEMOA is subject to the whims of the party that claims to be providing security for India. What next? Swearing by the American constitution?

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