WITH THE SIGNING of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), India and the US have further strengthened a military relationship that was already on a secure footing. There is plenty of speculation that with this agreement, India is now a de facto US ally and has ‘compromised’ its foreign policy independence.
Since independence, India has followed a strange trajectory in its relations with the world. Due to a series of historical accidents, India chose to align itself with the Soviet Union even as it professed non-alignment. But if the Government chose to look in one direction, Indians looked the other way: through the Cold War years, a steady stream of Indians moved to the US and established a prosperous community there. This divergence of sorts is now finally being bridged with India’s foreign policy now firmly anchored in favour of the democratic West. That is the sum of India’s rapprochement with the US since 1994.
In substance, however, the agreement’s importance is eminently practical. India is no longer a country of the 1970s. With tighter global integration has come a massive increase in the number of Indians in different parts of the world, living overseas for work and business—very often in hot spots across the globe. When things go wrong, as they often do in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, the Indian Government, with limited access to these places, is left scrambling to help its citizens. It is here that LEMOA kicks in—by permitting access to US bases from where India can launch its relief and rescue operations.
The fact that LEMOA took almost a decade to negotiate indicates the high premium that India puts on its policy independence. Unlike similar agreements that the US has inked with other friendly countries, the Indian version of LEMOA is tweaked to ensure that there are no military obligations on either side. If and when such exigencies arise, they are to be handled on a case-by-case basis. In any case, it is in India’s interest to align itself closely with the US. Not only will that help India modernise its armed forces, but also help keep China at bay. The latter is, of course, the most pressing geo-strategic challenge that India faces today. The agreement will not open the gates of doom, as many mistakenly believe.