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LEMOA Pact: Dawn of a new era in Indo- US Strategic Relationship|Aditya Kashyap

Aditya Kashyap

LEMOA refers to Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement which was first mooted in the early 2000s during A B Vajpayee’s tenure, both Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh were wary of signing amid concerns that these may lock India into an uncomfortably tight embrace with the U.S., after a decade of bilateral discussions and negotiations, Indian Defence Minister and US Defence Secretary reached a consensus upon the agreement which will enable reciprocal access to and reimbursement for supplies and services for each country’s armed forces. It is one of three foundational agreements, namely Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). This has significant implications for both countries. They are the foundational building blocks for a deeper U.S.-India defense partnership. The LEMOA—the most hyped about of the three agreements—would set a framework for the two countries to share military logistics. Under the reciprocal agreement, both New Delhi and Washington would have the ability, but not the obligation, to assist each other’s armed forces with basic military logistics. For the U.S. Navy, for example, logistics support from India would be a crucial asset as it will be much more cost effective than setting up its own facilities across the world like it had done in Iraq and Afghanistan and helping it effectively project its naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean.

Each of these agreements expands U.S.-India defence cooperation in a fairly rudimentary manner, without necessitating a paradigm shift on either side’s approach to the partnership. India’s approach to the United States remains limited in important ways, despite the fact that New Delhi increasingly purchases more arms than ever before from U.S. suppliers and conducts more military exercises with the U.S. forces than any other country’s armed forces. Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, India and the United States have made some important forays on defence cooperation. India’s acquisition of military equipment from the US had surged from virtually nothing in 2008 to become second-largest. In 2014, India accounted for 11.2 percent of all US military sales, second only to Saudi Arabia at 11.8 per cent. In September, last year, Modi signed an agreement with the US for the purchase of twenty-two Apache attack helicopters and fifteen Chinook cargo helicopters, together with missile arsenal for the attack helicopters, in a deal estimated at around US$3 billion and the biggest since Modi took office. It was also reported that Washington backed India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime and subsequently on 22 September, The Indian Air Force sent a letter to San Diego-based General Atomics enquiring about the purchase of Avenger drones just two days later. These drones will be able to complement the surveillance-only drones that India has acquired from Israel namely the IAI Herons, thus giving it the capability to remotely bomb any region of Pakistan and also southern China. Apart from that technical cooperation was also announced regarding two more projects under which the US and India would jointly develop digital helmet-mounted displays and a Joint Biological Tactical Detection System under the previously-signed Defence Technology and Trade Initiative. India wishes to acquire the US’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system for the aircraft carriers that it is building which will aid it in launching heavier aircraft. CISMOA, would allow the United States to supply India with its proprietary encrypted communications equipment and systems, allowing secure peacetime and wartime communication between high-level military leaders on both sides. CISMOA would extend this capability to Indian and U.S. military assets, including aircraft and ships. Finally, BECA would set a framework through which the United States could share sensitive data to ensure targeting and navigation with India.

Main factors behind the tectonic shift in the Indo-US strategic framework are growing concerns regarding Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in the the South China Sea and beyond. New Delhi has been upset with Beijing of late. China has put a “technical hold” on India’s attempts to designate the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed’s chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist at the United Nations it has blocked India’s entry into the elite nuclear supplier group (NSG) citing non-signatories of NPT (Non-proliferation treaty) won’t be allowed to become its member’s though India enjoyed the popular support of other members. At the same time, China has been going all out to woo countries in India’s neighborhood like Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. Which it believes is a part of Chinas encirclement policy known as string of pearls. Beijing’s island construction activities in the South China Sea and its deployment of missile batteries on Woody Island in the South China Sea have set it on a collision course with the United States and its allies in the region, like Japan and the Philippines. Further bilateral relations between India and the United States have dramatically improved since the end of the Cold War. In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit India twice during his presidency when he was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. During his visit, the two sides released a joint statement where they affirmed “the importance of safeguarding the maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.” This in itself is very significant since New Delhi had avoided getting entangled in the South China Sea imbroglio. In the recent years, India has become one of the biggest purchasers of U.S. military hardware, a sea change from the times when the country used to source the majority of its military equipment’s from Russian manufacturers. Maritime relations between India and the United States have seen a significant jump. The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry B Harris, went on record to say that that Beijing was building “a great wall of sand” in the South China Sea. At the Raisina Dialogue in India in March 2016, Harris floated the idea of cooperation between India, Japan, Australia, and Japan in the maritime realm. Though the project was rolled back in the light Beijing’s sensitivities, in a classic case of the baby being thrown out along with the bathwater. Besides, India’s ties with U.S. allies in the region have been on an upswing, like Japan and Australia, bilateral relations have also improved tremendously.

Lastly, India aspires to play a greater role in international affairs as the seventh-largest economy in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity with being the second most populous nation brimming with competitive manpower.India is angling to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In addition, India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has rapidly moved away from its traditional stance of non-alignment to one of multi-alignment. By signing the logistics support agreement, New Delhi also stands to gain by gaining access to numerous U.S. military facilities across the globe. Initiatives like these give an indication that India is shifting its stance on non-alignment. India was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, one aimed at creating a third way and remaining aloof from falling into the Western or Communist (USSR) camps of the Cold War era. After the collapse of the USSR, India continued to look upon Russia as a strategic ally and its main source of military equipment and high-end technology for its heavy industries. The LEMOA could, however, indicate India’s shift away from those prevailing views.Defence cooperation between India and the United States have long been way below its potential due to New Delhi’s apprehension about Washington’s intentions due to frictions in the past and therefore LEMOA, CISMOA, and BECA would signal the start of a new era, coinciding with the recently updated U.S.-India defence framework which highlights the growth of defence cooperation between the two countries.

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