Why Rafale is a big mistake

Why would India buy the Rafale combat aircraft rejected by every other interested country—Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Singapore, and even the cash-rich but not particularly discriminating Saudi Arabia and Morocco?

The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius’s one-point agenda when he visited New Delhi was to seal the deal for Rafale, a warplane apparently fitting IAF’s idea of a Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) in the service’s unique typology, which includes “light” and “heavy” fighter planes as well, used by no other air force in the world. Alas, the first whiff of corruption led the previous defence minister, A K Antony, to seize up and shut shop, stranding the deal at the price negotiation committee stage. It is this stoppage Fabius sought to unclog.

France’s desperation is understandable. Absent the India deal, the Rafale production line will close down, the future of its aerospace sector will dim, and the entire edifice of French industrial R&D sector based on small and medium-sized firms—a version of the enormously successful German “Mittelstand” model—engaged in producing cutting-edge technologies could unravel, and grease France’s slide to second-rate technology power-status.

More immediately, it will lead to a marked increase in the unit cost of the aircraft—reportedly of as much as $5-$10 million dollars to the French Air Force, compelling it to limit the number it inducts. With no international customers and France itself unable to afford the pricey Rafale, the French military aviation industry will be at a crossroads. So, for Paris a lot is at stake and in India the French have found an easy mark, a country willing to pay excessively for an aircraft the IAF can well do without.

Consider the monies at stake. Let’s take the example of Brazil, our BRICS partner. For 36 Rafales the acquisition cost, according to Brazilian media, was $8.2 billion plus an additional $4 billion for short-period maintenance contracts, amounting to nearly $340 million per aircraft in this package and roughly $209 million as the price tag for a single Rafale without maintenance support. Brazil insisted on transfer of technology (ToT) and was told it had to pay a whole lot extra for it, as also for the weapons for its Rafales. But the Brazilian air force had doubts about the quality of the AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar enabling the aircraft to switch quickly from air-to-air to air-to-ground mode in flight, and about the helmet-mounted heads-up-display. Too high a price and too many problems convinced the government of president Dilma Rousseff that the Rafale was not worth the trouble or the money and junked the deal, opting for the Swedish Gripen NG instead.

During the Congress party’s rule the Indian government did not blink at the prospective bill for the Rafale, which more than doubled from $10 billion in 2009 to some $22 billion today, and which figure realistically will exceed $30 billion, or $238 million per aircraft, at a minimum. But India, unbeknownst to most of us, is apparently a terribly rich country, with money to burn! Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, an apparently poorer state or at least one more careful with its money, is blanching at the $190 million price tag for each of the 60 Lockheed F-35Bs (vertical take-off, technologically more complex, variant of the air force model)—a full generation ahead of the Rafale—ordered for the first of the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers.

The prohibitive cost of the French aircraft supposedly made finance-cum-defence minister Arun Jaitley apprehensive. He did the right thing, as is rumoured, of revising the order downwards from 126 aircraft to 80 or so Rafales. The IAF headquarters pre-emptively acquiesced in the decision to save the deal. However, if this change was affected in the hope of proportionately reducing the cost, it will be belied. Because in contracts involving high-value combat aircraft, the size of the order does not much affect the unit price, the cost of spares and service support, and of ToT! This is evident from the rough estimates of the per aircraft cost to Brazil of $209 million for 36 Rafales compared with the $238 million for 126 of the same aircraft to India!

Because New Delhi has been inclined to make India a military “great power” on the basis of imported armaments—a policy that’s a boon to supplier states as it generates employment and new technologies in these countries, and sustains their defence industries, a confident French official told me with respect to another deal that “India will pay the price”. Considering the various negatives of the proposed deal and the long-term national interest Jaitley would do well to nix the Rafale transaction altogether.

The bureaucratic interest of the IAF prompts it to exaggerate wrong threats and talk of declining fighter assets. But it will not tell the defence minister about the logistics hell routinely faced by frontline squadrons in operations owing to the mindboggling diversity of combat aircraft in its inventory, a problem the Rafale acquisition will only exacerbate and, hence, about the urgent need to rationalise the force structure, ideally to Su-30s, the indigenous Tejas Mk-1 for short-range air defence, Tejas Mk-II as MMRCA, and the Su-50 PAK FA as fifth-generation fighter. Nor will the department of defence production officials disclose to Jaitley that the ToT provisions in arms contracts are a fraudulent farce because, while the foreign suppliers pocket billions of dollars, no core technologies, such as source codes (millions of lines of software) and flight control laws, are ever transferred. And that the local defence industry monopolised by defence public sector units (DPSUs) is incapable of absorbing and innovating even such technology as is, in fact, relayed to it because it only assembles aircraft from imported kits.

