Belated Invite — Bangalore

Blog-readers in Bangalore are invited to an event at the Lecture Hall, National Institute for Advanced Studies (Indian Institute of Science campus) at 4 PM tomorrow (Friday, Oct 9) hosted jointly by NIAS and the Takshashila Institute. The event will lead off with the JRD Tata Professor at NIAS, Dr. Chandrashekhar and Nitin Pai, heading Takshashila, having a conversation with me on my new book published by Oxford University Press — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’. It will be followed by an interactive session with the audience, which is expected to have many from the DPSUs and serving and retired military community. It should be an interesting session. Those among you in the Bangalore area, do please consider this a personal invite.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, society, South Asia | 2 Comments

Discussion — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, video

The panel discussion following the formal launch on Sep 24 of my new book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ published by Oxford University Press, involving former minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet and the only genuine intellectual in the Congress Party, Jairam Ramesh, ex-NSA Shivshankar Menon, Rear Admiral KR ‘Raja’Menon (Retd), former head of Net Assessment and Simulation in NSC and ACS (Ops), and Lt Gen SL Narasimhan, Commandant, Army War College, Mhow, is very revealing of where the problems lie. It is an interesting watch! The entire book launch event was videographed, is now uploaded to and accessible at:

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Great Power: a ‘bridge too far’ for India?

Think of it. India was there when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. It interacted with the Ancient Mesopotamian empires on the Tigris and the Euphrates. India was the mystery Alexander of Macedon set out to conquer. Indian spices and precious stones, finely woven cottons and silk, and peacocks, were the luxuries and the exotica craved by Imperial Rome in the age of the Caesers. Much of Southeast and offshore Asia had Hindu kingdoms, and absorbed Indic values and culture, even as Tibet, Central Asia, China, and Japan came under the thrall of Buddhism emanating from the subcontinent. The Ramayana lore so forms the cultural core of countries in this “Farther India” that the 800-year old Thai monarchy still has its historic capital of Ayuthhaya, an ancient form of Hinduism is still practised in Bali, Indonesia, and the adventures of the great Monkey King with mythical powers journeying to the “Western Kingdom” – India – remains the stuff of traditional stories dear to the people of China. So, India is and has always been a civilizational presence and cultural magnet. Alas, that is a far cry from being a great power in the modern age.

Except India, its civilizational imprint aside, has all the attributes of a great power. It has prime strategic location enabling domination of the Indian Ocean, supplanting the Atlantic Ocean as the most strategically important waterway. India’s peninsular landmass jutting out into the sea is, as many have noted, like the prow of an immense aircraft carrier, permitting Indian naval assets and land-based air forces to maintain a grip on the oceanic expanse and choke off adversary forces foraying into “the Indian lake” at the Malacca, Lumbok and Sunda Straits in the east and, in the west, the eastern ends of Hormuz and Suez, and prevent a land power such as China from accessing these proximal seas.

India has a burgeoning economy and the largest, most youthful workforce in the 18-35 age-group, promising the manpower to make India both a manufacturing powerhouse — the “workshop” to the world — and the richest, most extensive, consumer market. Further, the country has been a “brain bank” the world has long drawn on – an endless source of talented scientists, engineers and financial managers from institutions, such as IITs, IIMs, and IISC that are now global brands, helping India to emerge as a knowledge power (in information technology, pharmaceuticals, engineering research and development, and “frugal engineering”). India, moreover, is a stable if raucous democracy, and boasts of one of the largest, most apolitical, professional and “live fire”-blooded militaries anywhere. So, why isn’t India a great power yet?

India is bereft of national vision and self-confidence. It has the will to security but not the will to power. This is manifested in the absence of strategy, policies and plans to make India a great power. An over-bureaucratized and fragmented system of government unable to muster policy coherence and coordination hasn’t helped. The resulting incapacity to think and act big has led New Delhi to take the easy way out and emphasize soft power, when historically nations have become great by acquiring self-sufficiency in armaments and using military forces for strategic impact.

But the Indian Army, that during colonial times won an empire for the British and sustained a system of “distant defence,” with its ramparts extending seawards in the arc Simonstown-Hong Kong, and landwards from the Gulf, the Caspian Sea to the Central Asian khanates, has been reduced to border defence becoming in the process as stick-in-the-mud and passive-defensive minded as a strategically clueless government.

