Go Back Gates ! No to the Indo-US ‘Logistics Support Agreement’

On February 25, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is due for a visit to India, to ink in a ‘Logistics Support Agreement’ (LSA) between the two countries. It is yet another indicator that far from being on hold, the Indo-US ‘civilian’ Nuke Deal and all its attendant military deals are all well on track.

This LSA’s implications are more far-reaching and comprehensive than the port call by the USS Nimitz or the joint naval exercises. The US Ambassador has described the LSA as “aimed at improving interoperability between the militaries of the two countries,” while the External Affairs Minister, in Parliament, described it last year as “a facilitating framework for mutual logistical support when deploying defence resources in disaster relief operations or joint exercises and without commitment for assistance in situations of armed conflict.” In spite of these bland assurances, it is clear that there is more than meets the eye. The LSA is essentially a barter of goods and services between the Armed Forces of both countries, but it will effectively oblige the Indian Armed Forces to provide a range of services to the US Armed Forces. This will turn the Indian forces into mercenaries of sorts, and is also a backdoor method of enlisting India into a NATO-type alliance.

Interestingly, the LSA is actually nothing but a version of the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) (under a US statute that was formerly known as “NATO Mutual Support Act”). These ACSAs were intended to simplify exchanges of logistic support, supplies, and services between the United States and other NATO forces, though the law was subsequently amended to permit ACSAs with the governments of non-NATO countries. In India’s case, the ACSA is termed the ‘LSA’ on special request by the Indian Government which is eager to mask its true purpose. Under US law, such an Agreement is only possible with a non-NATO country if it (1) has a defence alliance with the United States; (2) permits the stationing of members of the US Armed Forces or the home porting of US naval vessels in such a country; (3) has agreed to pre-position US material in such a country; (4) serves as host country for US Armed Forces during exercises or permits other US military operations in such a country. Clearly the LSA, if signed, will imply that India has agreed to the above criteria and is therefore for all practical purposes tied to a ‘defence alliance’ with the USA.

The LSA was mooted first by the Vajpayee Government and during Bush’s visit in March 2006, the Joint Statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Bush indicated that it was underway. Under the LSA, India will be obligated to provide services such as refuelling and port facilities to US warships, bombers, aircraft etc. and even ‘billeting’ (accommodation to soldiers), food etc. In countries like the Philippines where a similar Agreement was signed in 2002, people have demanded that their Congress conduct an enquiry into the presence of US troops on Philippine soil, apprehending that the Agreement was being used as an excuse to allow the country to function as a US base in the region. Why would India be any different? While Pranab Mukherjee assured Parliament that the LSA contained no ‘commitment’ of assistance in ‘situations of armed conflict’, the LSA does not rule out such assistance. With such an Agreement in place India will certainly provide refuelling and other services to US warships and aircraft used to conduct war or maintain occupation of countries like Iraq or Iran. Also recall that recently, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has affirmed that the Indo-US Nuke Deal would be acceptable to the US only if it complied fully with the Hyde Act – thus giving the lie to Manmohan Singh’s assurances in Parliament that the Hyde Act is extraneous to the Deal! Pranab’s assurances on the LSA are surely as hollow and misleading as Manmohan’s on the Hyde Act.

The LSA actually fits into the US’ urgent needs for alternate logistical back-up in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the backdrop of the crisis in Pakistan and the reluctance of USA’s European NATO partners for deeper involvement in Afghanistan. Just a few months back, the Pentagon expressed its need for ‘back-up plans’ as the unrest in Pakistan begins to affect the flow of supplies to American troops fighting in Afghanistan. About 75 percent of the supplies to Afghanistan, including 40 percent of vehicle fuel supplies, either go through or over Pakistan; these supply lines are threatened by the unrest in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US also fears that hostilities with Iran may expose its supply lines to Iraq to the danger of attacks by Shiite militias backed by Iran. On more than one occasion in the recent past, the selfsame Robert Gates has rebuked the European NATO allies for not sharing enough of the burden in Afghanistan. A US LSA with India must be seen in the light of these urgent needs of the US military, and its strategic plans for alternative logistic supply lines for protecting oil supplies and pipelines and to counter the growing maritime might of China.

Along with the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture and the Indo-US Nuke Deal, the LSA is also a part of the web of ‘strategic’ relations with the US being spun by the Manmohan Government. It will irrevocably compromise India’s sovereignty and bind India to the humiliating and shameful status of an ally in the US’ many military aggressions and occupations. The US Defence Secretary must be greeted with nation-wide protest during his visit, and the UPA Government must hear the resounding ‘No’ to the move to sign the LSA.

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