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Indo-Sri Lanka Fishery Conflict: An Impediment to Development and Human Security

This article originally featured at the Pathfinder Foundation and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman & Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Director Centre for India -Sri Lanka Initiatives of the Pathfinder Foundation

Introduction: Fish do not respect boundaries but humans should!

India and Sri Lanka are two neighboring Indian Ocean states. A shallow and narrow strip of sea called the ‘Palk Bay’ and the ‘Gulf of Mannar’ separates the two countries. There is a clearly demarcated, mutually agreed upon and legally binding International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), separating the territorial waters of the two countries. There are binding commonalities in the form of linguistic, cultural, religious and vocational, between Tamil Nadu and the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Until the signing of IMBL agreements in 1974 and 1976, fishermen from coastal districts of both countries used this sea, mainly for traditional fishing. There was a harmonious coexistence between these communities for a long time. However, Tamil Nadu fishermen changed their fishing methods in the late 1970s and upgraded to steel hulled fishing vessels and engaged in bottom-trawling in order to boost production. Continuous bottom trawling on the Indian side of the IMBL resulted in depleting fish stocks therein. Gradually, these trawlers began to cross over to the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL. The newly introduced Indian trawlers were much bigger and more powerful than traditional craft, as they had to trawl and recover nets heavy with the catch. The fishermen of northern Sri Lanka found it extremely difficult to venture in to the sea during the days when Indian trawlers were poaching, as they feared damage to their boats and fishing gear, as well as safety for their lives.

During the time of the conflict, the Sri Lankan government was compelled to restrict fishing by local fishermen in the north and the east due to security concerns. However, the Indian trawlers continued to bottom trawl in Sri Lankan waters regardless, at times coming 2-3 nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast. This situation was effectively exploited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who used Indian trawlers to ferry their cadres, fuel, explosives; mainly from the southern Indian coast to northern, north-western and north-eastern coasts of Sri Lanka. However, the number of Indian trawlers operating in Sri Lankan waters was relatively less during this period, as they feared misidentification as LTTE agents by the Sri Lanka Navy. With the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and the gradual resettlement of displaced personnel, local fishermen wished to recommence their livelihood activities and what they encountered was a large hostile Tamil Nadu trawler fleet plundering their resources. With the fishery conflict gaining a new significance, both governments continued discussions at various levels to find an amicable long lasting solution. However, to-date, there has been no solution or even a common agreement of the issues affecting fishermen from both countries.

Legal Implications and Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (FAO, 2001):

Illegal fishing refers to activities: Conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, without the permission of that State, or in contravention of its laws and regulations;

Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities: Which have not been reported, or have been misreported, to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations; or

Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities: In areas or for fish stocks in relation to which there are no applicable conservation or management measures and where such fishing activities are conducted in a manner inconsistent with State responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.

From the above definition, it can be seen that Indian fishermen engage in IUU fishing in every aspect and they are clearly violating the UNCLOS, which permits only the right to innocent passage in another state’s territorial waters. According to Gunasekera (2016), “Article 19.2 (i) of the UNCLOS makes proviso for any ‘fishing activities’ by foreign vessels to be regarded as an act of prejudice towards peace, good order or security of the coastal state, thereby confirming that such passage is not innocent.” Further, Tamil Nadu fishermen do not declare the catch and location, and carry out their activities in contravention of state responsibility to conservation of living marine resources by engaging in destructive bottom trawling.

The United Nations Development Summit in September 2015, adopted UN Resolution 70/1, “Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The basis for this resolution was the understanding that global resources in the oceans should be carefully managed for a sustainable future, as the oceans are key in making the earth habitable for humankind. The main objective of Goal 14 of this agenda, ‘Life Below Water’ is to “conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (UN, 2015).
The spirit of this resolution is clearly applicable to the Indo-Sri Lanka fishery conflict. The UN has set a target year as 2020 to end IUU fishing. The UN resolution also talks about conservation and sustainable use of oceans as per international law as reflected in UNCLOS, and encouraging sustainable artisan fishing. India and Sri Lanka being member states of the UN committed to sustainable development and should abide by this resolution.

