U.S., India forge defense, counter-terror pacts

Defense | Agreements help strengthen the united front against a rising China
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 9/01/16, 09:24 am

The United States and India have signed a defense cooperation agreement many are calling a milestone in the strategic relationship between the two democracies.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar on Tuesday signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which provides for the reciprocal provision of logistical support and supplies such as food, water, fuel, medical services, and transportation.

A culmination of nearly 12 years of discussions, the agreement reflects a significant shift in attitude on the part of the government in New Delhi, which has historically prized its strategic autonomy.

“It shows that India is starting to shed the vestiges of mistrust that had built up during the Cold War years between the U.S. and India,” said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. “And it shows that [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, is personally committed to improving the relationship. It would have been unthinkable to imagine the previous Indian … government signing this agreement.”

Curtis and other Asia analysts agree the deepening security cooperation between the United States and India fits into the larger strategic “pivot” by the U.S. military to the Asia-Pacific region as a counter to China’s military resurgence in the area. The agreement will streamline logistics support to the U.S. Navy as it builds up its presence in the region.

“The U.S. Navy plans to deploy 60 percent of its surface ships in the Indo-Pacific in the near future,” said Pentagon analyst Charles Tiefer, writing in Forbes. “Instead of having to build facilities virtually from the ground up, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has the benefit of simple arrangements for the tremendous Indian facilities.”

India, which has experienced provocations by the Chinese on their shared border and echoes the U.S. strategic concern over a rising China, is entering similar security agreements with Japan and Australia to protect the Indian Ocean and the seas around Southeast Asia.

“It’s not a formal relationship,” Curtis told me. “But there’s certainly a lot of mutual interest and common interest in cooperating in order to maintain freedom of navigation, open trade [to] keep that rules-based international order that all four countries are seeking.”

Recent high-level agreements between the United States and India have not been limited to military cooperation. Also on Tuesday in New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj signed an agreement boosting counterterrorism cooperation. The agreement expands the sharing of intelligence on known or suspected extremists and terrorist threats.

Swaraj said she and Kerry had a “meeting of the minds” regarding cross-border extremism from militants based in Pakistan.

“We both agreed that nations must not maintain double standards, such as the categorization of good and bad terrorists, nor must they act as safe havens,” she said.

The logistics and counter-terror cooperation agreements are likely to be the first of several designed to continue improving the U.S.-India relationship. Future planned agreements will involve communications and information security, geospatial intelligence, technology sharing, and economic cooperation.

The two countries’ national security interests are increasingly converging, noted Curtis.

“As two democracies who are seeking to continue the rules-based order and to grow their economies and maintain the vibrancy of their democracies, the two countries have very similar interests and goals in the region,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Cochrane

Michael is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent. 

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