Whatever the play of words that separates the LEMoA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) from the standard Logistics Supply Agreement the US signs to gain military logistics support from its foreign allies and partners, there can be no quibble about the fact that India and the US have reached a military agreement with long-term import.
The LEMoA, signed on Monday in Washington between defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his US counterpart Ashton Carter, began its life in the Indian context in 2002-2003, when the US urged the Vajpayee government to sign it. While the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments remained chary in view of Indian sensitivities on offering base facilities to foreigners, the Modi government has pursued the matter in earnest. However, in the recent past, the defence ministry as well as the Air Force and Navy chiefs have expressed their reservations about LEMoA. India has never entered into such an agreement with any nation.
Given the significance of the deal, the joint statement, signed in New Delhi when US secretary of state John Kerry arrived for the second Indo-US dialogue on Tuesday, pointedly noted that “defence ties form the bedrock of the partnership”. In this context it referred to the status of “major defence partner” conferred on India by the US during Modi’s visit to Washington in June, and the LEMoA signed by Mr Parrikar this week. Incidentally, the US has conferred the status of “major non-Nato ally” on Pakistan.
The government of Mr Vajpayee had signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement with the US in 2002. It dodged LEMoA but the second NDA government has gone ahead with it. The two other “foundational” agreements, a requirement of US law, in the defence field remain to be cleared before India-US military cooperation can increase. Under LEMoA, neither side is obliged to offer bases. In that sense it is an enabling document — but that makes it more than the thin end of the wedge.
As the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force don’t roam the world projecting military power while the US does, the one-sided nature of the deal is apparent. However, US won’t part with its top-end military hardware, unless India signs the “foundational” agreements. In the overall recent context, LEMoA and other “foundational” agreements play into the convergence of Mr Modi’s “Act East” policy with President Barack Obama’s re-balancing in the Indo-Pacific.