Sovereignty of Kachchativu Island

The two governments concluded two IMBL agreements with a view to maintaining cordial relations. They could be termed as landmark agreements, which came into force even before the UNCLOS. Tamil Nadu maintains that the island of Kachchativu was ‘ceded’ to Sri Lanka by the 1974 agreement without the consent of the state, for which it has sought legal remedy. However, the central government maintains that these two agreements are binding. As per Gunasekera (2016), “By virtue of the Agreement entered between the two countries in 1974 regarding the boundary in historic waters between the two countries and related issues, the delimitation process has taken place on grounds of fairness and equity more than the application of the principle of ‘equidistance’ though the final outcome justified the latter.” Hence, sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction of Kachchativu clearly falls under Sri Lanka. Based on historical facts, the Government of Sri Lanka has maintained that the island was administered by then Ceylon and has been under its jurisdiction even during the time of the Portuguese and later the British. There is evidence to suggest that Surveyor of the Government of India treated the island as part of then Ceylon, as far back as 1876 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka, 2008).

Tamil Nadu has consistently maintained that the main issue for this conflict is the ceding of this uninhabited island to Sri Lanka. However, the fact of the matter is that Kachchativu was never ‘ceded’ by India. Instead, India recognized that the island belonged to Sri Lanka. The island of Kachchativu is closer to the landmass of Sri Lanka by one nautical mile than that of India. Tamil Nadu politicians also accuse that the Sri Lankan Navy and Coast Guard harass Tamil Nadu fishermen, who accidentally drift across the IMBL closer to Kachchativu. However, the Indian Coast Guard, filing an affidavit in Chennai High Court, stated that the Indian fishermen are crossing IMBL into Sri Lankan waters for better fish catch as fishery resources are depleted on the Indian side of the IMBL. They also used banned methods of fishing and the Sri Lanka Navy does not cross the IMBL to the Indian side (Indian Coast Guard, 2015). No further argument is necessary, as this statement has come from the most authoritative source in India, which is tasked with the responsibility to guard the IMBL and Indian territorial waters. This affidavit also nullifies the claim often made by Indian fishermen that the Sri Lanka Navy is harassing them, when they are fishing in the Indian waters.

Whenever the Sri Lankan side detains fishermen and their boats engaged in poaching, Tamil Nadu political leaders blame New Delhi for ceding Kachchativu to Sri Lanka, as if that was the core of the dispute. Is Kachchativu Island the real issue in this conflict? Do fishermen from South India accidentally drift across the IMBL in to Sri Lankan side? Do they engage in illegal trawling only around Kachchativu?

The Tamil Nadu fishermen are experts in navigation and know their position well. Besides, most of these trawlers are now fitted with Global Positioning Systems (GPS). However, it has to be highlighted that Indian fishermen are not fishing only around Kachchativu island but come 2-3 nautical miles from the coastal city of Pesali in Mannar island, which is, in fact, 17.5 nautical miles from the IMBL and South West of the Delft island, which is about 11.5 nautical miles from the IMBL (Admiralty Chart, 1987). These two locations are long distances away from the IMBL and Kachchativu and deep inside Sri Lankan territorial waters. Therefore, it can be convincingly concluded that the issue of Kachchativu is only a cover to justify destructive fishing being carried out by Indian trawlers well within Sri Lankan territorial waters to sustain the multimillion-dollar prawn export industry. There are allegations of double standards adopted by the European Union on this clear case of IUU fishing. Although the EU has stated that it is ‘working to close the loopholes that allow illegal operators in the fisheries sector to profit from their activities,’ it has not taken any action to ban export of illegally caught prawns to its member states by India. However, the EU was quick to ban fish exports from Sri Lanka over allegations of IUU fishing though the ban is now removed (Wijedasa, 2015). Of late, northern fishermen have begun to fault the Sri Lanka government for not taking the matter with the EU forcefully.

Fishermen’s Livelihood Issue

Quite often the state of Tamil Nadu argues that their ‘poor fishermen’ are suffering due to enforcement measures undertaken by the Sri Lankan government. However, it is noteworthy that almost all persons, who are engaged in bottom trawling, are contracted employees. It is alleged that the trawlers are actually owned by large-scale businessmen, who are often close to the political elite of the state. Suryanarayan highlights this fact by saying “quick returns from prawns attracted many from non-fishing communities to invest in this profitable venture. As a result, numerous fishermen became daily wage labourers” (2016). A measure of this fact can also be seen from the increased number of trawlers in the three South Indian districts of the Palk Bay (Thanjavur, Pudukkottai and Rameshwaram), from 1568 in 1986 to 3339 in 2000 (Suryanarayan, 2016). All these trawlers engage in bottom trawling in Sri Lanka waters. Prawns have become a multimillion-dollar industry; mainly for exporting to the USA, Japan and Western Europe.

