For years, the United States has been pushing India to sign three foundational agreements that would further defence cooperation between the two countries. When the United Progressive Alliance was in power, eight senior US defence officials met defence minister A.K. Antony and asked him to sign the agreements. Antony plainly told them that India was willing to discuss any issue except the foundational agreements. “We did not sign the agreements as we did not want to be seen as a military partner of the US and we wanted to maintain the strategic autonomy of India,” Antony told THE WEEK.
On April 12, the Narendra Modi government agreed to sign the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA). This is a tweaked version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), one of the three foundational agreements. “We have given an in-principle agreement to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter told a joint news conference in Delhi, after two days of deliberations in the beautiful locales of Goa and Karwar.
The other two foundational agreements are the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). So far, there has been no movement on either.
The decision on LEMA comes in the backdrop of China's aggressive military expansion, which includes submarine operations close to Indian waters (in the name of anti-piracy drills) and its challenge to America's superpower status in the region. “I think the Modi government is doing a good thing by keeping national interest in mind,” former Air Marshal R.K. Sharma told THE WEEK. “We should not be concerned if China objects or reacts negatively. When they have similar agreements with Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, why should they have any problems with India doing so with the US?”
As part of the agreement, which is expected to be signed during Modi's US visit in September, India will provide fuel and other logistical support to American warships and aircraft operating in and passing through Indian territory. India will get the same support at US bases, including those in Diego Garcia, Djibouti, South Korea and Okinawa in Japan.
Since the early 2000s, the US has sold weapon systems worth $15 billion to India, and has become its largest supplier. Carter said the US viewed India as a “pivot” in the Asia-Pacific region and hailed New Delhi as a strategic partner in its efforts to rebalance the region where it will deploy 60 per cent of its forces in the next three years.
Apart form LEMA, the two countries agreed to set up a new maritime security dialogue between officials and a navy-to-navy discussion on submarine safety. They are also holding complex military exercises and when the US defence secretary was in India, Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, the Army chief, was at the Pentagon to enhance military cooperation.
The move on LEMA, however, brought political opposition; the Left and Congress leaders said it was a step against national interest. There has been talk of the US stationing its troops here and using Indian bases to stock weapons. The issue is also likely to create a furore in the second half of the Parliament's budget session starting April 23. “There should not be any opposition to this move,” said Sharma. “If there is some political sensitivity over issues such as stocking of weapons, we should simply reject it and agree to terms that are suitable for us.”
On April 12, India and the US agree to sign the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement.
It is a modified version of the Logistics Support Agreement, which is one of the three foundational defence agreements the US uses to further its military cooperation with partner countries.
LEMA would allow the US and India to access each other's bases for logistical support, including refuelling their aircraft and warships.
There are fears that the US would station its troops in India and use the bases to stock weapons.
Former defence minister A.K. Antony said this would antagonise India's long-time friends such as Russia.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the US would not be allowed to station its troops in India or use Indian soil to attack other nations.