Additional response to AVM (retd) Bahadur on Tejas

A well informed correspondent pulled me up for not pointing out in my counter-response that AVM (Retd) Manmohan Bahadur (“MMRCA misgivings unfounded”) rather cavalierly dismissed Tejas. Bahadur declares that Tejas Mk-1 does not meet IAF’s needs. Strange, considering the Mk-1 is supposed to be the replacement aircraft for the large number of MiG-21s in the IAF fleet, which aircraft has been given an extended stay in the fleet into the 2020s with the Bison variant! And, in what way does the Mk-1 lag? Not in terms of weapons load capacity or even range, surely? And, certainly not in terms of its 4.5 generation avionics that’s a match for anything the Rafale features (except, perhaps, in data fusion (what to talk of MiG-21)! And, how then does he explain the Swedish Gripen NG, with almost exactly the same performance characteristics, being shortlisted by IAF in the MMRCA sweepstakes?

As a fighter pilot, Bahadur, in line with the IAF’s view, instead of hurrahing every imported or importable aircraft, may care to look inwards a bit and see how different the scene might have been had the IAF, especially in view of its, what many would call an “änti-nationalist”, terminator role in the HF-24 Marut Mk-II project — made amends and taken charge and responsibility for the Tejas programme, rather than attacking it from the sidelines, bemoaning weaknesses in the Tejas R&D and production schemes, and habitually pitching for cost-prohibitive Western aircraft. And whether or not the $30 billion plus — that India simply cannot afford — to be expended on the Rafale, will not be better spent at home beefing up the Tejas programme and fast-tracking the Mk-1s and Mk-2s into operational service. Perhaps, this is too much to expect of the IAF and veterans from the Service.

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 ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons, Western militaries | 44 Comments

Counter-response to Air Marshal Barbora, and others

Nowhere in my article – “Why Rafale is a big mistake” did I raise any question about the rigorous testing regime the IAF employed to shortlist the aircraft in the running for the MMRCA slot, and yet the former Vice Chief of the Air Staff, in what’s presumably the institutional response to my piece, makes it, nonsequiterishly, the centre-piece of his response – a tactic to divert from my main theme.

Nor is the American F-35 and its price the issue. This aircraft is a horrendously costly aircraft, which I have time and again trashed as a possible IAF option in my writings and even in a luncheon meeting (where other Indian commentators were present) with the US Assistant Secretary of Defence. F-35 is, as many in the US describe it, a boondoggle and “white elephant” – expensive to acquire, inordinately difficult to maintain in service and at, trillion dollars, unaffordable even for the United States in terms of its lifetime costing – and the last thing that IAF should have on its mind. It is another matter that in the run-up to the Rafale announcement many senior officers in the IAF and many more commentators in the media were actually gung-ho about this aircraft and championed its acquisition (in lieu of the F-16/F-18)!

But Barbora has been more honest than his service colleagues who have published their responses. Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam, was deployed by the IAF on a previous occasion when I called for terminating the Rafale deal as wasteful in extremis (See “”Stop wasteful military deals”, New Indian Express, November 1, 2013 featured elsewhere in this blog and at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Stop-wasteful-military-deals/2013/11/01/article1866740.ece. Subramaniam reacted (See his “Undermining national security”, New Indian Express, November 7, 2013 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Undermining-national-security/2013/11/07/article1876105.ece, by warning that such writings undermine national security – as if national security, other than being a special preserve of the uniformed brass, was some delicate exotic hot-house orchid that can weather no critical storm. Further, his doubts about the Tejas – the weaknesses in which project is due not little to IAF’s refusal to own up and be accountable for this project – were substantively answered by a flood of on-line reaction commentaries by technically proficient and knowledgeable writers who backed my contention that Tejas can be the answer to IAF’s prayers (and which commentaries have since mysteriously disappeared from the New Indian Express website (!) but are retained for posterity on this blog – refer the air force section in this blog).

But senior airmen are in a habit of not grappling with the central issues that are raised, jagging off, for example, into this analyst’s honest mistake of spelling CAS’ name as Saha, rather than the correct Raha, etc. Consider in this respect Air Vice Marshal (retd) Manmohan Bahadur’s critique of my case for a strategic bomber “Strategic bomber for IAF”, New Indian Express, February 7, 2014 on this blog and at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Strategic-Bomber-for-IAF/2014/02/07/article2042008.ece. He veered off on a tangent saying how difficult it is to produce a strategic bomber indigenously when the country cannot even manufacture a trainer plane, etc, when actually what I had suggested was leasing (as we do nuclear attack submarines) Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber from Russia as the manned strategic delivery option. In this diversion, he, of course failed to address the larger point about the IAF leadership in the early 1970s fouling up by not accepting the Tu-22 Backfire bomber Russia was keen India offtake, and what it revealed about the lack of the “strategic” sense of the IAF, etc.. To the extent this was taken up, Bahadur sought to pooh-pooh it by sloghing the responsibility off to the Government, referring to the straitened financial circumstances the country was in at the time, the trend of policy, and other such extraneous factors when actually the Tu-22 could have been secured on the same terms as was the MiG-23BN, which was IAF’s choice! (“Fallacies of strategic bomber”, New Indian Express, February 11, 2014 http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Fallacies-of-Strategic-Bomber/2014/02/11/article2049378.ece