Terminating the Rafale deal will be disruptive but sending the message to the military, the DPSUs, the defence ministry bureaucracy, and foreign companies salivating for rich, one-sided, contracts that the Narendra Modi government is determined to make a new start and conduct defence business differently, is more important.

[Published in the New Indian Express on Friday, July 25, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Why-Rafale-is-a-Big-Mistake/2014/07/25/article2346825.ece

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | Tagged | 12 Comments

Vaidik Affairs

VP Vaidik is a media busy-body; an acquaintance as he frequents CPR’s annual get-togethers. He seeks to impress by listing the high political personages he says he often consults with. One has to take him at his word, or not. The present contretemps is around Vaidik’s meeting with Hafeez Sayeed, emir of the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and its social welfare arm, Jammat ud-Dawa (JuD), in Lahore.The Indian media has delved less on what this media gadfly was reprehensibly exploring with Sayeed — the possibility of India and Pakistan giving up control of their respective parts of Jammu & Kashmir to help an independent state of Kashmir to emerge, and more on who Vaidik’s patrons are — whether in the Congress Party and the ruling BJP, and whether he was meeting the LeT supremo at Modi government’s suggestion, how this meeting was facilitated, etc.

First things first, Vaidik does get around Lutyen’s Delhi. And, it appears he used his proximity to Baba Ramdev to get an audience with the PM, and so on. But whether this led to his being officially anointed an offline interlocuter to gauge Sayeed’s position and, by extension, that of his minders — supposedly the ISI, is less certain. The Govt has disavowed Vaidik and distanced itself completely from his carryings-on in Pakistan. The skeptics will say that this is par for the course in terms of plausible deniability once the garrulousness of the interlocuter intent on self-promotion skewed the utility of this exercise. That a govt hand seems unlikely is because the Modi regime has so far shown itself as nothing if not extremely cautious and a little too wedded to the status quo to risk tasking Vaidik — an unguided missile — to realize so important an aim as establishing contact with Sayeed. But there’s no doubt about Vaidik being helped by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the Pakistan govt in securing the meeting with Sayeed, who is under Pakistan Army protection.

So how’s it possible that without Delhi being aware of it, Vaidik is assisted by the Indian High Commission? There’s a simple explanation. Vaidik was in Pakistan to partake of one those talkathons for obtaining good India-Pakistan relations, a regular feature in non-war time along with Congress Party leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid, erstwhile Foreign Minister in the Manmohan Singh regime. Vaidik with his personal grandiose agenda of unifying the subcontinent must have asked Aiyar and Khurshid to help both in securing the Indian High Commission’s assistance and Islamabad’s consent to arranging a meeting with Sayeed. Why would the Indian envoys in Islamabad help in such an enterprise — absent formal instructions from South Block to this effect? Primarily because of Aiyar’s old IFS ties, and only secondarily because of Khurshid’s exalted rank as former Foreign Minister. Have personally experienced how Aiyar (and ex- Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh) were treated in Washington by the Indian Embassy — with embassy cars at their disposal, etc. when I was there along with them at an international conference at George Washington University two years back and I can vouch for how such a thing can happen. The IFS looks after its own very well. As to why Aiyar would go the extra mile in putting in a word with the Indian Ambassador, TCA Raghavan, and the Pakistan government (who perceive Aiyar as among Pakistan’s best friends in India) on Vaidik’s behalf — I would speculate because of two reasons: (1) Aiyar and Khurshid may have reasoned that Vaidik’s consultations with Sayeed — considered a major sticking point in relations by New Delhi, couldn’t but help no matter what transpired between them because Vaidik’s grand notions resonated with Aiyar’s own belief in restoring warmth to relations with Pakistan, and (2) that if the incident blew up — as it conveniently has — it would embarrass the BJP government riding high in the wake of its successful gambit of inviting Nawaz Sharif to Modi’s investiture.

With the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj asking for a full report from the country’s emissary in Islamabad, Raghavan may have some explaining to do, and could be in trouble, if it turns out he went out of his way to accommodate his ex-IFS senior, without informing Delhi.