However, when the Sri Lankan authorities arrest a minute percentage of these trawlers for poaching in its territorial waters, and subject offenders to judicial processes, there are huge protests in Tamil Nadu and letters are written to the central government demanding intervention. In order to maintain goodwill between the two neighbors, the government of Sri Lanka releases offenders and their boats are handed over to the Indian Coast Guard at the IMBL at regular intervals. This procedure has become a routine occurrence and is not an effective deterrent at all as they return to engage in poaching no sooner they are released. Enforcement measures such as burning or blowing up captured fishing vessels as being practiced by Australia and Indonesia, are not implemented so as not to adversely affect bilateral relations with India when they capture vessels engaged in IUU fishing in their territorial waters. However, a step in the right direction is that due to severity of poaching, Sri Lanka has refused the demand made at the November negotiations in New Delhi for the release of hundreds of boats it has seized.

Traditional and Human Security Implications

During its heydays, LTTE employed Indian fishing trawlers either seized or hired, to transport war-fighting materials and their cadres, initially between the two coasts and at latter stages to carry out ship to shore transfers. Such activity posed a serious security threat, as the LTTE was able to engage in near-conventional battles using long range artillery and mortar pieces. The conflict ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE. Although there has not been a resurgence of the organization, there were several attempts by certain segments of the Tamil Diaspora to revive hostilities in Sri Lanka. Against such a backdrop, large number of Indian fishing trawlers coming very close to Sri Lankan coast on a regular basis could lead to serious security implications, should the LTTE decide to revive their violent organization. Further, frequent smuggling of narcotic drugs into Sri Lanka from South India are using Indian trawlers to carry out this illegal trade.

The northern Sri Lankan fishermen engage in most sustainable methods of fishing, employing traditional artisanal methods. They do not operate multi-day fishing vessels, unlike their southern counterparts. They use small boats and venture in to the ocean for short periods, usually not more than 24 hours.

However, large steel hulled Indian trawlers practice bottom trawling, which is considered as one of the most destructive methods of fishing. Bottom trawlers are called “hoovers of the ocean” and “bulldozers mowing down fish and other benthic species” (Suryanarayan, 2016). If this bulldozing of the Sri Lanka Ocean is continued, soon there will be hardly any fish to catch. Bottom trawling scrapes the sea bed, disturbs the marine environment, damages age old corals, affect the growth of planktons and finally affect the reef fish, prawns and other types on benthic marine species, which could result in ‘habitat degradation.’ The majority of the northern coastal population of Sri Lanka depends on fishing or fishery related industry. That is the only livelihood activity they have ever known. If that source of livelihood is destroyed, there will be huge economic, social and political consequences affecting human security.

Progress of High level and Fishermen level Discussions

Traditionally, the Indian side had made it a practice to demand that representatives of fishermen from the two countries should meet and discuss all issues relating to the dispute, to which Sri Lankan authorities seem to agree, despite the fact the issue required negotiation between the two governments and not between offenders and victims. Recently however, representatives of Sri Lankan fishermen have been firm against the systematic exploitation of fisheries resources by their Indian counterparts. During the most recent encounter in New Delhi on November 2, 2016, after a gap of nearly one and half years, Sri Lankan fishermen refused to agree to the demand made by their Tamil Nadu counterparts to fish in Sri Lankan waters for 83 days in a year for three consecutive years as a grace period before they switch into deep sea fishing as an alternative way out of the Indo-Lanka poaching issue (Sunday Times, November 13, 2016).

The Sri Lankan fishermen have been adamant that they would not agree to continuation of illegal poaching and bottom trawling in their waters and had insisted that Tamil Nadu fishermen should stop engaging in such activity forthwith. The Sri Lankan fishermen also demanded compensation for the losses incurred due to poaching and bottom trawling, prior to moving ahead of further talks (The Hindu, 2016). Further, they had pointed out that Tamil Nadu fishermen were engaged in IUU fishing, and threatened to take the matter up in international forums to bring pressure against the illegal activities practiced by them for decades. The stand taken by the Sri Lankan fishermen, who are the victims of IUU fishing, is genuine as it is their livelihood at stake. It is the responsibility of the Indian government to adopt measures to address the livelihood issue of its citizens and, allocate adequate resources help them in their transition from bottom trawling to deep-sea fishing.

Aftermath of the inconclusive fishermen’s talks, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and Aquatic Resources Development Minister met with Indian External Affairs Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, to discuss possible measures to find solutions to the fishery conflict (Lanka Business Online, 2016). This is the first time the two foreign ministers actively participated in fishery talks, which is a clear indication of the commitment of both governments to find a lasting solution. Whilst the details of the discussions are not published, it is reported that they agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries to meet every three months and a meeting between Ministers of Fisheries every six months. The first Ministerial Meeting was held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo.

