India’s foreign policy under PM Narendra Modi has been dynamic and innovative. It has taken a break from usual ambivalent foreign policy that India adopted over the last 5 decades. Ever since independence India has followed the Nehruvian Doctrine of Non Alignment and Pacifism as the pillars of India’s foreign policy and world view. India’s traditional policy of Non Alignment which it adopted during the cold war meant equidistant relationship between the east and the west blocs lead by the Soviet Union and United States.
The Nehruvian doctrine on Non Alignment backed up with Panchsheel was dealt a deafening blow during the Indo-China war of 1962 when in face of adversity Prime Minister Nehru had to seek help of United States to save India’s North East falling into the hands of China. It was for the US military help and 7th fleet that was dispatched to Bay of Bengal which saved the day for India. The defeat of 1962 put Nehru’s non alignment and pacifist dreams in tatters forcing India to embrace the US & its allies against the Chinese threat from the East.
The events of 1962 and the bonhomie between India & US was short lived as fate intervened with President Kennedy getting assassinated in 1963 and later with the sudden death of Prime Minister Nehru. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri later signed defense agreement with the Soviet Union and the defense pact in 1971 between Indira Gandhi and Soviet Union further cemented India’s tilt away from non-alignment to Pro Soviet stance that become prominent after America & China’s open support to Pakistan in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war. Except for the brief period in 1962-63 the Indo-US Military engagement was next to negligible with mutual distrust and suspicion being dominant sentiment between the countries. The cold freeze between India & US finally broke in 1991 when India embarked away from Non Alignment after the breakup of Soviet Union.
Once the cold war got over, the thaw in Indo-US Relationship began with opening up of economy to US Corporations & a cautious embrace of United States in defense and military engagements given the lurking mistrust of Cold War era. The era of suspicion which once again got heightened after 1998 nuclear tests and sanctions, finally abated with Prime Minister Vajpayee declaring India & United States to be natural allies in a long walk from the times of Cold War during the visit of President Clinton. Events like 9/11 Terror attacks and rise of Sino-Pak Axis has further augmented the strategic convergence between 2 countries in military and defense field. India & US signed defense partnership in the year 2005 heralding a new era between the 2 countries following up with the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 that faced stiff opposition from various quarters in India.
With the coming of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in May 2014, India’s foreign policy has gone under dramatic change from being Non Aligned to Multi Aligned in the pursuit of its National Interests. The policy of Multi Alignment comprises dealing with all major powers of the world from US to Russia to China on basis of India’s strategic interests. One of the highlight’s of India’s foreign policy under Modi administration has been rapid improvements in relationship with US. From being simply natural allies under Vajpayee regime, India’s is now strategic partner of US in Asia-Pacific region as PM Modi stated in address to US Congress in June 2016.
In addition to Military exercises like Malabar with Japan & US, Nuclear Deal with Australia, India in January 2015 concluded a 10-year Defense Partnership agreement during President Obama’s visit to India. India & US in the Defense Agreement signed in January 2015 agreed on incorporating DTTI (Defense Technology and Trade Initiative) as part of B-lateral cooperation in Exchange of Technologies and arms. DTTI’s incorporation in the Bi-Lateral Defense agreement with US marked a new phase and stark departure from Previous UPA regime, which hedged on signing DTTI.
The Incorporation of DTTI and the US proposals to share technologies in Critical sector like Aircraft carriers, Jet Engines started the Ball rolling for future military co-operation between the two countries. United States has been prodding India to sign further three foundational military agreements like LSA, CISMOA and BECA as an enabler for transfer of critical technologies that India desires. On April 12th 2016, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited India to conclude these Foundational Agreement LEMOA the tweaked form of India specific military and logistics agreement. The terms of the agreement was finalized in PM Modi’s visit to US in June 2016 and was finally signed by Defense Ministers of two countries on 29th August 2016. There has been lot of skepticism over the nature of these foundational agreements, on what they mean in Practical Terms and their geo political impact.
LEMOA the first of the Agreement, which has India, has signed generally entails sharing of Military Logistics like Bases, refueling and providing facilities to armed forces, aircrafts and maritime vessels. The Purpose of this Agreement is stated to be better coordination between two militaries on the ground in theatre of War as well as Peace like Natural Disasters, Relief and Rescue efforts, Military training and exercises. However, unlike the other US Allies even India placed some concerns with US on hosting US Military bases in Indian Territory.
The Objection raised by the Indian side on US Military bases in India is valid in view of its Sovereign Autonomy. After Intense negotiations India has been able to get concessions from US on an India specific LEMOA, which addresses India’s concerns. Under the terms of the Agreement India will share its military facilities with US on reciprocal basis for refueling, relief, rescue and other logistical help. India has categorically stated that it that this agreement doesn’t mean that US Forces will be based on Indian bases. India has further stated that coordination with US under proposed LEMOA will be on Case-to-Case basis with India retaining right to refuse to be part of a military campaign against a friendly country.