The most reprehensible aspect in this entire episode is, of course, Vaidik’s madcap proposal for an independent Kashmir comprising Indian J&K plus Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This grand scheme must have intrigued Sayeed (and his ISI and Pakistan govt minders) who must have wanted to see how much traction this nonsense actually had in Delhi, played him along, with Sayeed becoming so bold as to suggest that Vaidik not only arrange a trip for him to India but also a public meeting where he’d hold forth, which Vaidik, in turn, promised he could manage even without a passport necessary for his travel to this side of the border!

So Vaidik was refloating Maharaja Hari Singh’s concept from 1947 of an independent Kashmir as “the Switzerland of Asia” and buffer between India and Pakistan. Whatever prompted him to propagate this view to Sayeed, for Pakistan, it may seem a better option than India having the Srinagar Valley and two-thirds of that erstwhile Princely state. It is another matter that Vaidik, in his excitement about midwifing a reordered South Asia, didn’t see the harm it would do to India’s national security interests. It is bad enough that Pakistan controls not just the Baltistan border with China and has allowed large numbers of Chinese PLA troops (as road construction workers) into this area, but also the strategic Wakhan Corridor with Afghanistan. An independent Kashmir would be a plaything of the great powers — the US, China and Russia, and a source of unending political and military mischief directed at India.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, society, South Asia, Terrorism, US. | Leave a comment

Muslim clergy — damn the IS with fatwas!

As mentioned in my “Deflecting the hot wind” post, the Islamic State (or Islamic State of Syria and Iraq) seeks to quell opposition to what it considers its uninterruptible march towards a “caliphate” by inducing sheer dread and fear by publicly disseminating through mobile phone videos of its grisly and barbarous actions. Just happened to see one such gory, stomach-churning, incident on a cell phone. It showed an Iraqi youngster disabled by a shot to his legs lying looking up at his tormentors with eyes wide open and filled with terror. And the next moment, a man with a knife puts it to the prone man’s windpipe and begins sawing away at it even as the man’s alive. The blood gushes out in a torrent, and the eyes finally dim in a slow fearfully painful death. Not satisfied this killer with others now aiding him tries to cut through the spinal cord and wrench the wretched man’s head from the body and twist it around 360 degrees and the cord still holds. It is mesmeric stuff so devastating as to dull the senses. All the while the air is rent with cries emanating from the torturers — “Allahu Akbar” as if they are engaged in the ritual sacrificing of goat, sheep, or heifer. I have a strong stomach, but this was something else, felt as I have never experienced before, the pangs of a dry retch.

There cannot be any possibility of “talking sense” or dialogueing and negotiating with such murderous riffraff. The only language they apparently understand is the way of swift dispatch. God forbid, if any Indian Muslims partake of such actions or try and import these harsh methods into South Asia and India. It is time for Indian Muslim clergy — who pronounce fatwas without much provocation to stand up, damn the actions of the IS as un-Islamic and haram, and for organizations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and others of its ilk to forbid Indian Muslims to in any way be associated with this outfit or be drawn towards the IS ideology, and ensure this by their outreach activities. Already an Indian or two have been sighted with these blackly-accoutred yahoos in Iraq. Indian intelligence and police have a bigger prospective internal security problem on their hands than they think.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, guerilla warfare, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia, Terrorism, West Asia | 4 Comments

Banning nuclear weapons: A hollow exercise — Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Round Table

Nearly 300 years ago, in his Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift satirized the intellectuals, scientists, technicians, and tinkerers of his era, along with their obscure, esoteric interests. At the fantastical Academy of Lagado, Swift’s Gulliver discovered a place where eminences sought to distill sunbeams from cucumbers, to breed lambs that would produce no wool, and to sow the land with chaff rather than grain. Gulliver also found an architect who endeavored to build houses “beginning at the roof, and working downward to the foundation.” The architect’s endeavor bears real similarities to today’s efforts by non-nuclear weapon states to establish a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

All six of the leading nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and India—rank among the world’s top 10 in gross domestic product. Together, these nations account for about 45 percent of global economic activity. Is one to believe that the world’s six most muscular states, from an economic and military perspective—nations that command the direst kind of coercive power—would be troubled if countries without much global clout entered into a treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal? Especially when North Korea and Pakistan—the most unpredictable, socially fragile, and politically unstable of the nuclear-armed nations—provide compelling reasons for the six to retain, augment, and modernize their nuclear forces?

