India To Sign Contentious Logistics Agreement Allowing US Access to Indian Military Bases

Wednesday, March 02,2016

NEW DELHI: The BJP leaders from Prime Minister downwards are unsparing in their criticism of the Congress. But paradoxically the NDA Government is following almost all the major policies of the UPA Government, including its economic policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation and its foreign policy of widening and deepening India’s ‘strategic partnership’ with the United States.

Recently some reports have appeared in the foreign press that the NDA is engaged in (unannounced) parleys with Washington on a military Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). If this agreement is finally reached, all the major Indian seaports and airports will come under the ‘absolute control’ of the Americans. What is intriguing is that the Modi Government has not contradicted these reports. This lends credence to the veracity of what has been reported.

(The Citizen Bureau adds: India and US are preparing to sign a the key military logistics agreement when top officials of both the US and India meet here next month, April. The three long pending contentious agreements that were resisted by the Left, as well as some sections of the BJP, when the Congress government was in power are expected to be inked when US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visits India.)

The proposal of an LSA is not new. It has been there for quite some time. For instance, a paper by Saroj Bishoyi titled Logistics Support Agreemen: A Closer Look at the Impact on Indo-US Strategic Relationshipand published in the Journal of Defence Studies (organ of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses) as far back as 2013, deals with the LSA in extenso. It says, inter alia, that:

“The crux of the defence cooperation is related to defence procurements, transfer of dual-use technologies, research and development, and India’s defence industrialisation. The two countries now talk about collaborating on multi-national operations and strengthening the ability of their armed forces to respond quickly to disaster situations by mitigating logistics shortfalls. The US even looks towards building a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to counter the emerging security threats and to develop procedures for facilitating cooperation infuture contingencies. However, such practical cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries and their ability to perform effectively get affected by the absence of proper logistics support arrangements. For removing such barriers and enabling practical cooperation, the US first proposed a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the India-specific version of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), at the sixth meeting of the India-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) in June 2004. The arrangement aimed at the exchange of logistics support, supplies, and services between the armed forces of the two countries on reciprocal basis.”

What is adumbrated is, in fact, an India-US military alliance. Jawaharlal Nehru never agreed to such an alliance. Even in the wake of the humiliating military defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, Nehru refused to go under a US ‘umbrella’ which was offered to him at that time and tenaciously stuck to his policy of non-alignment. He was critical of all military alliances like the NATO, MEDO, SEATO, ANZUS, etc. It may be recalled in this connexion that the Soviet Union entered into the Warsaw Pact with her Eastern European allies only as a response to the NATO which sought to encircle the Soviet Union.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at the beginning of his tenure as a politician as the Finance Minister in Narasimha Rao’s Cabinet, first scrapped the Nehru-Mahalanobis paradigm of development in which both public and private sectors would co-exist side by side but it is the public sector which would occupy the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy. Thirteen years down the line, as the Prime Minister of the UPA Government, he abandoned the policy of non-alignment and opted for the policy of ‘strategic partnership’ with the USA, although India had become far stronger militarily in the last fifty years.

The proposed LSA is, without doubt, a part of the US policy to contain China—its rising military strength and domineering stance which aims eventually to surpass the USA as a military power and emerge as the world hegemon. It is with the express objective of containing China that India has held several joint naval exercises with the US, Japan and Australia in recent times. Also without doubt, China’s hostility to India has been unrelenting in the past half-a-century. But that does not, per se, provide a rationale to India’s entering into a military alliance with the US which will compromise or abridge India’s sovereign rights and deny its right to make independent policy options in times of crisis. The LSA will also undoubtedly further antagonise Beijing. Clearly, the LSA or any such Indo-US alliance will be a one-way street: it will be used in the interest of the US. When US and Indian interests do not coincide, it is the US interests that will prevail and decide how the agreement is implemented.

India has been facing continual terrorist attacks, big and small, planned and carried out by Pakistan and its ISI behind the fig-leaf of ‘non-State actors’. This fact is quite well to known to the US. Still, Washington continues to keep military ‘parity’ between India and Pakistan. It continues to give financial aid and supply military hardware to Pakistan on the specious plea of helping Islamabad in the ‘global war on terrorism’, knowing full well that such help will be used against India.

In fact one of the articles that has appeared in the foreign press says that the US wants to rope in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well so that it has complete control over this part of Asia not only vis-à-vis China but also Russia, with which India has a long-standing relationship of mutual trust and cooperation. If signed, the LSA will enable the US to use Indian seaports and Army and Air Force airports for deployment and actual warfare. India’s growing proximity to the US is worrying Russia at a time when Washington is vigorously pursuing a policy of isolating Russia and imposing economic sanctions on it in the wake of the Ukraine dispute. This has driven Moscow closer to Beijing. It is a development that works against India’s overall strategic interests.

Two decisions taken by the Modi Government on assuming power in the field of defence were unexpected. One was to ‘scale down’ the size of the Mountain Strike Corps which the UPA Government had decided to raise specifically to meet the growing Chinese threat in the North-East and to operate in Tibet if needed. The excuse the NDA offered was the high cost of its raising—Rs 64,678 crores. Much work had already been completed by then. But halfway the project was all but abandoned. It was said the money needed would instead be spent on building aircraft carriers. How the strengthening of the Navy could be a substitute for what the Army desperately needed for land-fighting in the North-East was not explained.

The second unexpected decision was to go slow over the acquisition of 126 French Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). The Rafale was selected by the IAF from among six alternatives it had including one offered by the USA. The fleet strength of the IAF had been reduced to a mere 24 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 40 squadrons. The IAF desperately needed to phase out its old fighter aircraft to retain its air superiority over Pakistan and replenish its fleet strength. When the French Rafale was selected after extensive trials in preference to the US alternative, Washington was palpably unhappy.

It was said the high cost of the Rafale was delaying the completion of the acquisition process and negotiations were on with the French for a mutually acceptable price. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France in April last year, it was reported that for the present India would buy 36 Rafales in a fly-away condition in view of the ‘critical operational requirements’ of the Indian Air Force. Co-production of the aircraft in India with the HAL was being discussed, but the French were not prepared to guarantee the performance of the aircraft built by the HAL. On the Indian side there were those who questioned the selection of the Rafale in the first instance.

When President Francois Hollande visited India during the Republic Day celebrations this January, there were press reports that the Rafale deal had not figured at all during Hollande’s stay in India. Now the Rafale deal seems to be as good as dead because nothing has been heard either about the Rafale deal after this or about India seeking other sources for acquiring the required number of MMRCA the need for which is increasing by the moment.

The question of an India-US Logistics Support Agreement has re-surfaced at this time. If India is drawn into a comprehensive defence alliance with the US, with Washington having total and unconditional access to and control over our air and sea ports, it is quite likely that India will be asked to buy all its military hardware from the US or from close US allies like Israel.

(The Citizen Bureau adds: The Indian defence establishment has not been supportive of the deal earlier. This is reflected in an article written by now retired Major S.G.Vombatkere in 2010 where he said: “The LSA clearly envisages providing logistic bases for the US military. This needs careful thinking-through; it could be the thin end of a wedge commencing with providing facilities for docking or landing, victualling and re-fuelling for US military ships and aircraft, later expandable to ammunitioning that includes stockpiling US weapons protected by US military personnel stationed on Indian territory. The serious problem with this is, a US weapon stockpile is an attractive target for militants and terrorists, and a successful attack can well become reason for the US to multiply its military presence on Indian soil, even without this provision built into the LSA.”)