The military agreement signed with the US (LEMOA) has stolen all the thunder in two recent high-level interactions with the US. The spin seems to make the agreement the epitome of Indo-US ties because of its outsized political weight. The Americans had actually offered a palette of four military agreements. India had earlier signed the end-user verification agreement which is theoretically more intrusive. The real test of Indo-US strategic closeness will be the other two military agreements that have been opposed by the Indian military.
But the LEMOA, despite its strategic ordinariness, has created a climate of freshness in Indo-US ties. Its timing should give India considerable political capital when a new US President takes office. In India, US Secretary of State John Kerry uttered platitudes on terrorism that India likes to hear but Sushma Swaraj also evoked a phrase that is music to American ears — India’s willingness to be a net provider of security to the region. In other words, it means the Indian military will rise to the occasion in case of any trouble in the region. In the diplomatic world of give and take, US President Barack Obama has already assured US backing to India’s renewed quest for Nuclear Suppliers’ Group membership.
That is not all. Kerry’s surprise suggestion of an India-US-Afghanistan trilateral can bring New Delhi back into the Kabul game. It also suggests increasing American exasperation with Pakistan that has been reflected in the US holding back funds for F-16 fighter jets as well as $300 million in military aid. And in a reminder to the world that India should not be hyphenated with Pakistan, India stood up to its G-20 stature when Sushma Swaraj reminded the Americans about the pending transfer of $100 billion to developing countries to battle climate change. The agreement for joint Indo-US research in the Arctic may not turn many heads but this will be the arena for resource grab in the coming decades. Taken together — net provider of security, NSG, Afghanistan, climate change and the Arctic — signal India’s long-term vision on the world stage in the coming years.