In an age rife with uncertainty, disarmament initiatives tend to make little impression. The Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in Mexico in February, was but a blip in the news. The Marshall Islands’ lawsuit against nuclear-armed nations at the International Court of Justice seems a mere curiosity, something of interest only to experts in disarmament and nonproliferation. Any treaty banning nuclear weapons would be similarly ignored. It would run against the grain of the international system—a system based on power politics, one in which economic heft and military might indeed make right.

Moreover, many nations that might favor a treaty banning nuclear weapons, including Scandinavian countries and some of East and Southeast Asia’s “dragons,” rely for their overarching security on the very US nuclear deterrent that a treaty would seek to eliminate. These nations therefore enjoy little credibility when it comes to establishing a treaty—but at the same time, if these prosperous countries were excluded from a treaty initiative, the initiative would matter even less than it already does.

Threats of economic and technological sanctions, not moral arguments, induce nations to accept nonproliferation and disarmament norms. Therefore it is the most powerful nations—the countries recognized as nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—that have primarily enforced the treaty’s strictures. Iran has been forced to compromise on its nuclear program, to stop short of the weapons threshold, because powerful countries such as the United States have implemented sanctions and exercised levers available under the global nonproliferation regime. (It is also pertinent that Iran, unlike Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, wants to be part of the international mainstream.)

If a treaty were established that banned nuclear weapons, what could compel the compliance of the nuclear-armed nations? Only moral suasion. This may have counted for something in the early years of the Cold War, as when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru cleverly used the disarmament issue to put the superpowers on the moral defensive and as political cover for his “Janus-faced” nuclear ambitions. But moral arguments don’t matter much today. Thus we see Japan, long at the forefront of disarmament, reinterpreting its “peace constitution” so its military can play an expanded role. Depending on Tokyo’s strategic calculus and the actions of rival China, Japan may even decide to acquire nuclear weapons. So nations’ strategic calculations are shaped to only a limited extent by notions of the universal good.

A better idea. The foundation for achieving “global zero” will be laid, and the pillars for structured disarmament will be erected, only when the United States and Russia, under an internationally verifiable regime, cull nuclear weapons from their inventories at a much faster rate than they do now. But there is something else that nuclear-armed nations can do right now to inch closer to the starting line of disarmament: establish a convention, as advocated by India, barring the first use of nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states would lose nothing by agreeing to such a convention—they already claim to be rational and reasonable and either disavow first use of nuclear weapons entirely or disavow it outside of extreme contingencies.

Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine contains no provision against first use of nuclear weapons. And North Korea, though it has enacted a law containing language that approximates a no-first-use policy, engages in behavior and rhetoric that tend to undercut any no-first-use assurance. But even nations that espouse a first-use philosophy in order to frighten countries supposedly threatening their existence could be expected to sign a no-first-use convention—as long as the six primary nuclear powers got on board first.

Establishing such a convention would help build confidence in the viability of efforts to achieve complete disarmament. Then again, the history of armaments suggests that nations will rid themselves of nuclear weapons only when more lethal armaments are available to replace them. In the meantime, though, a treaty banning nuclear weapons would amount to empty symbolism—a hollow exercise performed by lesser states that seek, perhaps, to even the world’s strategic playing field. It would be a prick to the conscience—little more.
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Published as part of the Round Table on ‘Ban the Bomb?’ by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 10, 2014: accessible at http://thebulletin.org/ban-bomb7303 . Readers of this blog may wish to participate, react to this and other solicited contributions to the Round Table at http://www.thebulletin.org

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, disarmament, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian military, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | Leave a comment

Few more $ for defence but will it be spent wisely?

The first budget of the Modi Govt has been greeted with a chorus of “more of the same”. The military’s hope that aweing the PM and Arun Jaitley, finance minister-cum-defence minister, with ear-splitting shows of deck-level fly-by’s of MiG-29Ks on the carrier, Vikramaditya, and the like would fetch the armed forces much enhanced budgetary allocations last seen in the first years of the Rajiv Gandhi term, has been belied. The defence spend of Rs 2.29 lakh crores, a 12% increase (of inflation + a nominal spike) over the previous year’s allocation — is a normal annual occurrence. An additional Rs 5,000 crore has been earmarked for defence capital expenditure, enabling it to touch Rs 94,588 crores. But this will still require the Govt to make hard choices about what military acquisition deals to approve.

