On Monday, India and the U.S. signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that will give the militaries of both countries access to each other’s facilities for supplies and repairs. The agreement has been a controversial one, and two previous governments – led by A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – did not sign it though it has been on the table since 2002.

Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains what the pact is and what it does to India-U.S. defence ties:

Is this a case of “overcoming the hesitations of history” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said about India-U.S relations? Or a natural progress in the course set with the civil nuclear deal?

It represents both: the nuclear deal was the epitome of overcoming the hesitations of history on both sides. The signing of the LEMOA is a small — actually quite trivial — example of the continuing transformation of the bilateral relationship.

Ashley J. Tellis
Ashley J. Tellis holds the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, specializing in international security and U.S. foreign and defense policy with a special focus on Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
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Does this put India and the U.S. on the path to becoming military allies?

No, it does not make India either a de jure or a de facto ally. All the LEMOA does is that it allows both countries to seamlessly pay for military goods, services, and supplies consumed during their exercises and other interactions. The decision to engage in any of these activities remains a sovereign decision of each government — nothing in the LEMOA changes that. So the issue of India becoming an ally of any sort does not arise.

No military bases, both countries say. What IS it then? Could you please give one or two scenarios in which LEMOA will come into play?

I am mystified by this obsession with bases. The U.S. has LEMOA agreements with over 100 countries but basing agreements — which are different — with only a fraction of those partners. Two examples of the LEMOA’s utility: A U.S. carrier battle group steams from the Persian Gulf to the western Pacific through the Straits of Malacca. Along the way, Indian Navy ships operating off Cochin are authorised by the GOI to conduct a previously unprogrammed passing exercise with the U.S. flotilla. During the exercise, the U.S. vessels offload fuel and supplies from their Indian counterparts. Instead of having to pay in cash for the victuals, India simply maintains a ledger balance for the transactions, which is cleared in one go at the end of the fiscal year. Similarly, an Indian naval vessel suffers a maintenance problem while visiting the U.S. for an exercise. The repairs are done at an American port. The LEMOA will permit the costs of the repairs to be defrayed against any comparable debts the U.S. may owe India for supplies and services received in other circumstances through a simple “balancing of the books” at the end of the fiscal year.

This interview was originally published by the Hindu.