The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) during Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to Washington is a significant step forward for India and the U.S.
The agreement, which comes after more than a decade of negotiations, puts easy process in place for the two militaries to share each other’s bases for various operations. These include port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts; other uses are to be discussed on a case-by-case basis.
Benefits to India
1. The agreement will aid the sort of operations India has undertaken to rescue stranded Indians in conflict zones.
2. Further, as the Indian military continues to expand its role to aid in disaster relief, as it did during the 2004 tsunami, it will benefit from easier access to America’s network of military bases around the world.
3. The pact will also enhance the military’s capability to be an expeditionary force, at a time when Indian interests are distributed around the world with major investments planned both onshore and offshore in oilfields.
Benefits to US
The U.S., too, has required the help of India, as it did when emergency planes were refuelled in Delhi during the Nepal earthquake relief operation. As India and the U.S. explore plans for maritime cooperation in the Asia-Pacific as a part of the joint vision statement, LEMOA is going to add value.
Concerns raised over LEMOA by Opposition
The agreement has been a controversial one, and two previous governments – led by A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – did not sign it though it has been on the table since 2002.
A major reason for this was that although India embarked on closer defence ties with the U.S. years ago, there was no consensus or support within the establishment for an alliance of any kind, which the LEMOA had come to symbolise.
As Mr. Parrikar pointed out during his joint appearance with U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, the finally negotiated text has nothing to do with setting up U.S. bases in India, and there is no “obligation” on either side to carry out any joint activity.
LEMOA is one of the four ‘foundational agreements’
The LEMOA is one of the four ‘foundational agreements’ that the United States enters into with its defence partners.
With this, India has signed two of the four. After the first one in 2002 — the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) — the governments led by BJP’s A.B. Vajpayee and the Congress’s Manmohan Singh were wary of signing the other three amid concerns that these may lock India into an uncomfortably close embrace with the U.S.
The Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Intelligence are the two pending ones.
Explanation of nature of LEMOA
Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains what the pact is and what it does to India-U.S. defence ties:
Is this a case of “overcoming the hesitations of history” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said about India-U.S relations? Or a natural progress in the course set with the civil nuclear deal?
It represents both: the nuclear deal was the epitome of overcoming the hesitations of history on both sides. The signing of the LEMOA is a small — actually quite trivial — example of the continuing transformation of the bilateral relationship.
Does this put India and the U.S. on the path to becoming military allies?
No, it does not make India either a de jure or a de facto ally. All the LEMOA does is that it allows both countries to seamlessly pay for military goods, services, and supplies consumed during their exercises and other interactions. The decision to engage in any of these activities remains a sovereign decision of each government — nothing in the LEMOA changes that. So the issue of India becoming an ally of any sort does not arise.
No military bases, both countries say. What is it then? Could you please give one or two scenarios in which LEMOA will come into play?
I am mystified by this obsession with bases. The U.S. has LEMOA agreements with over 100 countries but basing agreements — which are different — with only a fraction of those partners.
Two examples of the LEMOA’s utility:
A U.S. carrier battle group steams from the Persian Gulf to the western Pacific through the Straits of Malacca. Along the way, Indian Navy ships operating off Kochi are authorised by the Government of India to conduct a previously unprogrammed passing exercise with the U.S. flotilla. During the exercise, the U.S. vessels offload fuel and supplies from their Indian counterparts. Instead of having to pay in cash for the victuals, India simply maintains a ledger balance for the transactions, which is cleared in one go at the end of the fiscal year.
Similarly, an Indian naval vessel suffers a maintenance problem while visiting the U.S. for an exercise. The repairs are done at an American port. The LEMOA will permit the costs of the repairs to be defrayed against any comparable debts the U.S. may owe India for supplies and services received in other circumstances through a simple “balancing of the books” at the end of the fiscal year.