Hopefully, it will adopt a forward-looking metric to make its judgement. In line with the dawning recognition that Pakistan is a minor threat compared to China, any plains warfare-related programme should automatically be de-rated, including funding of mobile, tank-chassis-mounted, longrange artillery and, in the case of IAF, the Rafale MMRCA — an aircraft requirement entirely extraneous to the actual need of the country at this or any other time. This last should begin the rationalization of the force structure that presently boasts of 27 types of aircraft in the inventory and a perpetual logistics nightmare in operations.

Sensitivity to national security translates into pell-mell funding of whatever programmes the armed services pitch for. This needs desperately to change. Wise acquisition choices will necessitate the Modi regime to show guts and say NO to the military, which few govts have had the gumption to do.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Weapons | 5 Comments

Deflecting the Hot Wind

Hundred years ago, John Buchan wrote a thriller featuring the secret agent, Richard Hannay. Tasked with stopping the Germans from using a charismatic mahdi—the “Greenmantle’’ (also the title of the book) to stir up religious fervour, anti-colonial sentiments, and revolts against the British in the Middle East and India, he is warned that “there is a hot wind blowing from the east and the dry grasses await the spark”.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, shortened to Islamic State (IS) by its own revised nomenclature—the toxic armed force of disgruntled Sunni Iraqis and Syrians, and murderous hotheads spawned by the al-Qaeda (introduced originally into Iraq by, who else, the US)—are closing in on Baghdad. It is generating the hot wind India will have to brave, but apparently not alone. IS’s global jihad is to be unleashed ambitiously in all countries “in the east and the west”, including India, China, Iran and, deliciously ironical this, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates—the financiers of radical Islamism and, of course, the US and Europe. “The earth is Allah’s,” declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the megalomaniacal “caliph” heading IS in his Ramzan message. “If you hold to (this belief), you will…own the world.”

IS does not represent a run-of-the-mill Islamic militancy. Its purposeful publicising of beheadings and massacres is to instil dread; mindless cruelty is its calling card. How completely it is eradicated will determine the sort of heat India and other countries will face. The IS ideology cannot be allowed to creep into India and infect an already paranoid Indian Muslim community. It will require a ramping up of the surveillance effort by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the intelligence cells in the provincial police organisations, and more intrusive monitoring of the activity of Sunni trusts and of money flows into them from Arab sources. And the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has to vastly expand its intelligence collection effort and capacity for pre-emption operations in West Asia, which will require a larger cadre of Arabic-speaking staffers than presently exists.

However, it is precisely the alienating of just about every country and regime in sight that offers the means for the eradication of IS. It will necessitate a comprehensively coordinated regional and international effort to constrict the space IS operates in, and to mount a multi-directional war of all against the IS to eliminate it. India can take the lead by calling for meetings of foreign ministers and intelligence chiefs of the targeted countries to hammer out a definite strategy to destroy this uber-militant group.

Until now the problem was limited to the IS battling the ineffectual Nour al-Maliki government in Iraq, on the one hand, and the Bashar al-Assad dispensation dominated by Alawis, a syncretist Islamic sect denounced as heretical since the 11th Century in Syria, on the other. With Shia interests under siege, Iran quickly dispatched elements of its Pas Daran (Revolutionary Guards), the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and war material to Damascus to counter Riyadh and Qatar fuelling the Sunni revolt. And, just like that the oldest rift within Islam sprang full blown into renewed sectarian strife for supremacy in the Islamic world, which has morphed into a global jihad.

The US has compounded the mess with its confused approach. It first disrupted a stable order in West Asia by violently displacing Saddam Hussein, and then owing to fatigue, mounting casualties as an occupation force, and mounting bills, pulled out. Faced with an unravelling Iraq, Washington is now dithering between doing too much and doing too little and has ended up acting schizophrenically. It has deployed Special Forces units in Iraq and decided to channel $500 million worth of arms to the Syrian rebels linked to the IS. But separating the situations in Syria and Iraq seems stupid considering the IS supremo is equally antagonistic towards the US, Syria and Iran. Meanwhile, Russia has stepped into the breach with transfers of combat aircraft and heavy armaments to the al-Maliki regime that Washington denied it. Separately, Washington is thinking of concerting with Tehran to disable the IS short of a drag-out Battle for West Asia, which must be giving the Sauds sleepless nights. But the US and Iran getting together will complement India’s initiative, were the Modi government to take it, for collectively countering the caliphate-seekers.

