Cartographic initiative

This is the umpteenth time this has happened — a recent Chinese map shows Arunachal Pradesh as its territory. What has been India’s reaction? The MEA spokesman responded by saying that “cartographic depiction” does not change reality on the ground. And that “The fact that Arunachal Pradesh is integral and inalienable part of India has been conveyed to Chinese authority at several occasions including at the very highest level.”

The point about China emphasizing its outrageous claims soon after vouching for the 5 principles of Panchsheel and its continued relevance in the 21st Century is par for the course, but something New Delhi is simply unwilling to concede as other than the usual provocation the Indian govt has over the years gotten used to. It is a wrong tack to take because it is precisely the repetition that dulls the foreign policy sense of the adversary and conditions him to react as India has done — as only a map, etc., when actually the aim is to consolidate its international legal claims.

Soft words and caution will not do the trick that a like cartographic reaction can — such as depicting Tibet in a different colour and NOT as part of sovereign Chinese territory, as has been advocated by this analyst for over 25 years now. It will at once depict the fact of India’s accepting Tibet as Chinese ONLY when it is treated as a genuinely “autonomous” part of China voided of all PLA presence. This is the sort of “muscular” reaction one would have expected as follow-up to the formal invite to Lobsang Sangay, the elected PM of the Tibetan Government in Exile to Modi’s investiture on May 26, and the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s heartening statement that if Beijing wants India to support a “One China” concept Beijing should reciprocate by supporting “One India” principally inclusive of Arunachal Pradesh.

What is India frightened of? When India does not respond in like, tit-for-tat, fashion is when it makes everybody on China’s periphery doubt India’s druthers, leadership qualities, and its will to take on a natural rival in Asia, brings into question India’s ambitions, and encourages Beijing to become progressively more daring. That way lies not peace, but war.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East | 8 Comments

India’s Unused Nuclear Leverage

The news that India had ratified the 1997 Additional Protocol permitting more intensive and intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle and research including nuclear installations and facilities excluded by the Indian government from the safeguards regime came as a shock. Especially as India did not condition its consent, as did the US in 1998, to the IAEA sticking to restrictive procedures for “appropriately managed access”. IAEA is hence free to inspect what it wants when it wants in order to get a “comprehensive picture” of India’s nuclear activity. Whatever happened to the dissatisfaction expressed in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto with the nuclear situation generally?

This development coming so soon after Narendra Modi assumed command suggests one of two things: Contrary to his party’s manifesto the prime minister had mulled the problem of how to advance India’s nuclear interests, and arrived at a definite view ere he assumed office that placating the US by buying its Westinghouse AP 1000-enriched uranium-fuelled light water reactors (LWRs) and thereby ensuring the country’s formal entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was best. Or, and this seems the more likely explanation, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) that has invested heavily in the Congress party-Manmohan Singh regime’s policy of nuclear giveaways used the excuse of the upcoming Washington meeting with US president Barack Obama to push its institutional agenda and secure Modi’s approval, as concurrently Minister for Atomic Energy, to “complete” the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with America.

The empowerment of the bureaucracy in Modi’s scheme of things without the prime minister first articulating a geostrategic vision and laying down new policy guidelines, put continuity of policy at a premium—something that was foreseen (“Modi’s ‘India First’ Agenda”, May 2, 2014 at In this regard, the MEA was no doubt aided by the fact that neither Modi nor Sushma Swaraj, appointed as minister for external affairs, had other than limited exposure to international relations and the conduct of foreign policy would, therefore, be inclined to accept its advice. Except Swaraj was a stalwart of the parliamentary fight over the nuclear deal that, but for Amar Singh and his reportedly US-lubricated antics to convince the Samajwadi Party into supporting the ruling coalition, would have brought down the Manmohan Singh government on July 8, 2008. And she was in the forefront of the opposition move to blunt the nuclear deal by forcing the Congress regime to accept the 2010 Civilian Nuclear Liability Act. Apparently, by the time foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and officials in the disarmament and international security division briefed the minister, Swaraj had forgotten the reasons why the BJP had opposed the nuclear deal that Washington desperately wanted and the weak-minded Manmohan Singh fell in with, and failed to counsel rethink to the PM.