Among the several issues to be taken up by the JWG are for “expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest,” which patently lacks a time bound commitment. Other tasks of the JWG would be to work out modalities for Standard Operating Procedures for handing over apprehended fishermen and ascertain possibilities of cooperation on joint patrolling (Lanka Business Online, 2016).

Conclusion and The Way Forward

Diplomatic initiatives, JWGs and fishermen to fishermen talks have not seen the desired results for the last several decades. There is no common understanding between the two sides, one driven by profits and greed, and the other by poverty and desolateness. Whilst the Sri Lanka side maintains that poaching and bottom trawling by Indian trawlers should not be permitted, the Indian side is demanding licensing, limiting the number of trawlers and days, thereby not harming their fishermen in Sri Lankan waters.

The law enforcement authorities on both sides of the IMBL are forced to restrain themselves due to political pressure wielded by Tamil Nadu business interests. The hostile attitude of Tamil Nadu towards Sri Lanka mainly rests around this dispute, which could result in adversely affecting the excellent bi-lateral relations between the two countries. The solution to the problem is not to permit Tamil Nadu business interests to profit from their illegal activities. Unless a firm position is taken by Sri Lanka with regard to violation of its territorial waters, engaging in illegal bottom trawling by way of stepped up arrests and non-return of fishing vessels may continue. It is clear that poaching in the Palk Bay area and the Gulf of Mannar would continue for some time, while the marine environment is systematically destroyed to a point of no return. However, the ongoing dispute should not result in physical harm to the Tamil Nadu fishermen, due to the failure of authorities concerned to address the dispute in a timely manner.

Both sides should accede that this is a livelihood issue affecting thousands of families on both sides of the divide. It has also to be recognized that taking care of livelihood issues of citizens is a responsibility of the respective governments, who should find solutions to issues affecting bilateral relations without resorting to prevarication. As Suriyanarayanan points out, there are some positive measures being undertaken by the state of Tamil Nadu. There is a planned buy-back arrangement of trawlers, provide alternative livelihood for fishermen engaged in trawling and to construct tuna long liners. Through incentives and persuasion, affected fishermen could be encouraged to switch over to deep sea fishing in the Indian EEZ and international waters or engage in other vocations. However, sincerity, effectiveness and timely implementation of these measures are yet to be ascertained (Suryanarayan, 2016).

Sri Lanka’s concern is whether the fragile marine ecosystem in the Palk Bay would survive until these measures are implemented effectively. There is a need for Sri Lanka to embark on scientific research on the subject area to ascertain the real damage caused by bottom trawling and the resultant impact on the fisheries in the Palk Bay in order to gather sufficient data from primary and secondary sources, make an assessment of the cost of annual losses due to poaching, and be ready to present a incontrovertible case to India. A research station in the island of Kachchativu manned by the National Aquatic Resources Research & Development Agency (NARA) personnel could be entrusted with this task. A joint mechanism for investigation of alleged offences and joint patrolling by both countries merits consideration. If all efforts fail in finding an amicable solution, the government of Sri Lanka should be ready to refer the dispute to the appropriate international authorities on the strength of UN resolution 70/1, Goal 14: ‘to conserve and sustainably use oceans and marine resources for sustainable development.’


