A ‘much-needed message’ to India’s neighbours

‘India needs more support as it cannot stand against China on its own’

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:54 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2016 12:47 am IST - NEW DELHI:

The many strategic decisions agreed up on during US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit last week to India opens up not just new possibilities but also challenges, say experts. Many of them also see a message for India’s neighbourhood, especially China, in the decisions.

During Carter’s meetings in New Delhi both sides reached ‘in-principle’ understating to conclude the first of the three foundational agreements, Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA), which has been in the works for over a decade.

Former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash felt that it was a long delayed step and a much needed message India had to send to China. “India needs more support as it cannot stand against China on its own either militarily or economically. Some kind of message had to be sent. It doesn’t mean we are allying with the US,” he said.

On a similar note Dr. Richard M Rossow, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “I would certainly not characterize progress in our security relationship as ‘too fast’."

He stated that the US is not asking India to take specific actions. “I believe the visit, and resultant agreements to deepen U.S.-India defence cooperation, are signposts of progress in actualizing our shared security interests,” he said India's neighbours whose security interests are not aligned with India's own interests, may be sitting a bit more uneasily today.

Dr. Rossow also asserted that a stronger India, acting in her own security interests, is a very good thing for American interests.

The LEMOA, a modified logistics support agreement addressing Indian concerns entails the militaries of two nations to share facilities for refuelling, supplies and spares. The US has similar arrangements with over 80 countries.

Prof. Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution said the agreement will have very long-reaching consequences. “I favour the arrangement, but there will be new risks as well as new prospects,” he stated and questioned: “What if the US asked for help in facilitating its military engagement in Afghanistan? What if India were to tangle on a border with China or Pakistan (as happened before)?”

With the US getting ready for Presidential transition later this year, Prof. Cohen doubted if the US side thought through these implications. “We are looking for friends, the Indians are looking for assets and hard technology,” he said.

Political implications

The LEMOA was supposed to have been signed during Mr. Carter’s visit. However it did not materialise with the Indian side backing off in the last minute. To a question if there was a lack of political will on the part of the government, experts cautioned that decisiveness and pragmatism were necessary on India’s part.

The Modi government is probably moving faster than the present Indian capabilities can handle, said Dr WPS Sidhu, Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. “The US can be a very demanding ally and India has to be certain that it has the capacity to meet those demands. Otherwise the partnership will fray,” he noted.

He stressed that form should not proceed substance. “That is more important to consider than the concerns of neighbours or the UPA,” he added.

The draft of LEMOA has been agreed and both sides said they expect to sign it in a month’s time. Both sides also agreed to conclude a “white shipping” technical arrangement on commercial shipping traffic and commence Navy-to-Navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare in addition to launching a bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue.

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