Arundhati G, RIP

India was lucky to have Ambassador Arundhati Ghose, as the Indian Representative at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), Geneva, in 1995-96 negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Her diligence in keeping abreast of the often secret meetings and machinations of the five so-called Non-Proliferation Treaty-recognized nuclear weapons states (P-5), kept India out of trouble. She thus thwarted the CD proceedings designed to corral this country into a Test Ban and freezing its nuclear weapons technology at the level of an unproven basic fission device. There were procedural moves devised by the P-5 and similar surprises US and its camp followers in Western Europe that were prevented from being sprung on the Indian delegation by Arundhati and her team. MOreover, her straight talking to her US counterpoint left Washington in little doubt what they were up against, which was capped by her ringing affirmation in the plenary voicing India’s final rejection of the CTBT, her now justly famous declaration that India would not sign that flawed treaty “not now, not ever”.

For those who care to know more about Arundhati’s finest hour, the most complete account of the evolving thinking of GOI and the P-5 machinations, and her maneuverings around the diplomatic booby-traps and mines laid by the dastardly Five in the CD, according to Ghose, is in my tome ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’. She repeatedly referred to this book in her well-attended (and perhaps, last) public talk on “India and the CTBT Negotiations” at the Raja Ramanna-founded National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore,on Nov 29, 2015 (text at She “would recommend”, she told the audience, “that anyone interested in the discussions military, scientific and political at the time, refer to Karnad’s book (pages 370-390).This also contains information on the negotiations themselves, based largely on interviews with me, soon after my return from Geneva to India in 1997 when my memory was still fresh.”

No finer Indian diplomat held the fort so courageously in the international arena in the face of concerted attacks. But the real hero, per Arundhati, was the prime minister who, at that crucial moment in time, was HD Deve Gowda, often derided by his opponents and the media as a PM who quite literally slept on the job. Except he had the earthy and instinctive understanding about the roots of national power, and once the stakes were outlined to him that signing the test ban treaty would close off India’s chances of ever becoming a nuclear weapon state, with great certitude he verbally instructed Arundhati, back in Delhi for consultations, to reject the CTBT outright.

Considering how most of the influential circles in the capital leavened by the advocacy of the strategic community elite headed by K. Subrahmanyam — its “doyen” and his acolytes in the govt, IDSA, and the media, among them the late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (Retd), and which advocacy was backed by the then chairman, atomic energy commission, P. Chidambaram (and still adviser S&T to PM), had prepared the political and public relations ground for India affixing its signature to the CTBT, a nervous Ghose asked Deve Gowda for written instructions to that effect. Thus armed, Arundhati sallied forth to Geneva, there to bury the CTBT.

What ifs of history — what if a supposed sophisticate or a West-leaning pol had been PM (say, Rajiv, or Inder Gujral, or Vajpayee — or the de facto PM at the time, the late Brajesh Mishra, or Manmohan Singh or, dare we mention, Modi?)– not Deve Gowda, he’d not have hesitated to order Arundhati to sign on the dotted line, and thereby permanently strategically crippled India.

It must be recalled that those who promoted CTBT signature also led the charge on the N-deal with the United States, and those who opposed the CTBT were the same small handful of us — one or two strategic analysts and the old guard from Trombay — the late PK Iyengar, AN Prasad, A. Gopalakrishnan, who just as vehemently campaigned in 2005-2008 against the nuclear deal with the United States, which from the beginning has sought to shackle India and, with the nuclear deal, succeeded to a considerable extent. (See our collated public writings in the latter episode in the book ‘Strategic Sellout: The Indian-US Nuclear Deal [2009]’). We relentlessly pounded GOI’s movement towards and its eventual succumbing to US pressure and blandishments. Again the strategists pushing for the deal were Subbu, Jasjit, and that caboodle in the official corridors, the media, and now doing duty in Western thinktank (Carnegie, Brookings, IISS) branches setup in Delhi to shape GOI’s policies. Not surprisingly, just about every thing that’s going wrong with that N-deal, CSC, including the perils of the buys by Modi of the six cost-prohibitive, untested and unproven Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors after his most recent US visit, which purchase, hazards-wise, could prove calamitous, was prophesied by the deal’s critics (See ‘Strategic Sellout’).

