Logistics Exchange Agreement and the Misplaced Apprehensions
Major General Mrinal Suman
The recently signed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the US has been a subject of intense debate in the media. Whereas opponents term it as a sell-out, supporters term LEMOA as a stepping stone for India’s military and economic advancement.
According to the official press release of 31 August 2016, LEMOA is a facilitating agreement that establishes basic terms, conditions, and procedures for reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies, and services between the armed forces of India and the United States. They include food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services and port services.
Provision of logistic help would either be on reciprocal basis or against cash payment. The press release also revealed the following important features of the agreement:-
- · Reciprocal logistic support would be used exclusively during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
- · Logistics support for any other cooperative efforts shall only be provided on a case-by-case basis through prior mutual consent of the parties, consistent with their respective laws, regulations and policies.
- · The agreement does not create any obligations on either Party to carry out any joint activity. It does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements.
An Appraisal of the Agreement
LEMOA is an India-specific version of the standard Logistics Support Agreement that the US signs with all its military allies. It took India and the US nearly a decade’s protracted discussions to agree on the final draft that factors in the concerns of both the parties. However, opponents of LEMOA are faulting the agreement on three counts.
1. Military Bases
It is alleged that the agreement allows military bases to the US and carries the risk of sucking India into geo-political disputes.
It is a totally false and baseless averment. LEMOA is a logistic agreement and not a military pact. It provides for logistic help only in terms of port calls, joint exercises, training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. For all other purposes, decision shall be taken on a case-by-case basis through prior mutual consent. Both parties have the right to ensure compliance of their respective laws, regulations and policies.
There is no provision for automatic approval for the use of logistic facilities for military operations. No bases will be provided to the US and no US soldiers will be stationed on the Indian soil.
Interestingly, LEMOA was signed on 29 August and the salient aspects of the text were revealed only on 31 August. Yet, in an article dated 30 August, LEMOA was condemned as ‘the most serious strategic mistake made by the country in its nearly seven decades of independent existence’. Apparently, the writer had jumped the gun. Without knowing the details, he presumed that the US has coerced India into providing military bases to it.
2. More Beneficial to the US
It is true that the agreement is more beneficial to the US than India, as the US sends its forces abroad and not India. But then it must be appreciated that relations between two countries cover a much larger canvas and cannot be judged on the basis a single agreement
India needs the latest technology desperately. The US has already accorded it the status of ‘Major Defence Partner’, thereby giving access to nearly 90 percent of the state-of-the-art technologies. India is seeking US help for designing aircraft carriers with catapults based on the revolutionary Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. It has also asked for help in designing aero-engines. The list is endless.
India wanted the latest transport/maritime aircraft and helicopters, the US has sold them. Now, India is asking for drones with cutting edge technologies and Westinghouse reactors of the latest genre with unmatched safety designs.
On the geo-strategic front, the US has helped Indian entry into Missile Technology Control Regime. It is supporting Indian membership of the the Security Council and the Nuclear Club. The US is also supportive of Indian fight against terrorism. India is also acutely aware of the fact that US technologies and investments are indispensable for India’s sustained economic and military growth.
Therefore, It stands to reason that if India can be the beneficiary of US support on multiple fronts/counts, there is nothing wrong in India’s acceptance of the logistic agreement which may be more beneficial to the US. The principle of quid-pro-quo rules every bilateral relationship. It cannot be a one way traffic.
3. It is a Strategic Blunder
Some opponents have termed it as a sell-out that will adversely affect Indian geo-strategic interests. They are painting a highly gloomy picture. Here is a sample of some of the weird warnings being sounded – ‘Russia will necessarily begin distancing itself from India’; ‘Russian platforms like the Akula-II SSN will be withdrawn’; ‘Moscow will have no compunction not to join up in the China-Pakistan nexus to form a formidable strategic triad’; ‘the Pakistan Air Force may get superior versions of the Su-30 and even nuclear submarine on lease’; ‘development of the Chahbahar port in Iran will suffer’; ‘the US will gain access to India’s strategic facilities’; and ‘India will have to forfeit the right for nuclear testing’.
None of the above contentions holds water. Russia does not sell state of the art equipment to India. It holds back on the crunch technologies. To date, it has never transferred complete technology, even if paid for. India remains dependent for critical sub-assemblies for ever. It charges market prices but never fulfils contractual commitments. Spares and maintenance support become a big challenge. Russia has mastered the art of exploiting small print in the contracts.
An agreement for the joint development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft was signed between India and Russia in 2007 with both sides planning to invest USD 6 billion each. The project has been marred by trust deficit, delays and cost-overruns. Similarly, little progress has been made in the two decades old joint development of Medium Transport Aircraft.
The case of aircraft carrier Vikramditya is symptomatic of Russian perfidy. Russia offered the 44,500 ton decommissioned ship as a free gift from ‘one friend to another’. India had to pay USD 947 million for the refurbishment. The deal was signed in Jan 04 with the delivery date of August 2008. In November 2007, Russia revised the price tag to USD 2.9 billion and sought deferment of delivery by additional 52 weeks. The ship was finally handed over in November 2013 at a negotiated cost of USD 2.35 billion. In short, INS Vikramaditya is anything but a symbol of friendship.
India is the largest importer of conventional weapons in the world with 14 percent share of the world trade. India is expected to spend nearly USD 200 billion on new weaponry. Further, Russia is earning billions of dollars from India every year by supplying spare parts and servicing Russian equipment in the Indian inventory. Russia can ill-afford to lose such an enormous market by straining its relations with India.
As regards China, it continues with its hostility towards India. It blocked sanctions against the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar in 2009 and against Hafiz Saeed and the Jamat-ud Dawa in December 2010. Similarly, China prevented the UN from proceeding against Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin and the Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. It blocked Indian entry into the Nuclear Club and ignoring Indian sensitivities, it is going ahead with the controversial China–Pakistan Economic Corridor through the Pak-occupied Kashmir. Depsang incident is still fresh in public memory.
Coming to Pakistan, does India have to worry about its response? It is already doing its best to harm India. Animosity for India is in Pak DNA and it can never be cured of the affliction. As a matter of fact, it is in India’s interests to expedite Pak break-up.
One is reminded of an old story. A young damsel was seen sitting near the village well and crying. Village elders got worried and asked if anyone had fallen in the well. She replied in the negative. On persistent questioning, the damsel replied, “I was thinking of the day I will get married and have children. If my small child, while playing near the well, fell into it and drowned, I will not be able to live without him.” And, she continued sobbing inconsolably. There is no cure for negativity.
Most bizarrely, a critic of LEMOA foresees US soldiers socialising with Indian women and fathering children, indulging in unruly behaviour and boosting drug trafficking. As is apparent, this forecast is based on the premise that US soldiers will be based in India. As the underlying supposition is wrong and misplaced, criticism is unfounded. It is rightly said that everything appears dark and ominous to doomsayers. They, by nature, are given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity.
LEMOA will certainly increase strategic and regional cooperation between the US and India. However, it does not amount to India becoming a part of any military alliance. LEMOA is a logistic agreement and must be treated as such. Doomsters and alarmist will do well to trust the government when it asserts that no bases are being given to the US.*****