There reportedly was not much discussion in Modi’s office, and the contra-viewpoint championed, other than this analyst, by the late P K Iyengar, ex-chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, A N Prasad, former director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and A Gopalakrishnan, ex-chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, that informed the BJP’s thinking when in opposition, was ignored. Let’s therefore enumerate some important reasons why the original nuclear deal was bad and follow-up actions such as signing the Additional Protocol are, too. One, the nuclear deal torpedoes the 1955 three-stage Bhabha Plan based on large reserves in-country of thorium for energy self-sufficiency by diverting attention, effort, and monies from the pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) technology (first stage) India has specialised in, and from speedily developing for subsequent stages the breeder reactor, and upscaling the Kamini thorium experimental reactor to funding the purchase of exorbitantly-priced foreign LWRs. These reactors costing $6-7 billion per 1,000MW plant will produce unaffordable electricity at Rs 40-50 a unit at present prices! Two, uninterrupted operation of the string of foreign LWRs will become hostage to India’s good behaviour in the economic and foreign policy fields as the supply of nuclear fuel packages and spares can be choked at any time. Thus, the dependency syndrome that prevails with respect to conventional armaments will now be replicated in the nuclear energy sector. Three, the position of foreign supplier countries will be further strengthened with regard to shaping India’s foreign policy choices by threats of extraordinary economic disruption of, say, 10,000MW of power from the imported reactors going off the grid. Four, these things will happen if India resumes nuclear testing, which it needs to do to remove design flaws in its thermonuclear weapons. Five, in which case, tens of billions of dollars invested in these white elephants will become radioactive waste, needing expensive vitrification and entombment. And finally, with all but eight of the PHWRs under safeguards, the country’s capacity for surge production of weapons-grade plutonium has been severely hurt. Is the goodwill of the US worth surrendering “strategic autonomy”?

India never needed membership in NSG to export its 220MW PHWRs and related technologies to eager Third World states. Had it, as a non-signatory to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, done so in the past 20 years, the country by now would have had a flourishing nuclear industry, a tier of countries tied to India outside the non-proliferation structures, and amortised the huge public investment in the nuclear energy programme. Some African countries, moreover, could have paid for these reactors with their natural uranium reserves. Besides propelling the Bhabha Plan, it would have meant exercising hard leverage as spoiler that could have been used to extract the rights and privileges of a nuclear weapons-state and NSG membership from the US.

It requires iron will and strategic imagination which New Delhi has always been short of, but China has in plenty. Time and again the US, Russia, and Western Europe have been shoved to the wall, and Beijing has compelled respectful treatment from them in return for promising not to do worse! It is why China is advantaged and India is not, and why they are so differently placed in the emerging world order.

[Published in the New Indian Express, June 27, 2014, at

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 4 Comments

Nuclear folly

The first indication of a decision to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP) came yesterday when someone in the know contacted me. I professed disbelief. I was wrong because in the afternoon today news agencies carried the story of GOI agreeing to the AP that will extend and permit more intensive and intrusive international inspection of the Indian nuclear facilities and installations brought into the IAEA safeguards net as condition for the US agreeing to the deal for civilian nuclear cooperation.

Where was the need for such haste when a geostrategic vision hasn’t been spelled out by PM Narendra Modi nor grand strategy in any way intimated to the govt, leave alone the people, to realize it? In all matters nuclear the rule of thumb is to make haste very, very slowly.

Apparently, GOI felt things required speeding up because it wants India formally to acquire membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and to begin exporting technology and applications relating to the INDU/CANDU natural uranium-fueled pressurised heavy water reactor stream in which India has, perhaps, the most experience and is the most advanced. Exports of INDU reactors is something this writer has been advocating for the last decade and more, and is a great development EXCEPT for the fact that it is as part of the exchange for NSG member status.

It is not clear why India hadn’t exported the INDU reactor and technology for the past 20-odd years which, besides earning DAE oodles of foreign exchange as amortization of the investment in the nuclear energy programme, would have compelled the NSG to take notice and offer India membership in it lest Indian exports remain outside the safeguards system, creating an entire tier of countries outside IAEA inspection and control. That is powerful leverage that India could have used to get what it wanted on its terms and WITHOUT having to acquiesce in the nuclear deal that the Congress Party-Manmohan Singh govt recklessly did in 2008 without paying the slightest heed to the long term national interest.

The BJP govt has now compounded that folly because, assuming it is convinced that NSG membership is an imperative, it could have used it as a negotiating card to ensure the US did not pressure GOI on sidelining the the Liability Act passed by Parliament as a means of generating export orders for the US Westinghouse light water reactors, which India needs like a hole in the head.

Was the decision taken at this time by the PM as Minister for Atomic Energy because he wanted to improve the Obama Administration’s as curtain raiser for his upcoming visit to Washington, to improve the Obama dministrations’s perceptions of him personally, and to make his first official visit to the US a success? All concerned people would have wished Modi to have consulted with those outside govt circles who have worked on the subject and know something about nuclear negotiation, and could have given him the contra viewpoint to ponder.

