DC Debate: Strategic or suspect?

DECCAN CHRONICLE.
Published Apr 21, 2016, 3:45 am IST
Updated Apr 21, 2016, 3:45 am IST
US-India LEMOA will compromise India’s traditional strategic autonomy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Barack Obama in Washington.
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Dangerous impact on sovereignty: The nuclear security summit in Washington DC, March 31-April 1, 2016, attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was a failure in addressing two crucial issues — nuclear disarmament and moving towards a nuclear weapon-free world. The threat from nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire humanity and the United States, the first country to have a stockpile of nuclear weapons, has nuclear warriors and bases in different parts of the world. We must remember that India used to have a stated position on the basis of national consensus for nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world. The Modi government is breaking this commitment in the national consensus to please and support the US.

India, in fact, entered into the India-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) after the nuclear security summit. This shows that the Modi government has been taking pro-US steps that are dangerous. Furthering military collaboration with the US is not in our interest. LEMOA is just another name for the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) the US used to enter into with allies such as the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and other countries. Whatever defence minister Manohar Parrikar has been saying, that it’s only for refuelling and maintenance of American ships and planes, is not true. In practice this agreement will require stationing of US armed forces on our own soil — Indian soil — on regular basis.

 

Earlier during the Iraq war, there was pressure on India to allow American Air Force planes refuelling at Chennai, but India resisted. Now these agreements will allow such things to take place. Further, Mr Parrikar indicated that there will be more follow-up agreements, which include Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). Actually if these agreements are signed, it will make our own armed forces a part of the command and control structure of the US armed forces. If this happens, the Bharatiya Janata Party government will be marking a significant departure from what the Government of India has been following since Independence to make India a strategic military ally of the US. It is a surrender of the Indian government to US demands and pressure.

These are all very crucial strategic agreements, yet there was no adequate discussion inside Parliament. The Modi government, in fact, neither took Parliament nor people into confidence. There is no transparency in what the Modi government does as far as defence agreements and military collaborations with other countries are concerned. On one hand many countries are fighting US military presence in their regions and India has to fight against the US base in Indian Ocean. But instead of joining with other countries to stand up against the US, India has willingly become a subservient ally of the US. This is going to have a very dangerous impact on our sovereignty and strategic autonomy. D. Raja is Communist Party of India’s national secretary.

It’ll enhance our defence against China: India has in principle agreed to sign LSA, one of the three foundational agreements that the US has been asking India to sign. The agreement provides access to each other’s military facilities for berthing and refueling, and better logistic support on a reimbursable basis. LEMOA, specially written for India, essentially formalises an existing arrangement to strengthen military-to-military cooperation. The debate about India signing the LEMOA, CISMOA and BECA for geo-spatial cooperation has gone on for more than a decade. The Indian government under the UPA resisted signing these agreements because it feared domestic political criticism about losing “strategic autonomy”.

Critics argue that these are agreements signed typically by US allies and, therefore, if New Delhi were to sign them, it could be construed as India turning into one. However, in reality, these agreements have been signed by around 100 countries, not all of whom are US allies. Another, even more absurd criticism is that signing these agreements will make New Delhi complicit in American wars and policies, especially in West Asia and East Asia. Proponents of such views do not say how, nor why the other 100 countries that have signed such agreements are not similarly considered. France has signed a similar agreement but that has not drawn it into these conflicts.

The LEMOA does strengthen US-India military-to-military relationship. But this strengthening has been happening for more than a decade. We conduct more military exercises with the US than with anyone else, and our military is increasingly looking to equip itself with American-built military equipment (even though we will remain overwhelmingly dependent on Russian equipment for the foreseeable future). This is happening as a conscious strategic choice that the last three Indian governments have made, partly because China’s increasing military strength can no longer be ignored and partly because China’s behaviour over the last decade has become increasingly assertive. India needs to beef up its military capabilities and it’s It is only natural that India will look to the US because both countries share a common perception about China’s rise.

The absence of these umbrella agreements have hindered India-US military-to-military cooperation: India has been denied certain equipment with CISMOA-category communication systems, and equipment that India has acquired, such as the P-8I anti-submarine aircraft, have been stripped of some of its most useful equipment because India has not signed of the agreements. Signing these agreements will not make the US our ally, nor will it solve all our differences with Washington. But India does stand to gain by signing the LEMOA and other agreements. For example, India, which has one aircraft carrier and lacks the capacity for far-sea operations, could potentially gain access to US military bases in the Indian Ocean, such as Diego Garcia and Djibouti. This will enhance India’s reach in a big way and provide the much-needed logistics support to carry out a variety of missions in the Indian Ocean. Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan heads the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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