It is worth mentioning that even Philippines in 2002 signed a similar agreement MLSA (Mutual Logistical support agreement) with US in 2007, whereby Philippines and US Military agreed to share logistics and coordinate military activities. The said agreement explicitly laid out terms of the activities covered in MLSA i.e. Supplies like Food, Oil, Water, Lubricants, ammunition etc. as agreed between the parties. The Agreement further included repair, maintenance, training, transport and medical services. However the Agreement specifically stated that “No United States military base, facility, or permanent structure shall be constructed, established, or allowed under this Agreement”.
The agreement of LEMOA which India has signed seems to be on same lines with India’s sovereignty not being diluted and that the storage units and other facilities shall always remain under the control and supervision of the host state. India has agreed to LEMOA given the extent of military co-operation between India & US has increased multi fold in the last decade from Anti-Piracy Efforts to Nepal Earthquake Rescue and the Military exercises with US. LEMOA also augments Indian navy reach across the world from Pacific to Indian Ocean region as it gets access to US Military bases and logistics across the globe. It will further strengthen better synchronisation between two militaries in humanitarian, rescue & relief efforts across the world.
The other agreements which the US wishes India to sign as a pre-cursor to Technology transfer is CISMOA (Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). These agreements are contentious in nature as CISMOA primarily will enable US & India share encrypted technologies on critical weapon systems with each other. CISMOA entails sharing of Encryption, Communications like Radio frequency which could make the Coordination between 2 militaries easier in war zone for calling for a military strike or missile defence system like Patriot which works on certain US Spectrum Frequency. CISMOA also means greater exchange of Command operations between 2 countries with Indian & US Commanders operating on each other facilities, technologies etc. India and specifically its air force have steadfastly objected to this agreement as India used various Encrypted technologies of Russians and even French on some of its weapon systems which it would like to share it with US. The objections of India on sharing its encrypted technologies of critical weapons systems seems valid and it remains to be seen how the two negotiate on these contentious issues.
The third of Foundational Agreement on table between India & US is BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). This agreements proposes to share geo spatial data or sharing numerical data on target locations as well as forces stationed in the area. It all talks of sharing GPS Co-ordinates between the two sides in theatres of War as well as rescue and relief missions like Nepal Earthquake in April 2015.
India’s objection to this agreement is that it already is on the verge of developing its own GPS System to have digital data of the subcontinent and that it may not need this agreement. Yet on the flip side this agreement could provide India US’s GPS facilities outside the sub-continent especially in Indian Ocean Region, South East Asia as the military coordination between the two sides increase. Hence like LEMOA, both CISMOA & BECA needs careful considerations and deliberation to iron out any clauses that could hamper India’s sovereign rights and its defence relationship with other world power.
The conclusion of LEMOA between India & US offers a totally new prospect of military and defence co-operation between two largest democracies on planet in Asia-Pacific region. The conclusion of LEMOA would send a larger geo political signal to India’s competitors in the Region especially China who is trying to create a Global Order oriented from Shanghai. China’s rise and its creeping takeover of Pakistan has added a totally a new dimension to the geo politics in the Region. China has recently even outpaced US in aiding and arming Pakistan with 49 bn $ CPEC (Economic Corridor), JF-17 Fighter Jets (with RD 93 engines provided by Russia), Submarines, Missile and Nuclear Technology. China also recently vetoed India’s attempt to get Pakistan based terrorist Masood Azhar banned for Pathankot attack. The creeping Chinese colonisation of Pakistan presents whole a set of challenge to India’s security doctrine with a prospect of a two front war in future. It is in this context that India need’s to prepare a comprehensive strategic doctrine to augment its military and economic strength which will require aid of countries like US, Japan and even its old friend Russia to contain the Chinese dragon.
China has cautiously reacted stating that military agreements between India & United States could hamper its relationship with other powers in the region. The apprehensions of LEMOA are over played in strategic sphere as it doesn’t affect India’s strategic autonomy when it comes to its old friend Russia where president Putin has made it categorically clear that Indo-US Military agreements have no effect on time tested relationship between 2 countries. Rather India is about to deepen its military and economic partnership with Russia and its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). India’s sovereign autonomy is totally safeguarded as it deals diverse actors in the region from Iran to Israel to Russia to China. It can thus be concluded that by signing LEMOA India has finally junked Non Alignment, a Nehruvian Era relic, and embarked on a bold policy of Multi Alignment keeping in mind its core strategic interests. India under Narendra Modi has come a long way in its relationship with United States from suspicion in cold war to natural allies and now strategic partners.