The irony is that an impoverished, resource-scarce, India of the 1950s, strode the international stage like a giant – leading the charge against colonialism, racism, and championing “general and complete disarmament”, assuming leadership of the Third World-qua-Nonaligned Movement, and emerging as the balancer between the super power blocs during Cold War. It was also the time Jawaharlal Nehru articulated an “Asian Monroe Doctrine” backed by Indian arms and, by way of classical realpolitik, seeded a nuclear weapons programme and a cutting edge aerospace industry that eventuated in the Marut HF-24, the first supersonic combat aircraft designed and produced outside of Europe and the US.

Just how far India has fallen off the great power map may be gauged by the fact that some 50 years after the Marut took to the skies the country is a conventional military dependency, relying on imported armaments and with its foreign policy hostage to the interests of the vendor states. And, far from imposing its will in Asia, New Delhi has become a pliant and pliable state, accommodating US interests (on nuclear non-proliferation, Iran, Afghanistan) one moment, adjusting to the demands of a belligerent China the next.

Far from earning great power status the old fashioned way by being disruptively proactive and, in Bismarck’s words, by “blood and steel”, the Indian government sees it as an entitlement, as recognition bestowed on the country by friendly big powers. Never mind that such position gained at the sufferance of other countries is reed-thin, as the recent move by a supposedly friendly US to join another friendly state Russia and China in opposing India’s entry into the UN security Council showed. The fact is India, albeit elephant-sized, remains a marginal power with a small footprint and, in real terms, commands little respect in the world. For such a recessive country, great power will always be “a bridge too far.”
Published on the OUPblog September 30th 2015 at

– See more at:

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Leave it to the Generals

How is it that, with the advent of the Narendra Modi government, there has been so little substantive change in India’s foreign and military policies? The short answer is that political leaders don’t decide either the direction or content of policies; it is the “permanent secretariat”, comprising senior civil servants, diplomats,and the military brass, that configures policies according to its bureaucratic lights. That’s because the elected political leaders have little interest in these areas and no clear ideas or, as in the case of Modi, believe in an “empowered” bureaucracy to conduct the business of state. Hence, the implementers of policy in the Indian system by default end up shaping policy and its contents. This is particularly conspicuous in the national security sphere.

Deciding which country (China or Pakistan, for instance) constitutes the main threat is a manifestly political decision, as is the sort of war the armed services should prepare to fight — “limited aims, short duration” conflicts or “total war for victory” — which, in turn, will determine whether it is a “war of manoeuvre” that will be prosecuted or “war of annihilation”. This will require the military only to orient itself to the designated threat and alight on the appropriate plans to achieve the politically desired strategic aim. But this policymaking role has been expropriated by the armed services. It is an arrangement that is now sought to be formalised. Surprisingly, there’s no fuss about it.

The committee of experts headed by former Home Secretary Dhirendra Singh, appointed to suggest amendments to the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013, submitted its report on July 23. It tried sneakily to legitimate the authority of the armed services to configure defence policy. The intention to remove the political leadership from the defence policy loop is stated upfront.

In the first paragraph of its lead chapter, the report asserts “that whereas primacy has to be accorded to policymakers in strategic planning… the balance of advantage needs to shift to the armed forces in the matter of the choice of the characteristics of defence systems and equipment based on user preference and tactical and operational doctrines”. It doesn’t explain why this should be so. Further, “strategic planning” is dismissed as a mere accounting of “domestic compulsions (including resource allocations) and international relations”, and the “political executive” is turfed out of the business of defining and grading threats and imposing the parameters of war by subsuming these seminal tasks under the rubric, curiously, of military “modernisation”.

“Modernisation”, the report claims, “is not merely induction of new types of equipment, but a mix of strategy and security perceptions and optimum use of hardware to achieve stated national objectives” before affirming plainly that “Services should lead the initiative for modernisation”. This is hugely muddled thinking, considering that the process of perceiving threats and alighting on strategy is based on national vision. With no vision document from the government to guide the defence forces and this entire policy field ceded by the political masters to the military as its professional domain, it is little wonder that the entire security policy realm has been reduced to making hardware choices.

In the event, the government is supposed to merely meet the military’s needs already decided by the armed services. The report advises against disaggregated buys of equipment as financial resources may allow, recommending instead the purchase of armaments as a “total package” for full theatre-level warfighting capability, whether or not the country can afford it. In this respect, the document mentions not China, the principal challenge but, implicitly, the perennial punching bag, Pakistan, a “threat” that justifies the most capital-intensive, least-likely-to-be-used fighting assets: the massive armoured and mechanised forces constituting a powerful bureaucratic vested interest.

