Debate must on defence pact with US

Debate must on defence pact with US

A pact on military logistics that India and the US have agreed upon “in principle” needs to be put in the public domain for informed debate and discussion in India before the two sides sign it. The agreement is likely to have far-reaching implications for India’s foreign and defence policies. On the face of it, the pact seems rather benign; it is about sharing facilities. Under the proposed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) the militaries of the two countries will be able to use each other’s assets and bases for logistical purposes, including repair, refuelling and replenishment of supplies. However, LEMOA will deal a blow to India’s traditional commitment to non-alignment. It could undermine India’s strategic autonomy, slowly drawing it into a military alliance with the US.  This would strain India’s relations with a long-standing friend like Russia and with China. There is a real possibility of India getting drawn in as a frontline state in the US’s growing conflict with China.

Indian proponents of LEMOA argue that pacts like this are necessary for India to achieve its strategic ambitions. However, India needs to be realistic about its capabilities and military reach. Is India in a position to exploit the LEMOA agreement fully? Its military’s operational capabilities being limited geographically, it may not be able to actually use many American bases and assets. Importantly, will LEMOA open all of the US bases for use by India? For instance, in the event of war with Pakistan, could Indian ships and aircraft refuel at the US bases in West Asia?

The government must clarify on the contents of the proposed agreement. Governments often cite security considerations for keeping the text of such pacts under the wraps but an opaque decision making process is inherently anti-democratic and encourages sealing of deals that undermine our long-term interests. The agreement must be finalised after public debate on the text of the agreement and importantly, its implications. Pacts with the US have always triggered reflexive responses in India with political parties, press and public alike taking positions based on emotion and perceived through black and white lenses. Delhi’s perception of the US needs to be more nuanced with cooperation enhanced in those areas that are advantageous to India and kept to the minimum in those where they are not. Only a public discussion on LEMOA can draw the government’s attention to its true value as it reflects a diversity of opinion. Ducking a debate on complex pacts like LEMOA is not in India’s interest.
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