Indo-US logistics deal focuses on ‘interoperability’
The Logistics Support Memorandum of Agreement (LSMOA), which was signed between the government and the US department of defence this week, needs to be viewed in a perspective. Those that will simply write off this event to be just another example of India getting amalgamated in the geostrategic paradigm of the US in the Asian continent will prove to be simplistic. The plan, on which both sides are working on, has a history.
It all began with a joint naval exercise, Malabar, that took place three times in three years preceding the nuclear weapon tests of 1998, when the US sanctioned India. The exercises re-emerged from 2002, and the buzzword is ‘interoperability.’ So what does this mean in strategic terms?
It means that in case of a crisis in the Indian Ocean, the two navies can be ‘interoperable’ in operational and tactical terms. Now that New Delhi has internalised a role, which the American strategic community first sold to create a public opinion in favour of their idea, thus smoothening the way of the two governments to create a joint role in what is now known as the Indo-Pacific.
On the side of the army and the air force, the same principle is followed. The two armies undertake Yudh Abhyas and the air forces’ Red Flag. The catch phrase and the plan remains the same – ‘interoperability.’
From that standpoint, the LSMOA is only a culminating point of a joint strategic vision that was honed during the nine rounds of dialogues that former Defence Minister late Jaswant Sigh had held in the wake of the 1998 explosions with then deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott. Stretched over a few years, much of the content of these conversations remained out of public domain.
But this really created a strategic argument for the George W Bush administration, which had begun its stint with the idea that India will be a major element in their radar picture – ostensibly as a counterweight to China. But all those plans got upended once 9/11 happened.
However, the fact that Pakistan’s design to again emerge as the ‘frontline’ state in the battle in Afghanistan was largely tempered by the Indian side’s ability to convince the Bush Administration that a repeat of the 1980s phenomenon will be disastrous.
Now with the LSMOA, the American embrace promises to be tighter; something that an influential section of the Indian elite vociferously uphold. However, there are two key elements to this MOA, which deserve special mention –the LSA when it is signed eventually will not give the US any basing rights; and India will not get tangled into any US operation against any country it considers ‘friendly’. So the question is: Is China a ‘friend’ of India?