Such “total” packaging of acquisitions may not dent the Pakistan army in war, but the wrong military emphasis is guaranteed to leave the country vulnerable to China, and financially sink India. After rejecting the lead chapter of the report, only such parts of it ought to be accepted as relate to improving the defence procurement process and system — an ongoing national disaster.
Published in the Indian Express, September 29, 2015; at

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N-“flashpoint” for 3rd party intervention

The nuclear “flashpoint” is the usual reason trotted out especially by Western thinktanks to gather willing Indian and Pakistani commentators and get the whole caboodle to endorse the official US, UK, or other view that to ward off a nuclear exchange, Western intervention is necessary. Most subcontinentals with variable knowledge of issues nuclear are easily roped in for the purpose because they crave invitations to such conclaves in the hope that these will lead to more such invitations and to short or long term attachments with the host and other participating institutions. Have never ever heard any of these South Asian invitees to do other than in various ways end up supporting the view that because Indians and Pakistanis cannot take care of the business of keeping themselves and their countries safe from rogues, hotheads, and similar variety of undesirables ostensibly populating the governments and the strategic forces commands in their home countries, or their inability generally to keep a cool head in crises, that well-meaning US government forays into peace-making and peace-keeping is in order. It is understandable why retired Pakistani generals and the like would stoke the idea of a pressure-cooker situation obtaining along the LOC — after all Islamabad has always sought such intervention as an antidote to certain annihilation in a nuclear exchange and, in any case, have desired international intervention in the Kashmir dispute. If the possibility of a Kashmir confrontation can get such attention, then damned if they don’t put light to that tinder. What isn’t clear is why Indian commentators seem so eager to buttress the case of an inherently unstable situation when, in reality, it is anything but, unless it is for aforementioned reasons.

As I have argued since 1987, in fact, the subcontinent has reached a meta-stable state in security relations, which cannot easily be disturbed. Unless the concerns of a really skewed exchange ratio — the extinction of Pakistan for a couple of Indian cities, notwithstanding, GHQ, Rawalpindi, is determined on national suicide. After all, the Pakistan Army has been nothing if not thoroughly professional particularly in gauging its own severe limitations and how far it can push India short of provoking it to deliver a fatal blow. This is the point I have made to Western and Pakistani audiences, and it is a telling one that has brooked little refutation. It is not a point welcomed, however, by thinktanks in America and Western Europe because it robs their governments of a line that accommodates a go-between/mediator role for the US, UK, et al, and the thintanks in question of a good part of their funding available to them by generating scenarios of prospective apocalypse that scares everybody to death. And, any promise to prevent it — including by such soirees — opens up the purse strings! In the event, herding a bunch of professional Indian seminar-ists with variable grip on deterrence reality, history, or even the national interest, is not difficult. They are relied upon to mouth stuff conforming to the laid down script. The still grander aim of such do’s is by slow degrees to build up a regional consensus to draw India fully into the nuclear nonproliferation treaty net. (This little disquisition is triggered by a newsreport of a conference on “limited nuclear war” hosted by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory with grants for this exercise sourced to the US National Nuclear Security Administration.)

Isn’t it time an Indian government with some strategic wits about it hosted an international conference about the nuclear touch-trigger situation now obtaining in Europe and the imminence of a US-Russian nuclear war which, by the way, is a far greater possibility than a nuclear conflagration in South Asia? So if the US and Russia are not going to blow themselves up, neither are India and Pakistan.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian Politics, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 6 Comments

Buying what with $3 billion?`

Narendra Modi is making it a habit of trying futilely to buy respect, soft attitude, or consideration — it isn’t clear what, by approving multi-billion dollar military hardware acquisitions either just before or, springing surprises, during his trips abroad as happened with his announcement in Paris of the purchase of some 2 squadrons or 36 Rafales. These countries will glad-hand Modi, and just as gladly take India’s money. With the US visit looming, the finalization of the $3 billion deal for two types of helicopters — 22 of the Apache for ground attack and 15 Chinooks for heavy lift was on the cards. With cabinet decision it’s settled.