Unlike, Subramaniam and Bahadur, the more senior and apparently more responsible, ex-VCAS Barbora, is candid in acknowledging that costs are a factor, and that the unit cost of any fully loaded 4th generation fighter is presently in the $300 million-$400 million range, which is precisely the price range I said Rafale falls in. However, notwithstanding the quite extraordinary expenditure involved, which Barbora does not dispute, he is for acquiring it because, well, the long selection process was swell, IAF’s need has to be filled and, though he does not say it in so many words (see his last para), how Rafale in IAF’s inventory will raisie India’s stock in “the comity of nations”!

The Indian defence industry was crippled at the start by IAF’s hankering for Western combat planes. The fully locally developed HF-24 and its follow-on Mk-2, were ruthlessly killed off by IAF, doing away what little chance India had of emerging as an independent aerospace power in the manner that Brazil and Israel have done in recent years. The IAF’s role in ending the Marut project in the early Seventies to favor purchase of the Jaguar Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (which as I pointed out at the time can, ironically, penetrate deep or strike hard but cannot do both at the samke time!) and its subsequent reluctance to nurse an in-country combat aircraft R&D and production project, especially the Tejas, lest its umbilical linkage to imported aircraft be severed, is there for all to mull over. Tejas, it must be remembered is a DRDO-driven programme. These are touchy issues for the IAF that I often bring up in my writings, and which are at the core of why India, fatally for a country with pretensions to great power, remains an arms dependency, but which issues no commentators from IAF want, for obvious reasons, to tackle.

What thus ends up being reiterated is the official service line, repeated ad infinitum, for example, (again) by AVM (retd) Manmohan Bahadur (“MMRCA misgivings unfounded”, New Indian Express, August, August 2, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/MMRCA-Misgivings-Unfounded/2014/08/02/article2359756.ece), who is apparently, IAF’s designated batter. He writes re: Rafale as MMRCA that “Costs, albeit important, don’t decide acquisitions; it is the capability one desires that is the driving factor and it’s our misfortune that HAL has not delivered this to the nation. The IAF just looks at getting the right product to safeguard the national skies, as it is its duty to do so.” His and IAF’s contention thus is that costs to the exchequer should be of less concern than IAF having the Rafale in its stable! And, moreover, as is the service’s wont, he covers up for IAF’s acquisition visioning and strategizing failures by telescoping IAF’s urgent needs with DRDO-HAL’s shortcomings.

The question the Indian government confronts is whether to take the easy way out and meet the MMRCA requirements but only half-way (80 or so Rafales) as is the first indication from the Modi regime, or will it bite the bullet, as it were, and decide to end for once and for all the policy of pell-mell importation of unbearably expensive aircraft, and order IAF to take charge of the Tejas programme and rationalize its force structure with just two main lines of combat aircraft, the mainstay Tejas Mk 1 for air defence, Mk 2 in the MMRCA role, and the Su-30 and FGFA Su-50. There’s no other way.

The pleas by the likes of Bahadur to “let the professionals do their job of recommending what is good for the defence of the nation” would be reassuring if the IAF brass actually knew what they were doing, or that they are even clear about the nonsense designation of the Rafale as “medium” combat aircraft. That IAF is in the dark on most such issues and the entire MMRCA schemata mainly reflects IAF’s mindless procurement thinking and confusion, may be evidenced in a 4-part video uploaded on youtube of a Vayu-Strategic Post hosted seminar on Indian airpower, July 4, 2014, the relevant 2nd part of this seminar is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9jCpOqAlvN8. All the IAF luminaries – ACM (retd) SP Tyagi on down, it is obvious, have no clue about what “life costing” metrics are all about, and routinely talk down Russian aircraft, but are mute when informed about the intricacies of lifetime costing of aircraft and about the fact of the 44% availability of Rafale in the French AF, which matches the availability of the Su-30 in IAF. This last is in the 4th part of the above seminar at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fhtb19cjvVw#t=0.