The point that Arundhati — a confirmed disarmament-walli by the way, repeatedly confessed to me, and something she alludes to in her NIAS talk, is how unprepared the Ministry of External Affairs is to negotiate on technical issues, such as anything related to nuclear, which requires some very serious domain knowledge. And why it is imperative to have permanent institutional mechanisms where the technically proficient scientists and engineers are in periodic consultations, so that Indian diplomats at the negotiating end and by way of MEA’s institutional memory. are brought up to to speed on where not to give way, where to cede ground, grudgingly, and the bulk of issues that are non-negotiable and if put on the table how carefully to configure legal escape routes and safeguards to always leave open the option for the country to ease itself out of tight corners and onerous treaty commitments.

Having quickly realized that neither of us was going to be able to convince the other on N-disarmament and big power-driven arms control measures, where we were invariably on opposite sides of the argument, our mutually respectful relationship settled into a breezy, jokey, affair. Whenever we met I’d good naturedly rib her for her “naivete” and she’d throw up her hands in mock horror at my “love of the Bomb”. The wonderful thing was that our differences only spurred us to tap each other for information and insights, though the traffic was mostly one way. Plainly said, what I know about MEA’s attitude to disarmament and how it evolved, and about the workings of DISA (disarmament and international security affairs) Division in that ministry was gleaned from her. She kept up with the goings-on in MEA and especially DISA as current officers in that Division are in one way or another her proteges or have matured under her influence penumbra.

Many of us knew of the cancer consuming her. But because she didn’t make too big a fuss about it, many of us who met her now and then didn’t either. Cancer or not, she wouldn’t give up her cigarettes or the tiny ‘Altos’ lozenges she chewed on. She was a fixture in the seminar/conference circuit relating to India’s nuclear policies. That stopped earlier this year. And then the day before yesterday we heard she had passed on.

Arundhati will be sorely missed — a Wonderful old Gal with real fighting spirit. RIP.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, disarmament, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, Weapons | 18 Comments

Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan and North Korea

Have advocated nuclear missile arming Vietnam as tit-for-tat policy against China from the time I was a Member of the (First) National Security Advisory Board in 1998-99 when Vajpayee was PM. It has been a regular theme in all my books and writings since then. The transfer of the conventional warheaded Brahmos cruise missile to Hanoi is a start that I had urged as an interim step, and is finally being taken by the Modi regime.

This is a longish, better researched, paper on the subject with hyperlinks, originally written for ‘War on the Rocks’ — a lively online journal in the US dealing with the military, war and international security issues. It was in response to an earlier invitation from its editor, Ryan Evans, to write for his journal. Evans reacted two days later to my piece emailed May 11, saying it was “a good piece” but could I cut it down to 2,500-words. The abridged article was sent to Evans May 18. Did not hear from him again, nor has the piece been featured in ‘War on the Rocks’. Apparently, he got cold feet. For reasons why, read the paper at its original length (and for the hyperlinks) published today (July 25, 2016) in the ‘The Wire’ at

By arming countries in China’s periphery, India – on its own or as part of a counter-triad with Japan and South Korea – could undermine the security system Beijing has so ruthlessly installed to further its goal of domination.

Then again, Beijing is, perhaps, banking on the proven timidity and diffidence of Indian rulers to escape the actions of a justly vengeful India (and an Asian counter-triad). The question, therefore, is whether the Indian government will be disruptive for a change in order to permanently reduce China strategically – a big enough goal for New Delhi to temper its risk-averse habit of mind.
[Main article below]

North Korea’s fifth underground nuclear test, when it happens sometime later this year, will occasion dread and set off the usual flutter of apprehension in the West. With this, the perception will grow of the bomb affording vulnerable states near absolute security in a complex international threat system, and leading to the spread of nuclear weapons and the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Treaty-based nuclear order. Leading the charge in dismantling the NPT system is the rogue nuclear triad of China, Pakistan and North Korea, which has left its footprint in the major hot spots of the world (Iran, Iraq, Libya). But, curiously, far from suffering any retribution this trio of states have individually benefitted from their proliferation activity. This may be because with China at its core and Pakistan, the US’ perennial “frontline state”, in the mix, Washington, fearing unpredictable outcomes, is disinclined to exercise forceful actions. The reluctance may also be because the US and many European countries had a role in establishing the triad, and now find it impolitic to acknowledge the menace they created, let alone deal with it.