The fact is the IS successes can roil the uneasy Sunni-Shia equilibrium obtaining in India by prompting home-grown Sunni malcontents into lighting the sectarian as well as communal fuses. An US-Iranian condominium to halt the marauders from fatally bloodying Iraq is in India’s seminal interest. The trouble is such a team-up is prevented by Israel’s antipathy to Iran. Other than extricating expatriate Indian workers, New Delhi should try and persuade Israel to desist from vetoing US participation, alongside Tehran, in restoring sanity in the region. Meanwhile, the thaw in Iran-Turkey relations with the visit to Istanbul mid-June by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has firmed up the south-western front against the IS.

The downstream danger of the IS ideology creeping into India should be communicated to Tel Aviv. Facilitating an Israeli-Iranian rapprochement won’t be easy because of Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions. Then again, Indo-Israeli and Indo-Iranian relations are instinctively friendly and have evolved, in separate ways, into something special. Prime minister Narendra Modi can personally telephone president Rouhani to explain his two-pronged initiative, and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to help realise an US-Iranian entente, given that many Israeli strategists apprehend the IS infiltrating the Palestinian Authority. Tel Aviv ought to be told that any IS-inspired conflagration could disturb internal order in India and affect relations with the Jewish state. Even a failed attempt at Israel-Iran bridge-building combined with the anti-IS initiative will have cascading positives. It will enhance the country’s international stature and seed Modi’s reputation as international statesman.

The relations between Israel and Iran can be more easily fixed than the Sunni-Shia fissure. In the event, stoking Israeli-Iranian rapport as a permanent heat shield to deflect any hot winds from the Arab quarter should be India’s priority.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Friday, July 12, 2014, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Deflecting-the-Hot-Wind/2014/07/11/article2324392.ece

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia | 2 Comments

Avoid speaking tripe in China, General Bikram S

Chief of the Army Staff General Bikram Singh is scheduled to visit China July 2-5, and to meet the top military officer there — General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, the apex military-defence-national security-related agency in the Chinese system. COAS’ talking about the forthcoming “Hand-in-Hand” exercise — the fourth such exercise on counter-terrorism tactics, etc is fine. It is the fact that he’ll be hosted by the Zhongnanhai (Foreign Office) in Beijing and will be discussing among other things, what PTI described as, “bilateral ties, regional security and other issues of common concern” that raises the gravest apprehension. General Bikram with a long stint in the army’s PR Wing as its spokesman (during the Kargil ops) fancies himself a talker. From the few times I have heard him he seems to get easily carried away with his own words, which come out as a jumble.

The potential problem, especially where China is concerned, is this: His often ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of babbling could be genuinely confusing to the Chinese or create serious misunderstandings. The Chinese language is at once abstract and precise in what they say and the message they want to convey. Designated Indian interlocuters — all of whom invariably consider themselves, albeit unwarrantedly, as masters of the English language and tend to be garrulous, sometimes going beyond their brief. It is a problem compounded by imprecise language (usually of the stilted variety). COAS’ minders, hopefully, will keep this trait of his in mind and advice him to curb it, and coach him in what to say and how to say it on such issues as the South China Sea disputes China has with a number of littoral and offshore states in Southeast Asia. And, if the Modi Govt wants to convey its no-nonsense attitude then Bikram should be instructed to bring up the unceasing habit of PLA on the LAC to be needlessly provocative and to signal to the other side the Indian Army’s intention to respond strongly and in kind. He could mention the trampling of the democratic instincts of the people in China generally and in Tibet, and throw in HongKong as well — where over 780,000 people, a few days back, braved harsh official retaliation to endorse a petition for more individual rights and democracy.

The short point to make is and this is something Bikram S should bear in mind. He is the Indian Army Chief, not a smooth-talking diplomat. A gruff exposition mostly on the unacceptability of the habitual offensiveness of the Chinese military stance and political attitude, would push the Chinese back, which is what’s needed and required of him. Leave all the tripe about perpetual peace, Panchsheel, and the rest of that nonsense to MEA staffers paid to shovel it. And, he should be reminded, that for God’s sake to rein in his tongue, lest what he says inadvertently or otherwise be noted down by the Chinese note-keepers and regurgitated by Chinese negotiators at a later date as something representing GOI’s view. The rest of us meanwhile should cross our fingers and pray Bikram doesn’t shove his foot in his mouth.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Internal Security, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Terrorism | 12 Comments