LEMOA raises worrying questions

With India and the United States signing the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) during Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to Washington, military cooperation between the two countries is poised to expand significantly.

Among other things, the agreement facilitates interoperability between the two militaries and guides sale and transfer of high-end technologies. It gives both countries access to designated military facilities of the other for purposes of repair, refuelling and replenishment of supplies. While this covers port calls, joint exercises, training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, use of facilities for any other purpose would need approval on a case-to-case basis. On the face of it, LEMOA seems rather benign. For instance, it would enable India to use US facilities in the event of evacuation of its nationals from conflict zones or when it launches rescue operations at times of natural disasters. The LEMOA’s proponents point out that as a rising power with global ambitions, India needs such a pact with the US as it facilitates the extension of New Delhi’s operational reach considerably.

However, India’s signing of LEMOA raises several worrying questions. Wouldn’t military proximity to the US worsen India’s already troubled ties with Pakistan and China, even push them into a closer embrace? It can be expected to sour its relations with friends like Russia and Iran, pushing them closer to Pakistan as well. Importantly, the benefits India expects to draw from LEMOA may not offset the losses as India is not in a position to tap the full potential of this agreement. After all, it does not have the kind of global reach that would require it to access the US’ vast network of facilities. Besides, would Indian naval ships be welcome at all American bases?

In the event of an India-Pakistan war, would the US allow Indian ships to refuel at its bases in West Asia? This is highly unlikely. The signing of the pact is ill-timed too as the US is due for a political transition soon. Having put off signing the agreement for 12 years, India could have delayed signing it by a few months to get a clearer picture of the White House’s policies. Some media reports describe LEMOA as paving the way for the stationing of American troops on Indian soil. This is not so; LEMOA is a logistics pact and not a basing agreement. Such speculation could have been avoided had the Modi government been more transparent on the contents of the agreement and opened it up for public debate and discussion. Two more ‘foundational agreements’ with the US are in the pipeline. The government needs to discuss these pacts with the public.

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