The fact is, triadic arrangements to clandestinely transfer nuclear materials, technology and expertise have been the disruptive means in the nuclear age to strengthen strategic partners, unsettle adversaries, cultivate diplomatic and military leverage, maintain regional balance and otherwise to influence international politics. By permitting states more fluidly to share resources, responsibility, executable actions and to dissipate external pressure, such schemes – quasi-military alliances actually – are flexible, historically proven instruments to achieve large strategic goals. Participation in nuclear triads, moreover, allows states to maximise their mischief value and to pursue risky policies under the protective cover of the principal state – China, in the present case.

The precursor triads

Nuclear proliferation occurred early in the Cold War on a bilateral basis as part of the intra-bloc capacity-building of allies. In many cases, the dyads grew into triads involving states in ideological or strategic sync. In the 1950s, the US separately assisted the UK and then France to become nuclear weapon states. Post the 1956 Suez Crisis, the US and France helped nuclearise Israel, resulting in a jointly-designed French-Israeli nuclear device being tested in the Algerian desert in 1959. Then, in a sort of nuclear daisy chain, under the US aegis, Israel provided the white-ruled South Africa with nuclear weapon capability. In the new century, considerations of economical use of resources led to a revamped US-UK-France cooperative scheme to share nuclear weapons research and development expertise and infrastructure, as well as to cut modernisation costs. Thus British scientists from the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston utilised the 2006 Anglo-French ‘Teutates Project’ to configure the original B-76 design given to the UK by the US in 1980 into the new B-76-1 Mk-4 nuclear bomb/warhead capable of taking out hardened targets, a design approved by Sandia nuclear weapons laboratories in March 2011 before, presumably, being productionised.

A similar Cold War intra-bloc dynamic prompted the Soviet Union to seed China’s nuclear military program until the ideological rift between the two Communist countries in the mid-fifties led to the abrupt termination of Russian technical assistance. But by then having mastered the relevant science and technologies, China tested an implosive fission device in 1964 and, three years later, a thermonuclear bomb, thereby securing itself against both the Soviet Union and the US. Bolstered by the rapprochement with the US in the early seventies, China cast its sights wider. Appositely, Washington’s myopic, “realpolitik”-infused policies of the Nixon era to nurture the ‘China card’ to use against the Soviet Union allowed China to rapidly become a global manufacturing base, a trading powerhouse, a wealthy economy and a burgeoning military power to eventually surface as a peer competitor and great power rival to the US.

China’s military advancement is recognisably the skew factor. It was also in the early 1970s that Pakistan, afflicted by terminal insecurity aggravated by the 1971 war that saw India midwife an independent Bangladesh, approached China for seminal nuclear assistance. India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974, a much delayed realisation of the weapons threshold reached in March 1964, subsequently offered Pakistan a justification. China jumped at the opportunity to permanently hobble India, its natural Asian rival, and contain it to the subcontinent by arming Pakistan with nuclear missiles. This proliferation began in the era when India was regarded by Washington as a Soviet stooge, a perception cemented by the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Leonid Brezhnev that deterred potential armed interventions by the US and/or China to forestall the Indian dismemberment of Pakistan. Beijing compensated for the 1971 lapse in their “all weather friendship” by transferring nuclear goods and expertise to Islamabad and vetted a Pakistani-designed nuclear device and tested it at the Lop Nor site in 1990.