There’s even more damning stuff about, such as the scale of “commissions””, etc. on offer or already deposited which, as one of my well-informed correspondents writes, tongue barely in cheek, would put the Rafale in the “heavy” class. And there’s lots more — all there for the BJP government to examine, enough reason, in any case, for it to revisit the matter of MMRCA, and just how and why the Rafale deal will not only beggar the country – not that the IAF cares — but take down the Tejas programme and the nascent Indian defence industry with it.

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 ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Latin America, Military Acquisitions, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons, Western militaries | 31 Comments

Ex-VCAS, Air Marshal Barbora’s response to “Why Rafale is a big mistake”

Response of Air Marshal (retd) Pranab Barbora, Vice Chief of the Air Staff during the MMRCA evaluation (faxed personally to the author 28 July 20.14), reproduced in toto.
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Point by point comments/views on the article by Bharat Karnad, ‘Why Rafale Is a Big Mistake’ are enumerated below:

Composition and force structure of the Air Force fighter and bomber categories is best left to the IAF specialists, who have intricate knowledge of country specific requirements based on India’s internal and foreign policies, and not on any individual’s viewpoint. I agree Mr. Bharat Karnad is a very well versed and knowledgeable person in military affairs and economics: however, without adequate information on the subject of the MMRCA deal, to comment on it adversely may not have been very prudent on his part.

A short brief on how MMRCA‘s process came alive in respect of India. As all of us are aware that the IAF has an ageing fleet of M1G 21s, MlG 23s and MIG 27s which would have to be replaced over a period of time supposedly by the famous LCA conceived way back in the mid-eighties, but till date not one operational squadron is available to the IAF. Reasons for this are so many that one could write a book on it.

Way back in the late 1990s and beginning 2000, the IAF projected to the GoI its concerns about the depleting fleet because of the void being created with the LCA project not meeting the assured timelines. The IAF took up the case for procurement of additional Mirage 2000 variant (a fleet that has stood the test of time in respect of operational worthiness) to try and stop the downslide. However, because of the procurement policy etc. etc. this specific choice of Mirage 2000-5 was turned down by the government, and the IAF was asked to go for an open tender for practically the best possible aircraft in that category (cost not being the hindrance as India’s GDP was growing at a fast pace). The IAF followed the government’s instructions and the MMRCA concept was born: and an RPI followed by an RFP was issued.

Six aircrafts were short listed for test evaluation. The undersigned was the Vice-Chief during the period of testing and trials. Unequivocally, this was the first time in the history of military aviation that such an elaborate testing of six frontline fighter aircrafts was undertaken. The testing was very thorough and elaborate and more so, very transparent. I salute the testing team. Every shortcoming was informed to the vendors during the process of evaluation. This was even appreciated by the vendors themselves.

MIG 29 variant, F-16 and F-18 did not qualify based on performance and technical specifications, whilst the Gripen was yet to certify MIL standards on many new aspects incorporated in the aircraft. The undersigned would like to iterate here itself that the Swedes got this new version of Gripen thoroughly tested by India at practically no cost to themselves. I am sure the shortcomings have been rectified post the testing. The remaining contenders that is the Eurofighter and Rafale were the only two to qualify technically and performance based trials. Here, I agree with Mr. Karnad that there are certain aspects that were not incorporated in the test aircraft as per the IAF requirement .However, these aspects were demonstrated to the testing team in the laboratories/other platforms.

As regards cost, are we aware what will be the final cost per piece of the LCAMK 1 or- 2 ? (Mr. Karnad you may get a heart attack). Let us also wait to see the final costing of the F-35. Again, in the opinion of the undersigned, no fourth generation aircraft will cost less than 300 to 400 million dollars all encompassing; at the present time. The final cost per piece of an aircraft is dependent on many factors such as ToT, transfer of source code of platform and weapon systems etc. etc. based on customer requirements.

Aviation related DPSUs in India are a long way from meeting the lAF’s immediate requirements including the basic and intermediate trainer aircraft, forget about the frontline fighter aircraft. However we must encourage the Indian industry, both public and private, to come up with indigenous products to meet India’s defence requirements of the future.
Choice of Rafale vs. the Euro fighter was based on the bids which were opened post the testing and trials, which for the first time included life-cycle cost. Selection of Rafale as the best choice was a joint decision of the IAF, MoD and Gol (CCS), where the lAF’s say was minimal. Nixing the deal at this stage, wherein there is already a delay of two years since the selection of Rafale, would be disastrous for the nation and the IAF as a fresh process of acquisition will take nothing less than a decade plus to fructify in totality.

If India has to take its rightful place in the comity of nations progress in the economic front is not the only criteria. A nation is recognized by both its economic standing and defence capability. Growth in both fields has to be parallel and in tandem.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Latin America, Military Acquisitions, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons, Western militaries | 1 Comment

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 | 20 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. | 2 Comments

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

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