Inderjit Panjrath writes: The media has been abuzz with varying analyses of the recently concluded Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the United States. While one school views this as a landmark event signifying a strategic handshake between two most vibrant democracies in the world, there are others who see this as a major drift in India’s resolutely pursued policy of Non-Alignment, and consequently, dilution in its traditional autonomy and military neutrality.
The sharpest criticism has emerged from the Chinese Press which has gone out of its way in cautioning that, “If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia[i]”. While such reactions from China are on expected lines due to obvious ramifications on its rising aspirations in the region, there could be domestic and neutral observers who view this as a softening of India’s hitherto fiercely defended policy of Non Alignment and a possible tilt towards a military alliance with the USA. A number of questions are being raised – Is the deal really advantageous to India? Is India getting dragged into the pivot to Asia strategy of the US to contain China? Will it indeed facilitate the ‘Make in India’ initiative with transfer of US technology?
It is therefore, important to analyse the issue in perspective, particularly with reference to the geopolitical dynamics of the region and India’s emerging security concerns.
The devil, they say, lies in the detail – hence, to start with, a look at the document per-se. Even though the exact text of LEMOA is yet to be made public, few fundamental aspects merit mention. Firstly, the uniqueness of this is pact, not only in nomenclature but also in content from the usual Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) the US maintains with most other allies, indicates that it is India specific and not an ‘off the shelf – one size fits all’ solution. Secondly, contrary to the general belief, there is no provision of setting up military bases or deployment of US troops and equipment on Indian soil, ports or air bases. It only caters for use of each other’s facilities for repair and resupply of military equipment so as to enhance defence ties and cooperation. This too, on payment and case to case basis with India retaining the right to reject. Thirdly, it aims to promote joint operations in counter-terrorism, maritime security, special operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief[ii], areas which are so relevant to India in the prevalent as well as emerging security environment in Asia-Indo Pacific. Fourthly, it promises India the benefit of trade and transfer of technology from USA, at a level commensurate with its closest allies and partners[iii].
Foreign policy is a reflection of a nation’s strategic choices based on its own security needs. Invariably, these choices, and consequently the policy are based on the strategic culture crystallised over time. In case of India, restraint and Non-Alignment are seen to be the core components of her strategic culture. Consequently, any move to partner with a superpower like the USA, even on specific issues is seen to be against India’s core values thereby coercing successive regimes to tread consciously. In this context, it is important to understand that strategic culture is created by six factors: the geopolitical setting, military history, international relationships, political culture and ideology, the nature of civil-military relations and military technology[iv]. However, strategic culture, though persistent over time, is not a permanent or static feature. It is shaped and influenced by formative periods and can alter, either fundamentally or piecemeal, at critical junctures in a nation’s experiences[v]. In the rapidly changing contemporary geo strategic environment where there are no fixed partners or allies, any inertia and procrastination in exercising pragmatic choices affecting national security could prove catastrophic. This analogy applies equally to India too; particularly in light of various developments in the region and its vicinity, be it China’s overt support to Pakistan’, its position in South China Sea and its recent stance on international issues affecting India viz. NSG, UN Security Council and banning of Pakistan based terror outfits. Hence, one need not speculate much into probable implications on her relationships with Russia, China or any other country. For that matter, there are ample examples to cite, including major shifts witnessed over the last decade in US policy towards Pakistan. Russia, which hitherto was seen as India’s close ally is now venturing into strategic defence deals with her primary adversaries, Pakistan (Mi-17 helicopters) and China(S-400 SAM system).
Further, any issue based partnership by a nation does not necessarily imply a departure from her core fundamental values. The period succeeding the Indo-US Nuclear deal is a case in point where despite similar apprehensions by critics, India continued to resolutely support to Iran. It continues to differ from known US position on a number of other issues, even today. Likewise, a number of other nations such as Sri Lanka, Singapore and Philippines continue to deal with China and the rest of the world ease and show no signs of having lost their strategic autonomy, despite similar agreements with the US.
Additionally, the fate of two other treaties in the pipeline, Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) is yet to be decided. In his press conference at Washington, Parrikar refused to commit about the two pending pacts. He reminded the American journalists that inking of the LEMOA itself has taken 12 years, and he would like to first put out its details in the public domain for discussion[vi]. This clearly indicates Government of India’s pragmatic case by case approach to each issue.
While a certain degree of uncertainty as to how this new step in Indo-US partnership will pan out remains, there are definite indicators that Indian policy makers have begun to display a balanced mix of prudence, pragmatism and boldness in charting the way she intends to do business with potential partners in the times to come. Therefore, this welcome departure from the traditionally inflexible approach to such partnerships needs to be viewed not as a drift from core values, but as an evolution in India’s strategic culture, very much in tune with the times as also in sync with her aspirations as a major player in the changing geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Indo Pacific. In the words of Colin S Gray, “change in strategic culture is gradual in nature and is most likely to occur in the forms of adjustments so long as the core values stay intact”[vii]. LEMOA is representative of one such adjustment.
[i] Is India heading toward alliance with US? , http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1003574.shtml
[iv] Carnes Lord in Longhurst:b: 2000:303
[v] Kerry Longhurst: b: 200
[vii] Gray in Longhurst:a:2000