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Lift the veil, hold a de­bate

LAST WEEK, In­dia and the United States qui­etly signed the Lo­gis­tics Ex­change Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment (LEMOA). The agree­ment had been un­der dis­cus­sion since 2002. NDA I and the UPA gover nment, es­pe­cially the min­istry of de­fence un­der Mr AK Antony, were not in favour. The Congress party too had reser­va­tions. The Left par­ties stoutly op­posed the pro­posal. The dis­cus­sions dragged on.

The US laid stress on the fact that it had signed the Lo­gis­tics Sup­port Agree­ment (LSA) with a hun­dred coun­tries. What has been signed be­tween In­dia and the US is not LSA but a mod­i­fied ver­sion called LEMOA. Ob­vi­ously, both sides have yielded to each other’s con­cer ns.

The agree­ment has not been made pub­lic. We only have a press re­lease and some com­ments made by the min­is­ter of de­fence, Mr Manohar Par­rikar, and his coun­ter­part, Mr Ash­ton Carter. Both were at pains to em­pha­sise that the agree­ment was not a ‘mil­i­tary pact’.

Who needs whom more

At present, we can draw our con­clu­sions, pre­lim­i­nary of course, only on the ba­sis of the press re­lease. The agree­ment is in two parts: one part deals with obli­ga­tions that have been agreed upon and the other part deals with obli­ga­tions that may be un­der­taken on a case-by-case ba­sis.

There are five sit­u­a­tions in which both sides are obliged to pro­vide lo­gis­tics sup­port. They are: au­tho­rised port vis­its; joint ex­er­cises; joint train­ing; hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance; and dis­as­ter re­lief

The ques­tion is how likely is it that In­dia will call upon the US to pro­vide lo­gis­tics sup­port? How of­ten is an In­dian long-range ves­sel (we have one air­craft car­rier) likely to visit a US port? How of­ten is an IAF air­craft likely to op­er­ate far be­yond In­dian bases, and why would they do so? As far as hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance or dis­as­ter re­lief is con­cer ned, are In­dian per­son­nel likely to be de­ployed in the Amer­i­cas or Europe? In my view, In­dian de­fence forces are not likely to be de­ployed in any theatre, even in peace time, be­yond our bor­ders with Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myan­mar—at best they may go near Sri Lanka or Mal­dives. In any of those sit­u­a­tions, there is lit­tle or noth­ing that the US can of­fer in terms of lo­gis­tics sup­port un­der the agree­ment.

On the other hand, the US is more likely to need In­dia’s port ser­vices and lo­gis­tics sup­port. The US’ the­atres of op­er­a­tion are all over the world, in­clud­ing the Mid­dle East, Asia-Pa­cific re­gion and the South China Sea. US ves­sels and air­craft are rou­tinely de­ployed in these the­atres for re­con­nais­sance, sur­veil­lance and sometimes even as a de­ter­rent op­er­a­tion.

Only time will tell which side calls upon the other side to pro­vide lo­gis­tics sup­port and how of­ten. That the US has en­tered into one hun­dred such agree­ments and In­dia has signed its first such agree­ment is suf­fi­cient indi­ca­tion of who needs it more!

A sig­nif­i­cant shift?

The def­i­ni­tion of lo­gis­tics sup­port is un­ex­cep­tion­able, but it is the un­ex­cep­tion­able that sometimes be­comes the un­think­able. ‘Lo­gis­tics Sup­port, Sup­plies and Ser­vices’ is de­fined to in­clude 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. On the face of it, there is noth­ing wrong with that list. How will it be ap­plied in prac­tice is the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion.

Take, for ex­am­ple, ‘bil­let­ing’. The dic­tionary mean­ing of the word is “a place where troops are lodged”. Then there are ser­vices like com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices, stor­age ser­vices, train­ing ser­vices, re­pair and main­te­nance ser­vices and cal­i­bra­tion ser­vices. Will US troops be lodged in In­dia? Is it likely that the lo­gis­tics ser­vices will be al­lowed to be pro­vided by In­di­ans to US de­fence ser­vices such as war­ships, com­bat air­craft, US Marines or Navy Seals? Will not the US de­mand that Amer­i­cans (usu­ally de­fence per­son­nel) be al­lowed to en­ter In­dia to pro­vide these ser­vices to their men and equip­ment? If that hap­pens, will it not be the first time that In­dia would have al­lowed for­eign de­fence per­son­nel to be sta­tioned on In­dian soil (maybe tem­porar­ily)?

The other part of the agree­ment is the ‘may be un­der­taken’ part. Ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease, “lo­gis­tics sup­port for any other co­op­er­a­tive ef­forts shall only be pro­vided on a case-by-case ba­sis”. So far, so good, but the two coun­tries ap­pear to have tac­itly agreed to en­large the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the de­fence forces of the two coun­tries.

More than hand­shake

Sure, LEMOA is not a mil­i­tary pact. Nev­er­the­less, it is a fair con­clu­sion that it is more than a hand­shake be­tween the two coun­tries, they have em­braced each other! The world is watch­ing, es­pe­cially Rus­sia, which has been our main sup­plier so far, and China. LEMOA will cer­tainly be seen as an In­di­a­nen­dorse­mentof theUSpol­i­cyof ‘piv­ot­toAsia’.

That is why ed­i­to­ri­als and com­men­ta­tors have cau­tioned that en­hanced de­fence co­op­er­a­tion— fol­low­ing the des­ig­na­tion of In­dia by the US as a ‘ma­jor de­fence part­ner’—should not af­fect In­dia’s strate­gic mil­i­tary neu­tral­ity or abil­ity to pur­sue an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy. The ex­hor­ta­tions are valid be­cause the US is keen to sign two more ‘foun­da­tional agree­ments’—the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions In­ter­op­er­abil­ity & Se­cu­rity Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment and the Ba­sic Ex­change & Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment.

If the­gov­ern­ment­be­lievesthatLEMOAisin­deed re­cip­ro­cal—not merely in its words but in the ben­e­fits that will ac­crue to both coun­tries— it should make the doc­u­ment pub­lic and in­vite a pub­lic de­bate.

De­fence min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar (right) with US de­fence sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter at the Pen­tagon on Au­gust 29

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