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India, US sign military logistics agreement

India and the United States on Monday signed an agreement that enables their militaries to access each other’s bases and facilities around the world, ending months of speculation.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2016 17:55 IST
Yashwant Raj
US defence secretary Ashton Carter  (L) and Defence minister Manohar Parrikar  answer reporters' questions during a joint news conference at the Pentagon.
US defence secretary Ashton Carter (L) and Defence minister Manohar Parrikar answer reporters' questions during a joint news conference at the Pentagon.(AFP)

India and the US on Monday signed a pact that allows their militaries to access each other’s facilities on a reciprocal basis for logistics support.

The signing of logistics exchange memorandum of agreement (LEMOA), hailed by experts as a milestone, was announced after defence minister Manohar Parrikar met his US counterpart Ashton Carter.

In remarks later, they made it clear that the agreement gave no basing rights, but only access to logistics such as fuel during joint exercises and relief operations.

The two officials also discussed India being designated a “major defence partner” by the US, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit.

“To this end, the United States has agreed to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with its closest allies and partners,” said a joint statement.

The signing of LEMOA is a “big step, not necessarily due to its content, but because many Indian governments have balked at signing it for fear of getting ‘too close’ to the Americans,” said Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at Carnegie. “In practice, it’s a book-keeping exercise, but the symbolic value--of bringing the two security establishments together--is significant.”

There was opposition to the pact in some quarters in India that feared it would lead to conceding the US access to Indian bases and military facilities, which is not entirely uncommon.

India has given the US access to its military facilities, on a case-to-cases basis, such as for refueling American warplanes on their way to the Persian Gulf region during the first gulf war, in 1991.

The government in New Delhi withdrew permission following allegations of giving in to “American imperialism” and the pact, when offered, was viewed with suspicion by successive governments.

Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center called the agreement a “milestone” that is “more significant for its implications than its actual provisions. It allows these two countries to scale up security cooperation in a big way”.

“To be sure, this relationship is very far from problem-free, but the LEMOA serves as a reminder that there is tremendous potential for a partnership that has bipartisan support in both countries,” he said.

There are two other foundation agreements that the US wants India to sign, arguing it has signed them with over 100 countries. These are the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

Asked when India would be ready to sign them, Parrikar said that given the earlier distrust about LEMOA, he would like to put it in “public domain properly” first before picking up others.

The two countries also concluded an agreement on bilateral “White Shipping,” enabling data sharing on commercial shipping traffic, and discussed India’s capacity for maritime domain awareness.

Called MDA, the initiative aims at augmenting New Delhi’s awareness about, according to a paper by Carnegie’s Darshana M Baruah, “the positions and intentions of all actors (whether friendly, hostile, or neutral) and in all dimensions (on, over, and under the seas)” and increasingly driven by China’s presence in the Indian ocean.