Note that despite all the talk of ‘Make in India’ and indigenization, that as regards these government-to-government (G2G) deals that Washington in particular favours, there’s absolutely no question of any technology transfer. These are off-the-shelf buys where India forks out the money and the supplier state/Company pockets it. It may cut out the middlemen-commission agents and minimize the attendant corruption, true. But there’s also no offsets, no tech, no long term benefits, no nothing. And because it zeroes out the possibility of in-country production, the country is even more at the mercy of the supplier state for spares and servicing support, with the ever-present danger of the entire fleet or formation with such armaments and weapons platforms being grounded if policy differences grow between Delhi and the supplier state for any reason at all, as is bound to happen. In other words, there’s no guarantee that operations of these aircraft — Apaches and Chinooks as much as the Rafales, can be sustained at intense rates in, say, a conflict against Pakistan, where the interest of the US, for instance, would be in limiting and constraining the military force India can bring to bear. Obviously none of these factors have been scrutinized, and if pondered, given their due weightage.

Now, other supplier states, such as Russia, will ask for similar mode because along with money they also acquire political-diplomatic leverage in a neat package! Is this not known to GOI? Or does the govt believe that Modi’s charm will over-ride these aspects? Or, perhaps, Modi is convinced that buying goodwill with high-value arms transactions is the way for India to make a mark, get traction in foreign capitals, and advance the national interest. As history, however, shows such tactics/moves only reflect policy bankruptcy.

Worse, such G2G deals firm up the transactional bent of bilateral relations which many even in this govt have decried, because it fetches the country few benefits other than having impressive-on-paper orders of battle. This is one way to pushback full-scale indigenization and arms independence, empty the treasury, and obtain a hollow military capability. There are always repercussions.

Unfortunately for Modi, the Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington around the same time and the contrast couldn’t be starker. The Obama Admin is preparing an agreement to lay down rules of cyber warfare that originally contained many do’s but mostly don’ts that Beijing peremptorily rejected, because China is unwilling to accept a skewed arrangement benefitting the US. So the agreement will protect most of China’s interests, including its latitude to attack US economic facilities, etc. Xi too is pleading for lines of economic cooperation to be kept open, except he is also holding out a threat. Modi, on the other hand, goes thither as a supplicant asking for investment, FDI, without however preparing the ground in the country to receive it with administrative, labour and tax reforms foreign investors want. So, again, we’ll have pledges of investment amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars that eventuate in only a trickle and then of investment funds whose managers are bold enough to accept at face value the Indian PM’s promises. And oh, yes,we’ll get a televised eyeful of occasions where large gatherings of flag-waving, Modi-hurrahing NRIs shouting themselves hoarse let off patriotic steam, safely offshore!

This is not what many of us who early plonked for Modi as a hard nationalist and fervently desired his electoral success, hoped and, even less, expected. May be, we misread the man, that he is in fact just another ‘namoona’ from the Indian political mainstream, another version of Manmohan Singh — with no strategic vision, will, or many good ideas and a willing captive of the bureaucracy and the permanent establishment. What a disappointment!!

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Su-35 nudge?

Top guys in Israeli and Russian establishments such as Deputy NSA Maj Gen (ret) Amos Gilad and Ambassador Alexander Kadakin respectively are fond of saying where military supply and security cooperation is concerned that “the sky is the limit”! But the sky has a limit — restricted to the belt around the earth with oxygen — beyond which’s space. Which’s to say Moscow has reached its limit, and is starting to make things very sticky for India. One of the costs of relying on outside powers — any external supplier — for armaments, as I have been stressing over the years, is the country puts itself in a tourniquet that can be turned tight any time. Kremlin has already indicated with its sale of the Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan that it will not hesitate to push India into a hole. With the news that Su-35 fighter-bomber with AESA radar — that the Strategic Forces Command had sought as dedicated manned bomber element in the strategic triad, is now being offered Islamabad. It exposes Indian pigeons to the Paki cat.It may well be that this is a tactic to nudge New Delhi into choosing this aircraft as the MMRCA need that 36 Rafales cannot meet with full TOT and all the aircraft produced here to meet “Make in India” strictures. But the threat is real of the Russians substantively arming Pakistan with frontline armaments to make up for the loss of Indian sales. But lots more is at risk. To-date Russia has been the only country that has helped India out in its most sensitive projects — Arihant SSBNs, Agni missiles, etc. It is not the sort of assistance available in the market or that any other country will be willing to give for love or money. Assuming India will eventually reach the point of arms independence despite resistance from an imports-loving Indian military, then it is now in the transition stage when some hand-holding will still be required. However, an alienated Russia may imperil the larger strategic objective. The Modi government has to be very careful that in its desire to court the West it doesn’t take the wrong step.

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