LEMOA: An Assessment
ON 29 August 2016, during the visit of the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Washington DC, India and the United States (US) signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Essentially, LEMOA is only a ‘functional’ agreement ‘to account for’ the essential supplies and services that one country would provide (at its port or airport facility) to the visiting military force of the other – an arrangement that the US has made with over a hundred countries worldwide.
Nonetheless, the significant symbolic and strategic import of the agreement cannot be ignored. Also, while the proposal was initiated in 2002, it has fructified at a crucial time. Never before in recent history has Asia’s geopolitical and security environment been so tenuous; or the strategic interests of India and the US so convergent. Understandably, therefore, the signing of LEMOA has grabbed much attention, and raised the multitude of questions and speculations. This essay attempts to clarify a few key issues, and appraise LEMOA in terms of its strategic implications.
In the past, India and the US have transacted military logistics, but on an ad hoc basis and largely during combined exercises. LEMOA would change the nature of transactions. Hitherto, each transaction was considered as a separate case and on every occasion, paid for in cash by the side using the supplies or services. LEMOA would entail both sides maintaining a ledger for the transactions, such that much of the debit would be defrayed against the credit, and only the residual balance owing to whichever side would be paid for at the end of the fiscal year. Notably, as a standing agreement, LEMOA is indicative of the expectation on both sides that logistic transactions would increase in the coming years, and expand from combined exercises to coordinated operations.
However, the signing of LEMOA has led to a perception (in some quarters) that India has side-stepped “its policy of not entering into a military agreement with any major”. Owing to its civilizational ethos, India’s foreign policy proscribes a ‘military alliance’, but not a ‘military agreement’. In the past, India has entered into a plethora of military agreements with major powers on various functional aspects, such as development of defence hardware, combined exercises, and sharing of operational information. Specifically with the US, in 2002, India entered into an agreement with the US to provide naval escort to the US high-value ships transiting the Malacca Straits.
As another functional agreement, LEMOA represents no departure from India’s enduring
policy. Even under LEMOA, India would be able to exercise its strategic autonomy.
The agreement would not restrict India’s strategic options since it is ‘ tiertwo’ agreement. This implies than only if and when the Indian government agrees to a US proposal to conduct a combined military exercise or operation ( entailing a logistics exchange), will LEMOA come into play.
For instance, since the India-US Malabar naval exercise is a standing arrangement approved by the Indian government, LEMOA will apply on all occasions that such exercises are conducted. As another instance, if hypothetically, the US seeks to undertake a coordinated military operation with India to flush out a terrorist group in a neighbouring country, based on many factors, India may decide turn down the US proposal, with no obligation to offer the US forces access to Indian logistic facilities.
Furthermore, as the Indian Ministry of Defence ( MoD) Press Release specifically states, the agreement does not provide for setting up of a US military base on Indian soil.
The above leads to a pertinent question: Does LEMOA give the right to the US and Indian armed forces to use each others’ military bases? According to the Indian MoD Press Release, LEMOA pertains to reciprocal ‘access’ rights to military forces for logistic supplies and services comprising “food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare-parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services and port services.”
Even at present, some of these supplies and
services would be available only in the military base of the host country. In the coming years – given the existing trends – when a substantial proportion of Indian military hardware is of US origin, the visiting military force may seek to replenish even ammunition, missiles and torpedoes from the host country. LEMOA may then become analogous to the reciprocal use of military bases.
The signing of LEMOA has led to apprehensions amongst a few analysts in India that the benefits of the agreement weigh heavily in favour of the US. Such perception may not be true. The US possesses numerous globally-dispersed overseas military bases and access facilities. In an operational contingency, therefore, the US would expect India to provide essential supplies and services to its military forces only if the contingency occurs in geographic proximity of the Indian sub-continent.
Such logistics may also be required for an inter- theatre shift of US forces in an emergency – such as the Persian Gulf crises of 1990, when C-141 transport planes transiting from the Philippines to the Gulf were refuelled in Indian airfields – but such occasions would be rare. In contrast, India has no overseas military base, and yet its areas of interest are fast expanding much beyond its immediate neighbourhood – notably, the Persian Gulf, southern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific – where its ability to influence events is severely constrained by stretched logistic lines. Access to the US military bases in these areas, facilitated by LEMOA, would provide useful strategic alternatives to India.
