The torrent of protests against India signing the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US accusing New Delhi of capitulation, include the following concerns: Surrender of sovereignty; lack of confidence in own military; military liable to be manipulated in American interests; the US is unreliable and a declining power with the dollar value going down; the agreement being similar to the Acquisition and Cross-Service Arrangement (ACSA); it will be more of use to the US; it signals the end of India-Russian bonhomie, and so on.
The US had signed an ACSA with some 76 countries including Sri Lanka at the last count. Contrary to the belief that ACSA and LEMOA are similar, the LEMOA is an India-specific logistics exchange agreement that covers aspects like training, exercises, port calls and humanitarian assistance. Most importantly, it does not entail the positioning of US troops on Indian soil, and both countries will have to seek ‘advance permission’ to use each other’s facilities.
Commenting on the LEMOA, China’s Global Times stated, “how close the India-US relationship can be and what geopolitical values it can get remains a question”, adding that if India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. The article adds that the agreement may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself as the centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia. The post ended by saying that since China doesn’t resort to regional expansion, US manoeuvers in Asia will prove futile.
Obviously, China does not view the LEMOA as a defence pact or a signal that US-Nato troops will be stationed in India in India. The line “China doesn’t resort to regional expansion” is the usual farce, and comment that India will become the “centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia” is to deflect from the fact that China has already made Pakistan the centre of global geopolitical rivalries in its race to dominate the Indian Ocean and infirmities in Mainland China. Yet within India, ghost visions are being drawn of future US-Nato bases in India as in Afghanistan and PLA in Gilgit-Baltistan. But if Pakistan is crying blue murder, that is one of the intended payoffs of the LEMOA.
The India–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation signed in August 1971 specified mutual strategic cooperation. Pakistani genocide was raging in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with the Pakistani military supporting Islamist militias of Jamaat-e-Islami that killed some 3,000,000 and raped 200,000-400,000 Bangladeshi women as per records. India was flooded with refugees. Pakistan was the blue-eyed boy of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger having brokered peace between US and China. As the US-deployed Task Force 74 — led by aircraft carrier USS Enterprise — to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India, and the British task force — led by aircraft carrier HMS Eagle — approached Indian waters, Soviet battleships tracked Eagle while additional cruisers, destroyers and nuclear submarines were dispatched from Vladivostok.
The Royal Navy retreated, but news came of USS Tripoli advancing on India. The Soviets encircled them, aimed missiles at Enterprise and surfaced their nuclear submarines to be viewed by US satellites, preventing any US interference. The Soviets reportedly also threatened China that if it ever opened a front against India on its border, it would face a tough response from the North. Was this India–Soviet Treaty then a ‘defence pact’ and by signing it, did India surrender its sovereignty?
The fact is India skillfully seized the dynamics of prevailing geopolitics at the right moment.
Hybrid warfare has replaced conventional war over the past decade and this trend will persist as all global players practice it. Although China and Pakistan have been in a sub-conventional embrace since the 1960s, the combined threat to India spanning the conflict spectrum has enhanced exponentially with China stationing troops in PoK and the recent signing of the China-Pakistan Defence Pact. The sub-conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan, and between India and China is enormously skewed in favour of Pakistan and China, not to talk of the still larger threat when combined. Both China and Pakistan have nefarious designs on our territory — including China’s illegal claim to Arunachal Pradesh in 2005.
The US will remain ahead of China in military prowess, and science and technology in the coming years, no matter the Chinese propaganda.
Sloganeering about India sporting the third largest army doesn’t impress where sub-conventional plays major role in hybrid warfare that combines the conventional, unconventional and the cyber. Aside from our fledgling cyber capabilities, India has failed to develop pro-active sub-conventional capabilities; that’s why we are limited to calls of jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat instead of giving Pakistan a bloody nose at the sub-conventional level inside Pakistan, recent calls about Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan notwithstanding.
The US is the master of the sub-conventional, China has been emulating the US and Pakistan — a protégé of both countries. Neither can terrorism be fought by any country alone nor through hybrid war, with the latter being highly complex. For that matter, the Liberation of Bangladesh itself saw involvement of multiple players: India, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the US, Britain, and even Sri Lanka that allowed Pakistani Air Force aircraft to refuel. The China-Pakistan plan to proliferate nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and Chinese plans to commence retaking 'lost territory' (however illegally) after Beijing's military reorganisation is complete in 2020, are realities that cannot be ignored.
The graph of the Indian Navy over the next 25-30 years will be pointing downwards no matter the brouhaha about 'Make in India' because of the gestation period and the red tape US secretary of state John Kerry spoke about at IIT-Delhi. The IAF is already down to 25 squadrons and the Indian Army has enormous critical deficiencies in cutting edge equipment for soldiers. To make matters worse, the mafia’s efforts to equate military with the police have succeeded with the government accepting the 7th Central Pay Commission. The argument that the LEMOA erodes military’s confidence in strategic planning is negated because the military has always been kept outside strategic security planning.
Pakistan has become a client state of China's. Behind Pakistan’s heightened proxy war on India and Afghanistan is China’s support, even protecting Pakistani terrorists at the UN. The next phase of the US-China geopolitical power play in Afghanistan-Pakistan is inevitable and unfolding, US-China economic linkages notwithstanding. This will likely intensify sub-conventionally. As George Friedman wrote in 2012, the US is moving from military domination to more subtle manipulation, allowing events to take their course. But this does not mean the US will disengage from world affairs.
It controls the world's oceans and generates almost a quarter of the world's GDP, hence “controlled engagement, based on a realistic understanding of the national interest, is possible”. There are no permanent enemies and friends, only national interests. The US-Iran handshake and Russia-China bonhomie appear temporary marriages of convenience. By playing the double game, Pakistan has landed itself in the difficult position of becoming the battleground of US-China rivalry. Russia is busy shoring up its air and missile defences in the Baltic, Crimea and Far East because of intense western pressure and sanctions even as the Asia-Pacific remains high on its priority list.
If Russia is selling weaponry to Pakistan, it is because of the sanctions. The India-Russian strategic partnership remains intact with India being the largest defence importer and future joint ventures being open-ended. China’s economy is intimately linked to stability of the country and China is plagued with multiple fault-lines. That is why 54 percent of China’s defence budget is devoted to internal security. The US is nowhere close to declining enough for China’s liking — not needing hydrocarbons from Central Asia anymore and defence exports going up. The US will remain ahead of China in military prowess, and science and technology in the coming years, no matter the Chinese propaganda.
The LEMOA does not imply stationing of US-Nato troops in India but does signal an India-US strategic relationship. This should caution China and Pakistan against nefarious anti-India designs; increase cooperation between the Indian Navy and US Navy; assure US support at the UN and global fora — including NSG and UNSC; commence the coalescing national interests in Afghanistan, and in turn Afghanistan-Pakistan; provide access to state-of-the-art US technology; and assist India in achieving wider strategic outreach and global cooperation with access to 800 overseas US bases.
The LEMOA has to be seen in this context. Terming it a surrender of sovereignty is naïve.
The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army