References 

Admiralty Chart Number 1584- Trincomalee to Point Calimere (2010)
Indian Coast Guard (2015) Indian Fishermen Indulge in illegal acts in Lankan Waters. Available at: [LINK=http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-indian-fishermen-indulge-in-illegal-acts-in-lankan-waters-says-coast-guard-2081178.]http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-indian-fishermen-indulge-in-illegal-acts-in-lankan-waters-says-coast-guard-2081178.[/LINK] \[Accessed: 24th Sep 2016]
Lanka Business Online (2016). Indo-Sri Lanka have held ministerial level talks to find solutions to fishermen’s issues. 07 Nov 2016. Available at: [LINK=http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/india-sri-lanka-hold-ministerial-talks-on-fishermen/]http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/india-sri-lanka-hold-ministerial-talks-on-fishermen/[/LINK] \[Accessed: 9 Nov 2016]
Suryanarayan, V. (2016) The India Sri Lanka Fisheries Dispute: Creating a Win-Win in the Palk Bay. Available at: [LINK=http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/09/09/india-sri-lanka-fisheries-dispute-creating-win-win-in-palk-bay-pub-64538]http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/09/09/india-sri-lanka-fisheries-dispute-creating-win-win-in-palk-bay-pub-64538[/LINK] \[Accessed: 25th Sep 2016]
Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals to transform our world. UN Available at: [LINK=http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/]http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/[/LINK] \[Accessed: 24th Sep 2016]
The Hindu (2016). Indo-Sri Lanka Fishermen talks end in Stalemate, The Hindu, 02 Nov 2016. Available at: [LINK=http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indosri-lanka-fishermen-talks-end-in-stalemate/article9296510.ece]http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indosri-lanka-fishermen-talks-end-in-stalemate/article9296510.ece[/LINK] \[Accessed: 10th Nov 2016]
The Maritime Border Between Sri Lanka and India Stand Settled, (2008). Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka. Available at: [LINK=http://www.mfa.gov.lk/index.php/en/component/content/1396?task=view]http://www.mfa.gov.lk/index.php/en/component/content/1396?task=view[/LINK] \[Accessed:25th Sep 2016]
Saikia, J. and Stepanova, E. (2009) Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalization. SAGE publications, New Delhi
Wijedasa, N. (2015) Politics bedevils solution to Palk bay Poaching, Sunday Times, 20th Dec 2015, Available at: [LINK=http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151220/news/politics-bedevils-solution-to-palk-bay-poaching-176067.html]http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151220/news/politics-bedevils-solution-to-palk-bay-poaching-176067.html[/LINK] Accessed: 25th Sep 2016

Featured Image: Fishermen carry a box filled with fishes at a fishing harbor in the southern Indian city of Chennai. (Babu/Reuters)

Russia’s Maneuvering of Conflicts for Enhancing Military Exports

The Red Queen’s Navy

Written by Vidya Sagar Reddy, The Red Queen’s Navy will discuss the The Red Queeninfluence of emerging naval platforms and technologies in the geostrategic contours of the Indo-Pacific region. It identifies relevant historical precedents, forming the basis for various maritime development and security related projects in the region.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”– The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll.

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

Introduction

Contrary to Western assessments that Russia’s military intervention in Syria would only deepen the economic crisis it is already facing, Vladimir Putin is tactfully turning this situation into an advantage. He is betting on the enormous Russian military-industrial complex with the logic that increasing the cash flow into this sector would create jobs and enhance military exports, reviving the economy. He is not alone in this thought. Foreign military sales is one of the principal sectors of the U.S. national economy creating millions of jobs, supporting local industries, and promoting innovation.

Russia provided ideological and military support to Communist forces in Asia, influencing the outcome of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts during the Cold War. The fallout of these conflicts continues to overshadow emerging security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific. In this context, the Asia-Pacific region, which is grappling to respond to the rise of a regional hegemon, appears to be most promising for exporting Russian weapon systems.

Russian Arms Sales in the Asia-Pacific

It is hard to substantiate whether Russia is a direct stakeholder in the stability of the Asia-Pacific. Its principal support to China in the South China Sea dispute is more of a measure to obtain a reciprocal response from China in its own altercations in Europe and West Asia. The conflicts in Ukraine and Syria continue to interrupt Russia’s plans to establish a network of energy pipelines, which is a major source of revenue for the country. The deteriorated political relations with Ukraine also means a setback for Russia’s military exports since it is dependent on Ukraine-made engines and sensors.

Amid these tensions, Russia has swung to Asia-Pacific, concluding a string of strategic partnerships and securing export orders for its defense industry. China is set to buy 24 Russian Su-35 fighter jets and 36 S-400 air defense systems. India has also finalized a deal to buy the S-400 which only adds to the dominance of Russian military equipment in its arsenal. India and Russia are also discussing the exportation of jointly developed BrahMos cruise missiles to other countries such as Vietnam.

During the recent BRICS Summit in Goa, India finalized the $2 billion deal to lease a second nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN) from Russia. India is currently operating an Akula II class SSN, rechristened the INS Chakra, on lease since 2012 for a period of ten years. India will also be buying four improved Talwar class frigates from Russia for $3 billion. Two of these ships will be built in Russia and the other two in India with the former’s assistance. These four add to the six commissioned warships of the same class, all built in Russia.

The decision to let the initial two warships be built in Russia has come as a surprise since India has already built the next generation Shivalik-class frigates domestically and has approved the construction of seven follow-on Project 17A stealth frigates by Indian shipbuilders. India will also need to buy the required power plants for these new frigates independently from Ukraine as the latter refuses to export military equipment to Russia due to the ongoing conflict. The fact is that Russia has already semi-built these frigates in its shipyard, but is struggling to obtain the engines from Ukraine. The Indian-Russian deal will arrange for these engines to be supplied to Russia through a third party (India) and the finished platforms will be commissioned for the Indian Navy.