This is an especially troubling development and so early in the term of Prime Minister Modi!! Hope he is not embarked on a foreign policy of surprises that will serve the country ill.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, United States | Leave a comment

Shooting oneself…

In any healthy organic system, a self-correcting mechanism kicks in the moment the system sensors sense something going wrong. For Narendra Modi led-BJP, which didn’t set a foot wrong in the long election campaign and, as regards its initial moves, in government, the Home Ministry directive to use Hindi in all inputs — even if only in the “social media” is an appalling misstep. Because social media today, could be all official correspondence tomorrow. It has predictably led the southern states starting with Tamil Nadu to rear themselves up on their hind legs to oppose the imposition of a “North Indian” language. Indeed, it was precisely the Tamil fear of such cultural imperialism that led to the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu to consolidate their hold on the state polity. That such instructions should have been ordered fairly casually, presumably, by Rajnath Singh in the main suggests the PM’s social sensors are beginning to go on the blink. For surely, Modi would have been in on this decision and should have warned Rajnath of this folly — which has every potential of spreading like wildfire and consuming all the hard work the party has done so far so early in his first term.

The language issue has historically been at the centre of Dravidian identity. Reviving this problem at just the point in time when BJP’s prospects in South India are looking up — if the performance of the party at the hustings is any indication — amounts to shooting oneself in the foot even as the race has just begun. Combined with the BJP’s support for the Rajasthan MP, Nihalchand, accused of rape and his minions charged with terrorizing the young woman at the receiving end of his evil actions — was no background check done? And if this rape-case in the court did turn up on his docket, was it willfully disregarded or inadvertently ignored — it isn’t clear which, in either case it shows up the BJP in very bad light, and are the sorts of things that were avoidable and could have been easily avoided.

Posted in Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia | 7 Comments

Prepare Baghdad airlift and deploy a Special Forces unit

It’s been about a week since the threat to Baghdad from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) began developing into something serious. The greater Baghdad area also has the highest concentration of Indian expat workers in Iraq. While the militant sunni ISIS is facing a firmed up shia front with Iran sending in possibly the Pas Daran — Islamic Revolutionary Guard to join with the mainly shia army and, if there’s an agreement between Tehran and Washington – the air cover/air assault being provided by carrier borne fighter-bombers — two US Navy carrier task groups are presently in the waters off the Gulf, then the ISIS tide will be turned. Even w/o US assistance but with full Iranian involvement, the ISIS militants will be beaten and the wave they set off will begin receding.

The trouble is this may not happen soon and the thousands of Indian expat workers are in real danger of being lined up and shot — the sort of modus operandi of the ISIS designed to create uncontrollable panic as much among the shia ranks of the Iraqi soldiery as the local population. A people acting hysterically will make effective mobilization of resources and of counter military actions that much more difficult.

Understandably, members of the Indian expat community would hesitate to leave precipitately and endanger their livelihoods. Then again waiting until the ISIS are upon them would be equally dangerous.

Dispatching a Special Envoy to Baghdad is all very well. It will be more sensible though to prepare immediately to mount a massive airlift — nothing the IAF can’t manage, recall the orderly airlift of Indians from various such locations in the past, with the envoy only seeking permission from the al-Malliki regime for the Indian C-17s to land, etc. As a precautionary measure, GOI should also have a contingent of Special Forces secure the Baghdad landing strip and ensure safety of all Indians collected at an assembly point for embarkation. The last plane out of Baghdad should carry the deployed SF unit. There should be no delay in implementing these measures.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, South Asia, Special Forces | 1 Comment

An Indian Monroe Doctrine

The news reports of secretaries to the government of India running around tidying up their office complexes in fear of an imminent visit by prime minister Narendra Modi puts one in mind of the hilarious short story—“Inspector General” by the early 19th Century Russian novelist, Nikolai Gogol.

Warned of a “surprise” visit by the IG checking up on the workings of the state apparatus in the hinterland, an outpost of the Tsarist empire finds itself suddenly in the thrall of frantic activity with previously somnolent and corrupt officials at all rungs of government busy sprucing up the workplace, “cooking” the books, and addressing the woes of a startled people, in the hopes of pleasing the boss. In this fraught milieu a luckless traveller is mistaken for the eminence himself and feted and fussed over, wined and dined, before someone in the town discovers he’s not the real thing and he is unceremoniously booted out! Gogol could be lampooning the 21st Century Indian state.

It is good that the mere hint of Modi on the prowl has galvanised the babus. The question is whether such heightened awareness, order, and efficiency can be sustained, become a permanent feature of government? More likely Modi’s “11 commandments’’ will lose steam before these can percolate to the grassroots levels of bureaucracy. But such measures, while a welcome antidote to years of paralysis in the previous regime, are concerned only with the processes of government and not the content and larger aim of policies.

Candidate Modi’s promises were grander, far-reaching. He had promised galloping growth, responsible financial policies, minimising the role of state in the lives of people while ensuring that government services and social welfare benefits are delivered efficiently to the deserving. But this requires a ruthless axing of a multitude of useless government bodies and organisations and radical pruning of public payrolls. Speedy digitisation and computerisation of records and of official functioning generally will beget a paperless regime and facilitate a better outreach that he favours. It’ll, moreover, reduce the rocketing government expenditure and crippling fiscal deficit and improve India’s credit rating.

