Both sides talk up maritime security dialogue, to increase frequency
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st Aug 16
After a decade of arguing over words, commas and full stops, India and the United States have finally inked an agreement that will allow their militaries to replenish from each other’s logistic facilities, including bases.
This was signed on Monday on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s ongoing three-day visit to the United States, during his sixth meeting with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Washington has had to work hard to persuade New Delhi that the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which America has signed with tens of countries across the world, would not tie India into what it saw as America’s gung-ho military interventionism.
The document signed today is tailored to reassure India that it would not be dragged unwillingly into American military operations. An India-specific text and name --- the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) --- has provided New Delhi further reassurance.
To pre-empt any criticism of being overly pro-America, an elaborate defence ministry statement emphasizes: “The Agreement does not create any obligations on either Party (India or the US) to carry out any joint activity. It does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements.”
Describing LEMOA as “a facilitating agreement”, the ministry states that it “would be used exclusively during authorized port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.”
The MoD further explains, “Logistics support for any other cooperative efforts shall only be provided on a case-by-case basis through prior mutual consent of the Parties, consistent with their respective laws, regulations and policies.”
Having signed LEMOA, Parrikar will take his time over two other “foundational agreements” the Pentagon wants --- a Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) to allow release of secure radio equipment to India; and a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation (BECA), on digital mapping and survey.
Asked about CISMOA and BECA in his joint press conference with Carter, Parrikar retorted: “After 12-13 years we have managed to get the logistics agreement in place. You could see the mistrust. The logistics agreement was being mistaken for the setting up of bases. So let me get this logistics agreement in the public domain properly; explain to the people; then we will definitely go into the other aspects.”
Said Carter, echoing Parrikar on LEMOA: “That’s a very substantial enabler of our two countries to work together… It’s not a basing agreement of any kind but it does make the logistics of joint operations so much easier and so much more efficient.”
Over the last two years, Carter and Parrikar have built up an unlikely rapport --- the former a defence and security technocrat and academic; the latter a street-savvy politician, albeit with an Indian Institute of Technology degree.
Earlier in the day, they together visited the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial, where Parrikar paid homage to the 184 victims on the ground and on American Airlines Flight 77 that was steered into the famous building by hijackers.
Said Carter to the media: “I have already spent more time with Minister Parrikar than I have with any other defence counterpart anywhere in the world”.
Parrikar’s agenda during his three-day visit includes the US Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), the US Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the famous 480th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing near the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. He will interact with the US defence industry, and visit the Boeing rotorcraft facility in Philadelphia, where India’s Chinook helicopters are being assembled.
Carter talked up the convergence of Washington’s and New Delhi’s interests in the Indo-Pacific, in what he referred to as a “strategic handshake --- the US reaching west as part of President Obama’s rebalance to Asia; while India is reaching east as part of Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” policy, which will extend India’s reach further into the broader Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
Parrikar echoed Carter forthrightly, stating: “India and the United States have a shared interest in freedom of navigation and over-flight and uninterrupted commerce as part of a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific.”
New Delhi has moved purposefully on Washington’s designation of India as a “major defence partner” of the US. Carter revealed on Monday that the Indian government had sent Washington “a very lengthy, detailed and constructive paper” containing proposals for taking forward the major defence partnership decision.
Maritime security has emerged as a major area of convergence, since the inaugural maritime security dialogue in May, which discussed the implementation of the “Joint Strategic Vision” that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had agreed to in January 2015. Said Carter: “The inaugural Maritime Security Dialogue in May was such a success that we agreed to convene another before the end of this year.”
Even as Parrikar and Carter met in Washington, US Secretary of State, John Kerry; and Secretary for Commerce, Penny Pritzker, are in Delhi for the Strategic and Commercial dialogue.