The cruise missile salvo launched from the Caspian Sea flotilla against the targets in Syria is not only a show of force for Russia but also a live demonstration for elevating the export potential of its missiles. Several international customers including a few countries in Southeast Asia have expressed interest in the Russian Klub cruise missiles. As Russia’s official arms exporter Rosoboronexport puts it, this interest in cruise missiles leads to more orders for Russian warships and submarines because these cruise missiles require transportation and command and control platforms for deployment. Vietnam is keen to acquire land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles given the ever increasing threats from China to its territorial integrity. It has already purchased six Kilo class submarines from Russia, which will be armed with the Klub.

Russian Navy ships fire cruise missiles into Syria nearly 1000nm away from the Caspian Sea. (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russia’s military equipment has a steady demand in the Asia-Pacific and other regions, partly due to the absence of issue linkages such as the human rights record the Western democracies would entangle their prospective buyers with. Russia is also generally insensitive to the security interests of its clients as evidenced by large deals with Vietnam, China, and India despite those nations’ concerns about one another.

Building on this demand and increasing its political leverage, Russia is even mulling reopening Soviet-era bases in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. For example, Russia is in discussions with Egypt, which is keen on allowing Russia to operate military bases in the country, thereby increasing the latter’s military footprint in the Mediterranean. There is speculation that Russia is also interested in renewing bases in Cuba and Vietnam. This will allow Russia to closely monitor both U.S. and Chinese naval activities, especially in the South China Sea.

Conclusion

Military might has always been a source of inspiration and pride for Russians, but military power does not automatically translate into economic well-being for the country. This is where Putin’s strategy comes into play, building on Russia’s vast military industrial apparatus for both international stature as well as the economic build up of the country. The Syrian conflict and the emerging security situation in the Asia-Pacific are being exploited for this purpose. The success of this economic strategy can only be awaited.

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a research assistant in the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Featured Image: Russian warships are seen during a naval parade rehearsal in the Crimean port of Sevastopol (Moscow Times) 

The US-India Logistics Agreement and its Implications for Asia’s Strategic Balance

The following article was originally featured by the Pacific Forum-CSIS’s PacNet series and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.           

By Abhijit Singh 

Recently, editorial columns in Indian newspapers have become a battleground for strategic commentators to debate the merits of India’s defense logistics pact with the United States. Despite a public declaration by the Indian government regarding the “non-military” nature of the Logistics Exchange Memoranda of Agreement (LEMOA), the pact hasn’t resonated favorably with a section of India’s strategic elite, who reject the idea of providing the US military with operational access to Indian facilities. New Delhi might have much to gain from the LEMOA, which could be critical in establishing a favorable balance of power in Asia.

The critics argue that the arrangement does not benefit India in the same way that it advantages the US military. As a leading Indian defense analyst put it, “the government seems to have been guided more by the fear of being accused of succumbing to pressure from Washington and less by an evaluation of whether this might benefit India’s military.” As a result, Indian defense ministry officials find themselves under pressure to explain why they believe an agreement with the US on military logistics is in India’s best interests.

New Delhi’s stock response has been that the pact is strictly “conditional,” and allows access to supplies and services to the military forces of both countries only when engaged in a specific set of predetermined activities. At a press conference in Washington after the signing of the agreement, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was at pains to explain that the agreement has nothing to do with the setting up of a military base. “It’s only about logistics support to each other’s fleet” he averred, “like supply of fuel, supply of many other things which are required for joint operations, humanitarian assistance and many other relief operations.”

And yet there is little denying that in today’s maritime environment, every ‘place’ that provides logistics support essentially performs the role of a peacetime military base, albeit in limited ways. This is because operational logistics is the life-blood of contemporary maritime missions. Any ocean-going navy that can secure logistical pit-stops can guarantee itself a wider operational footprint in distant littorals. In fact, leading maritime powers, including the United States, Russia and China, are reluctant to set up permanent bases in distant lands because what they aim to achieve in terms of strategic presence is made possible through low-level repair and replenishment ‘places.’  To be sure, with over 800 foreign military installations, the US still has a globe-girdling presence, but few of its existing overseas facilities are permanent military bases.

