On Monday, in what many would view as a mundane move, but one that is sure to have a lasting impact in the Pacific region, the United States and India signed an agreement that governs. among other things, the use of each other’s land, naval, and air bases for logistical operations such as repair and resupply. While the move will ease the process of joint operations between the two nations, some within the Indian government view it as a dangerous tilt toward eroding the nation’s sovereignty. Just as important, the agreement is almost certain to cause greater friction in relations with China and her increasing maritime-related aggressiveness.
In a joint news briefing with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter praised the agreement, officially named the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), stating that it will “Make the logistics of joint operations so much easier and so much more efficient.” The terms of the agreement will enable the U.S. and Indian navies greater flexibility in supporting one another in such things as real-world joint operations, naval exercises, and when either or both are taking part in humanitarian assistance operations. Since taking on the role of secretary of defense, Carter has made closer military ties with India a priority, even going so far as to establish an office dedicated to establishing and maintaining those ties.
Although the agreement is being praised on one hand, some in the Indian government are deriding the move as being detrimental to the nation’s military and political future. After having gained its independence from Britain, being in a constant state of alert against neighboring Pakistan, and fending off overtures from the Soviet Union (now Russia) and China, some view the agreement with the United States as trading one future master for another. Chief among concerns is that an unspoken term of the agreement could mean a commitment to allow U.S. troops on Indian bases (despite both Carter and Parrikar making it plain that this is in no way part of the agreement), or, on a larger scale, a one-sided military alliance with the United States that might force India into commitments that go against its own interests and that would erode its traditional autonomy.
By signing the agreement, which the Pentagon and Indian Ministry of Defense hope will be one of many, the administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has shown that it is willing to accept and endure criticism from within and external political and military protest, mainly from China.
For the United States military, the agreement is minimal in relation to other big-ticket items (Read: joint agreements in Eastern Europe to counter increased Russian aggression), but the long-term gain in checking China’s bold moves in the Pacific/Indian Ocean region is one that the Pentagon should not take for granted. As Beijing pushes its claims to more and more maritime territory in the region, increasing tensions and the chances of inadvertent or planned conflict, the “buffer” of a friendly naval or air base in the region could help cool a potentially explosive situation. It is almost a sure bet that China is not going to take kindly to the agreement, and it may actually push them to act on any plans they have for the Indian Ocean region.