In sum, therefore, while LEMOA may be functional agreement meant to facilitate military operations and exercises, it would enhance the strategic options of the involved parties; and thus pose a credible strategic deterrence to actors – both state and nonstate – that seek to undermine regional security and stability.
However, to address the possibility of its negative perception in terms of India’s ‘policy polarization’, New Delhi may consider entering into similar agreements with other major powers with whom its strategic interests converge.
AT THE invitation of US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Minister of Defence of India Manohar Parrikar made his second official visit to the United States August 29-31. In addition to his official meetings at the Pentagon and joint visit to the 9/11 Memorial with Secretary Carter, Minister Parrikar also met with the leadership of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and visited US Cyber Command (CYBERCOM).
He will also visit the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Joint Base Langley-Eustis for a tour of the Air Combat Command ( ACC) and the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing. In addition, he will interact with representatives of US defense industry during the visit.
The defense relationship between India and the United States is based on the two countries’ shared values and interests, and their abiding commitment to global peace and security. During their meeting, Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter discussed the wealth of progress in bilateral cooperation and the deepening strategic partnership between the United States and India.
The visit – their sixth interaction to date – demonstrates the importance both sides place on strengthening defense ties across many areas: from increased strategic and regional cooperation, to deepened militaryto-military exchanges, to expanded collaboration on defense technology and innovation.
Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter discussed India’s “Major Defense Partner” designation, announced during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Washington in June. They agreed on the importance this framework will provide to facilitate innovative and advanced opportunities in defense technology and trade cooperation. To this end, the United States has agreed to elevate defense trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with its closest allies and partners.
Secretary Carter welcomed India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and reaffirmed US support for India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar welcomed continued progress under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). They welcomed the decision at the DTTI meeting in Delhi in July to broaden its agenda by setting up five new joint working groups on: naval systems; air systems, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; chemical and biological protection; and other systems. They also noted the signing of an information exchange annex under the framework of the Aircraft Carrier Joint Working Group. Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar also agreed to continue to their close consultation on “Make in India” proposals.
Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar praised the discussions at the inaugural Maritime Security Dialogue held in May. They welcomed the conclusion of the bilateral ‘White Shipping’’ technical arrangement for data sharing on commercial shipping traffic. They also discussed cooperation on capabilities to augment India’s capacity for maritime domain awareness (MDA). Acknowledging India’s positive contributions to regional security and stability, including in matters beyond the maritime space, Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar announced their agreement to further consultations in this area, including the next Maritime Security Dialogue, which will be held later this year. They noted recent high level official exchanges including the visit to New Delhi of Gen. John Nicholson for consultations on Afghanistan, as well as by the secretary of the US Navy and the secretary of the US Air Force earlier this month.
Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter welcomed the continued efforts by both countries’ militaries to deepen bilateral cooperation and expand opportunities for greater collaboration. They commended the recent completion of the naval exercise MALABAR with Japan and India’s participation in the Rimof-the- Pacific ( RIMPAC) Exercise in Hawaii, as well as the Red Flag Air Force Exercise in Alaska. They were encouraged by the increased complexity in the YUDH ABHYAS Army exercise, which is scheduled for September in India. They agreed to facilitate greater and regular interactions to deepen mutual understanding between military services and promote practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as counter-terrorism, maritime security, special operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They also welcomed the signing of the bilateral logistics exchange memorandum of agreement ( LEMOA), which will facilitate additional opportunities for practical engagement and exchange.
Secretary Carter reiterated his appreciation for the support provided by Minister Parrikar and the Government of India that facilitated the recovery and repatriation of US World War II remains in April. Minister Parrikar reinforced his commitment to this important mission and he and Secretary Carter were pleased that the US Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) would return to India Novemer 1-December 14 to survey additional aircraft crash locations.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Indian Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar at a meeting at the Pentagon
Secretary of Defense Carter and Indian Minister of Defence Parrikar at a joint press conference after the meeing at the Pentagon