To better appreciate why foreign military bases do not enjoy the same appeal as in earlier times, one must study the history of their evolution. The permanent naval base was a product of 19th-century politics when Britain, the leading maritime power, set up a network of military bases around the world to sustain its global supremacy. In the latter half of the 20th century, Britain was replaced by the United States, which soon came to dominate the world’s economic and strategic landscape. The US system of military bases consisted of several thousand installations at hundreds of basing sites in over 100 countries. The logic of the military basing system was intimately related to the dynamics of conflict. A military base was seen as a forward deployment position to enforce a denial regime on the enemy. It was a useful way of keeping the pressure on adversaries, and it allowed the US military to dominate the international system and prevent the rise of another hegemon.

But the logic of overseas bases has eroded. The absence of a real war in the intervening years has seen the law of diminishing returns kick in vis-à-vis foreign military bases, and an attenuation of their animating rationale. After struggling with rising domestic opposition to its military presence in Asia, the United States has been looking for more pragmatic options.

Since prolonged military presence on a foreign land isn’t a practical solution to any of its strategic problems, the US has been prioritizing logistics pacts that involve continuing support of rotational troops but no permanent deployments. These are variants of the “Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreements” (ACSAs) – or logistical arrangements for military support, supplies, and services (food, fuel, transportation, ammunition, and equipment) – that the United States shares with many of its NATO partners. And yet, despite being avowedly in support of peacetime operations and regional humanitarian contingencies, these pacts have not changed the public perception that US military presence overseas advance America’s imperialist ambitions.

A case in point is the recent Extended Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila, which provides the US military access to five military bases in Philippines. Even though the agreement was signed in 2014, strong domestic opposition within Philippines from civil rights groups resulted in a legal stalemate at the country’s Supreme Court. In January this year, when the court finally ruled in the pact’s favor, its decision seemed motivated mainly by the China-factor – the increased threat posed by China in the Philippines’ near-seas.

While the defense pact has a limited objective – enabling US troops to rotate through the Philippines, ensuring a persistent but intermittent presence – the new military facilities in Philippines aren’t expected to be any less potent than the United States’ erstwhile permanent bases in the country. The infrastructure will facilitate a spectrum of peacetime missions in the South China Sea, including training and capacity building, area patrols, aerial surveys, and fleet exercises. It will also enable the Philippines to call upon the US for critical military assistance in the event of a crisis.

The United States isn’t the only country to depend on military logistics pacts to achieve broader strategic objectives. Increasingly, China is resorting to the same means. The PLA’s logistical base at Djibouti doesn’t just provide support for China’s anti-piracy missions, but also enables a round-the-year naval presence in the Indian Ocean. What is more, China’s recent commercial facilities in the Indian Ocean Region seem more in the nature of dual-use bases, which can quickly be upgraded to medium-grade military facilities in a crisis.

New Delhi must come to terms with the fact that LEMOA’s utility lies in facilitating greater US-India operational coordination in Asia. Notwithstanding Parrikar’s assurances to the contrary, closer maritime interaction between India and the US will increasingly involve operational access to each other’s bases for strategic purposes. Even if the necessary cooperation is cleared on a case-by-case basis and driven mainly by regional capacity building and HADR needs, the Indian Navy and the US Navy might find themselves acting increasingly in concert to achieve common strategic objectives in the regional commons.

This does not mean LEMOA promotes US geopolitical interests at India’s expense. If anything, the pact empowers the Indian Navy to expand its own operations in the Indo-Pacific region. It is an aspiration that the Navy professed to recently when it released a map for public viewing that showed Indian naval deployments over the past 12 months, spread across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region.

Given the fraught nature of security in the Asian commons, India has been looking for ways to emphasize a rules-based order in the region. To consolidate its status as a crucial security provider, the Indian Navy will need to act in close coordination with the US Navy, the leading maritime power in Indo-Pacific, to ensure a fair, open, and balanced regional security architecture.

Abhijit Singh (abhijit.singh27@gmail.com), a former Indian naval officer, is Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi. You can follow him on Twitter at @abhijit227.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with Indian Naval Officers as he tours Indian Naval Station Karwar as part of a visit to the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, April 11, 2016. Carter is visiting India to solidify the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.(Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)(Released)

Indo-U.S. Logistics Agreement LEMOA: An Assessment

The following article originally featured at the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with the author’s permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

On 29 August 2016, during the visit of the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Washington DC, India and the United States (U.S.) signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Essentially, LEMOA is only a ‘functional’ agreement ‘to account for’ the essential supplies and services that one country would provide (at its port or airport facility) to the visiting military force of the other – an arrangement that the U.S. has made with over a hundred countries worldwide. Nonetheless, the significant symbolic and strategic import of the agreement cannot be ignored. Also, while the proposal was initiated in 2002, it has fructified at a crucial time. Never before in recent history has Asia’s geopolitical and security environment been so tenuous; or the strategic interests of India and the U.S. so convergent. Understandably, therefore, the signing of LEMOA has grabbed much attention, and raised the multitude of questions and speculations. This essay attempts to clarify a few key issues, and appraise LEMOA in terms of its strategic implications.

