LEMOA Primer

 

New Delhi and Washington have signed a pact that has undeniable implications for international relations. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is a modified version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). This is an agreement the U.S. has established with several countries it shares close military ties with. LEMOA has three foundational agreements, namely: Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). These agreements are meant to build a basic groundwork to promote logistical cooperation and information sharing between militaries across state boundaries. This cooperation is based on creating common standards and systems that can also guide the sales and transfers of high-end military technologies.

This agreement, signed by Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, has been the outcome of a four-day visit by Parrikar to the US. Although the text for the logistics agreement has not been disclosed, the functionalities of the pact have been quite widely speculated.

 

What does LEMOA do?

LEMOA, in conjunction with the foundational agreements, allows for each party to enjoy access to designated military facilities on either side, for purposes of refueling and restocking. Joint exercises and intelligence sharing are also features of the agreement. The pact primarily covers four areas—port calls, joint exercises, training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Other provisions are to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

There are also many concerns about whether LEMOA means there will be American troops on Indian soil. While these are valid and appropriate questions to ask—it must be known that the ambiguity surrounding this issue has been dismissed. “This is purely a logistical agreement. India can access the string of U.S. facilities across the globe for logistical support and the U.S., which operates in a big way in Asia-Pacific, will benefit from Indian facilities.

 

Regional impact

The regional implications of such a bold move can have a series of effects on India’s neighboring countries. Not only will such a move be considered a classic offensive-defensive tactic, it definitely heightens the security dilemma amongst Pakistan, China, Russia and even Afghanistan—in varying ways. Additionally, border disputes are a prime subject of contention amongst China, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Each country has a critical view of the other’s security advancements and agreements, such as LEMOA, and such developments can cause an increase in tensions across the region.

It is important to note that although this may be a US strategy of deterrence and strategic deployment, India too is unquestionably gaining logistical advantage. While the Obama administration’s long time goal of containing China seems to be furthered by this agreement, it is very interesting to note that unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US had to reconstruct everything from scratch—India is already well equipped with military facilities that could be used when needed. Moreover, along with the ambitious capacity to reign in the South China Sea and the greater Indian littoral, LEMOA would also allow the US and India to use each other's’ facilities against a common enemy—religious terrorism. Although the US does not have actual bases in India, it has the next best thing—a way to use India’s bases. And this is incredibly crucial in easing the process for American naval and air forces to refuel and resupply.

 

Who gains more?

It is a valid question to ask; who has more to gain from this agreement. To understand the logic behind why the US would indulge in such an agreement, some factors need to be looked at. The US does not have to build everything from scratch with India, and this convenience aligns well with the fact that US has a limited military budget. Moreover, since prolonged military presence on a foreign land is barely a practical solution to strategic dilemmas, the US is prioritizing logistical pacts such as LEMOA that feature support of rotational troops rather than permanent deployments. Rotational presence is a way to implement American military ambitions and interests where a permanent presence is neither politically viable or sustainable. Maintaining a degree of ambiguity surrounding its tactics, the US is still being able to achieve its strategic ambitions. “Smart pacts” such as these allow for the US to combat asymmetrical military challenges, blurring certain lines of conventional deterrence and strategic predictability.

India too, is on the receiving end here. India has been recognized as a Major Defense Partner, which comes with its own major perks such as bringing India into the Missile Technology Control Regime, amongst other things. It also expedites India’s regional ambitions. Namely, it gives India easier access to licenses for prime US technology. As Forbes comments, through LEMOA, US contractors are attaining (along with prior deals), a much better “launching pad” to sell A-grade armaments to India. Conversely, “India often requires a degree of coproduction domestically, so LEMOA and other much more important deals will help India grow as a gigantic weapons dealer itself, selling to the rest of the world”.

 

India’s new emerging role

While many have dubbed this agreement as a potential ‘war pact’, some have argued that this may be the first step towards India’s loss of strategic independence. It is true that this century and recent years have seen a divorce from Nehru’s non-alignment philosophy—President Modi seems to be very sure of his decisions. China may be breathing down India’s neck, up close and personal—but India is definitely dealing its cards carefully, one that may or may not be predictable for those watching.