India-US LEMOA: Regional implications

Dr Shahid Hussain Bukhari

ACCORDING to a report in New York Times, the American Secretary of States, Rex Tillerson had vowed to deny access to China over her artificially built islands in South China Sea. Keeping in view such state of mind by the US Secretary of State, if one evaluates the India-United States’ Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a lot of strategic implications come into mind for regional strategic environment. LEMOA, concluded on August 29, 2016 by the outgoing Obama administration, is another preferential treatment by the United States for India that once again introduced discriminatory actions taken by the US to accommodate India. This is not without incentives for the US which seeks Indian assistance in containing China.
LEMOA is a logistic support agreement between India and the United States that enables the US to cater a lot of facilities from the Indian ports to police the Indian Ocean region. Although claimed by the Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar that the agreement does not provide bases on Indian land for the US troops; this agreement is an indication of Indian intentions to play against China at the US disposal, which may further culminate into the use of Indian land for the purpose of military operations against China. For the US and India, this agreement simply facilitates the two allies to use each other’s logistic infrastructure, but for China and Pakistan, it shall have geostrategic implications. As the events are unfolding in the US-India bilateral relationship, both countries have renewed their framework for defence relationship for next 10 years as well as the US has designated India as the ‘Major Defence Partner’ while negotiations for co-production of F-16 aircraft in India are also underway, one cannot remain naïve of the strategic intentions of the LEMOA pact.
As reported, LEMOA has apparently nothing to do with the establishment of the US bases in India and it will serve the purpose of refuelling and replenishment including supplies and services relating to food, water, clothing, transportation, oil, lubricants, communication, medical, training, spare parts, repair, maintenance, and ports usages. Question here arises that what anymore else is required to conduct military operations except provision of Arms and Ammunitions? Would the US require arms, ammunition, or sophisticated technology from India to conduct any military operation in the region then? The answer is definitely a ‘No’. Another apparently innocent gesture has been shown by outlining the four primary areas of cooperation under the agreement; i.e. Port Calls, Joint Exercises, Training, and Humanitarian Assistance while other requirements have been left on bilateral negotiations on case-by-case basis.
Although, this provision pretend to be peace-time cooperation arrangement but it keeps room for extension of this logistic cooperation for strategic operations. It does not rule-out logistic support to each other in the occurrence of armed conflict in the region. As claimed by the Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar “It (LEMOA) doesn’t have anything to do with the setting up of a base… It’s basically logistics support to each other’s fleets… So, it will basically ensure that both navies can be supportive to each other in the joint venture operations we do, exercises we do”. The US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter echoed with Parrikar and stated that “It (LEMOA) is fully mutual… It’s not a basing agreement of any kind, but it does make the logistics of joint operations so much easier and so much more efficient”.
Keeping in view the regional competition, this can be understood that supporting each other’s navies, for making joint operations much easier and efficient, shall have ultimate strategic objectives. These strategic objectives are definitely aiming at countering China if and when needed. Keeping in view the US Asia-Pacific policy and the China-US competition in South China Sea, the US has adequate resources available around the Asia-Pacific region but it lacked adequate military presence in the Indian Ocean. Since the US has adequate technological resources available at her disposal, it lacked logistic support in the region that is being arranged through LEMOA pact. It should not be ignored that ‘Logistic Support’ is vital part of conducting war operations anywhere in the world. Therefore, LEMOA is an indication of preparation for any possible military confrontation in the Indian Ocean lead by the United States and assisted by India, placing India at the US disposal by her own choice.
It may therefore be concluded that LEMOA shall contribute to strategic instability in the already fragile regional strategic environment. In her pursuit to contain China, the US is providing utmost support to India without taking into account its implications for the regional strategic stability. Just like other areas of cooperation under the India-US Strategic Partnership, LEMOA shall also significantly contribute to Indian military modernization and operational capacity, which shall be perilous for Pakistan’s security, especially when there is complete absence of bilateral dialogues and confidence building measures.
—The writer is freelance columnist based in Multan.
Email: shahidbukhari@bzu.edu.pk

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