In the past, India and the U.S. have transacted military logistics, but on an ad hoc basis and largely during combined exercises. LEMOA would change the nature of transactions. Hitherto, each transaction was considered as a separate case and on every occasion, paid for in cash by the side using the supplies or services. LEMOA would entail both sides maintaining a ledger for the transactions, such that much of the debit would be defrayed against the credit, and only the residual balance owing to whichever side would be paid for at the end of the fiscal year. Notably, as a standing agreement, LEMOA is indicative of the expectation on both sides that logistic transactions would increase in the coming years, and expand from combined exercises to coordinated operations.

However, the signing of LEMOA has led to a perception that India has side-stepped “its policy of not entering into a military agreement with any major.” Owing to its civilizational ethos, India’s foreign policy proscribes a ‘military alliance,’ but not a ‘military agreement.’ In the past, India has entered into a plethora of military agreements with major powers on various functional aspects, such as development of defense hardware, combined exercises, and sharing of operational information. Specifically with the U.S., in 2002, India entered into an agreement with the U.S. to provide naval escort to the U.S. high-value ships transiting the Malacca Straits. As another functional agreement, LEMOA represents no departure from India’s enduring policy.

Even under LEMOA, India would be able to exercise its strategic autonomy. The agreement would not restrict India’s strategic options since it is a ‘tier-two’ agreement. This implies that only if and when the Indian government agrees to a U.S. proposal to conduct a combined military exercise or operation (entailing a logistics exchange), will LEMOA come into play. For instance, since the India-U.S. Malabar naval exercise is a standing arrangement approved by the Indian government, LEMOA will apply on all occasions that such exercises are conducted. As another instance, if hypothetically, the U.S. seeks to undertake a coordinated military operation with India to flush out a terrorist group in a neighboring country, based on many factors, India may decide turn down the U.S. proposal, with no obligation to offer the U.S. forces access to Indian logistic facilities. Furthermore, as the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) Press Release specifically states, the agreement does not provide for setting up of a U.S. military base on Indian soil.

The above leads to a pertinent question: Does LEMOA give the right to the U.S. and Indian armed forces to use each others’ military bases? According to the Indian MoD Press Release, LEMOA pertains to reciprocal ‘access’ rights to military forces for logistic supplies and services comprising “food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare-parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services and port services.” Even at present, some of these supplies and services would be available only in the military base of the host country. In the coming years – given the existing trends – when a substantial proportion of Indian military hardware is of U.S. origin, the visiting military force may seek to replenish even ammunition, missiles, and torpedoes from the host country. LEMOA may then become analogous to the reciprocal use of military bases. 

The signing of LEMOA has led to apprehensions amongst a few analysts in India that the benefits of the agreement weigh heavily in favor of the U.S.. Such perception may not be true. The US possesses numerous globally-dispersed overseas military bases and access facilities. In an operational contingency, therefore, the U.S. would expect India to provide essential supplies and services to its military forces only if the contingency occurs in geographic proximity of the Indian sub-continent. Such logistics may also be required for an inter-theatre shift of U.S. forces in an emergency – such as the Persian Gulf crises of 1990, when C-141 transport planes transiting from the Philippines to the Gulf were refueled in Indian airfields – but such occasions would be rare. In contrast, India has no overseas military base, and yet its areas of interest are fast expanding much beyond its immediate neighborhood – notably, the Persian Gulf, southern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific – where its  ability to influence events is severely constrained by stretched logistic lines. Access to U.S. military bases in these areas, facilitated by LEMOA, would provide useful strategic alternatives to India.

In sum, therefore, while LEMOA may be a functional agreement meant to facilitate military operations and exercises, it would enhance the strategic options of the involved parties; and thus pose a credible strategic deterrence to actors – both state and non-state – that seek to undermine regional security and stability. However, to address the possibility of its negative perception in terms of India’s ‘policy polarization,’ New Delhi may consider entering into similar agreements with other  major  powers  with  whom  its  strategic  interests  converge.

Captain   Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD, is Executive   Director at National   Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and India’s Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar take a photo before their bilateral meeting at the Pentagon on Dec. 10, 2015. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)