But, and this is worrying, there’s no blueprint for such dismantling of the socialist state and the agencies of the “command economy”, no trace of a scheme for privatising the public sector, nor any indication of the “rules of business” guiding the various ministries and agencies of government being rewritten to remove anomalies (such as defence secretary being responsible for the security of the country!). In the proverbial first “100 Days”—the honeymoon period, Modi with his sweeping mandate can push through the most ambitious structural and systemic reforms in the government of India. If this opportunity is lost then the aim of a smaller, efficient, more effective apparatus of state will remain only a dream, and changes Modi rings in to improve state functioning will last only as long as he does in power.

The troubling thing is Modi’s success as chief minister in turning around Gujarat state government enterprises suggests he believes he can do the same with the national public sector units (PSUs), most of them on life support. In that case, PSUs will endure and in the defence sector, for instance, it will mean dependency on imported armaments in perpetuity. The fact is not one defence PSU can survive fair competition with the private sector companies who, driven by the profit motive, are masters at ingesting and innovating transferred foreign technology for commercial gain, and their labour is markedly more skilled and productive. In contrast, what the ordnance factories and Hindustan Aerospace Ltd. do is assemble tanks and aircraft from imported kits under licence manufacture agreements, relying desperately on the department of defence production in the ministry of defence to steer large military acquisition programmes with local production element exclusively to them. The extant arrangement will continue draining off India’s wealth in the name of security.

If there are no plans to shrink the government, there’s no evidence of new policy ideas either. Most conspicuously, Modi has not so far articulated a vision for India—which should have been the first order of business. Unless there’s a singular national vision to guide the various arms of government, contextualise policies, and to motivate the people, government activity will be dictated by inertia and past policies, dressed up in new frills, will continue to be pursued. Indeed, the Congress party was quick in charging the BJP government of merely “copying” its policies. This is apparent from Modi falling in with, say, the ministry of external affairs’ agenda without first laying out the parameters of policy. The only section of society that so far feels empowered is the bureaucracy, whence a story in a pink paper, taking off on the BJP’s election slogan, was tellingly titled “Ab ki bar, babu sarkar” (as if it was ever otherwise!).

Let’s be clear about what visioning is not. Cultivating a friendly neighbourhood is not vision, encouraging economic growth is not vision, emphasising economic diplomacy, or even improvement of strategic ties with assorted countries, such as Japan, ASEAN, Russia, and the United States, isn’t either. Nor are sets of policies labelled “Look East”, “Look West” or look wherever tantamount to vision. These are tactical policies of the moment. Vision is related primarily to geography and physical constants.

The only time India had a genuine, if flawed, vision was when Jawaharlal Nehru spelled one out at the dawn of the republic. Addressing the first Asian Relations Conference in Spring 1947, he spoke unfortunately of an “Asian”, rather than an Indian, “Monroe Doctrine”, derived from president James Monroe in 1823 defining the entire hemisphere of north, central, and south America as US’ exclusive backyard at a time when that country had little hard power. In line with his view that “the need of the hour is to think big” and based on India’s geostrategic centrality, Modi should declare an Indian Monroe Doctrine sphere encompassing the Indian Ocean Region and, landwards, the arc of the Gulf-Caspian Sea-Central Asia. This grand vision of great power should be the lodestar guiding all policies.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Friday, June 13, 2014 at

Posted in Afghanistan, Africa, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Japan, Maldives, Military Acquisitions, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Relations with Russia, Russia, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons, West Asia | 2 Comments

Extraordinary weapons

According to a source, one and half to two months back COAS Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha witnessed the demonstration of extraordinary weapons DRDO labs have been attempting to develop, such as bunker-busting bombs. The one device that abjectly failed related to EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) system — in technical terms “a magnetic flux compression generator” that can knock out whole communications grids. Initiated at AEC’s laser facility in Indore many years ago, weaponizing the concept was undertaken only a few years ago by DRDO. Designed to yield 100 megagauze the device, mounted on a tower, “tore itself into pieces” reportedly because of wrong experimental parameters, geometry, and magnetic field configuration. As a consequence the device — that can be used from an airborne platform or ground based, in which case, the earth is a conducive medium — in the manner of a shaped charge however suffered “asymmetric explosion” (in the process knocking out at most a few cell phones). There’s a history behind the EMP weapon project. Several years ago, the Russians offered to design one for India and asked for involvement of certain Indian scientists by name. For whatever reasons, DRDO and MOD showed no interest!!!

Posted in Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Military Acquisitions, South Asia, Technology transfer, Weapons | 4 Comments