Meanwhile, Washington watched the process of Pakistan’s nuclear empowerment incentivised to do nothing by General Zia ul-Haq’s 1979 deal permitting the US Central Intelligence Agency to use Pakistani territory and resources to wage an asymmetric guerrilla campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. What is not as well known is Pakistan paying back China with sensitive Western technologies. The blueprints for the individual vertical centrifuge and for the centrifuge cascades at the Urenco plant at Almelo in the Netherlands purloined by A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani-origin metallurgist working at the Urenco plant, became the initial currency for technology barter. In exchange for Chinese nuclear weapons design, relevant materials and bomb-making expertise, Pakistan offered advanced centrifuge technology to China, facilitating its switchover from the costly, clunky and obsolete gaseous diffusion enrichment stream it was stuck in. With a view to help China reverse-engineer and incorporate into its aerial combat platforms the latest technical advancements, Pakistan allowed Chinese aviation experts to scrutinise and study the US F-16 aircraft inducted into its air force. More recently, a Tomahawk long range cruise missile fired from an American warship in the Arabian Sea at a Taliban target in Afghanistan that crash-landed in Pakistan, and the remains of the high-tech stealth rotors of the helicopter that crashed in Abbottabad during the 2011 US SEAL operation to take out Osama bin Laden, were onpassed by Pakistan to China. That Washington never took umbrage at these Pakistani leaks of its technologies suggests the China-Pakistan-US (CPUS) collusion is still on. Moreover, the CPUS triad was established in the late 1970s, around the time the US and Israel were materially assisting the apartheid regime in Pretoria to acquire nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It undercut any Western moral outrage and criticism of Beijing’s policy of nuclear missile arming both an unstable Islamic state, Pakistan, and, subsequently, a reckless regime in North Korea, which ended up forming in the 1990s the full-blown rogue nuclear triad of China, Pakistan and North Korea.

The nuclear rogues: dependent on China and the West’s denial

Whether the CPUS triad should be considered rogue depends on how one views the China-Pakistan-North Korea triangle. If one is rogue the other is too because they are joined at the hip. Just how deeply Washington is engaged in the CPUS trilateral can be gauged from how the US government still propagates the fiction that the “nuclear Walmart” that sold sensitive nuclear technologies for cash to Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi-ruled Libya, and as payment-in-kind to North Korea, was a commercial venture run illegally and exclusively by Khan to enrich himself, when actually it was from the beginning a well-oiled Pakistan army-run operation. The Pakistan-North Korea nexus, in turn, was forged at China’s behest as a convenient route for Beijing to proliferate nuclear weapon and missile technologies to these countries. Specifically, Pakistan-produced centrifuges were traded for North Korean missiles and technologies transferred by China to Pyongyang. It is the established pattern of remote Chinese proliferation. This triad has since grown into a complex web of strategic interlinks.

Ruled by the mercurial Kim family, North Korea has all along been the triad’s ace card to keep the US and its Asian allies off-kilter, and give China the advantage. An absolute dependency of China, the Kim Jon-un dispensation precipitates strategic crises with South Korea, Japan and the US at will, or at Beijing’s prompting. China then inserts itself into a downward spiralling situation as the intermediary able to hammer sense into a supposedly risk-acceptant Pyongyang, to prevent a tense situation with Seoul and/or Tokyo and/or Washington from becoming worse. It earns Beijing grudging respect and even a measure of goodwill from the US, Japan and South Korea as a situation stabiliser. In comparison, Pakistan is too constrained by its traditional links to the US and the West to be as useful to China, but its pugnacity keeps India distracted. With two able and willing nuclear conspirators, Beijing keeps the geopolitical pot simmering at the two ends of Asia, enhancing its diplomatic stock as the indispensable middleman and peacekeeper in the Korean Peninsula and potentially in South Asia.

While some aspects of the dyadic activities of the China-Pakistan-North Korea combo have come to light, the dots have seemingly not been connected by the US or any other Western government, or even by Japan and South Korea. If they have indeed noted the growing nuclear association between the three outliers, they have abstained from even acknowledging the problem, other than to complain about Pyongyang’s provocations. The fact is the three rogue countries act in concert to advance their separate politico-strategic interests. Consider the separate stakes of these nuclear rogue states. China is at the core of this cabal responsible for almost all nuclear proliferation in the world since 1975. “Deng Xiaoping’s China apparently decided”, writes Thomas C. Reed, a one-time nuclear weapon designer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and former US Secretary for the Air Force, “to actively promote nuclear proliferation within the Third World [because] it would be in [its] best interest to accept, or even encourage, multiple nuclear events (or wars)” to thus keep the US and the West on tenterhooks. China has achieved this aim. Nuclearising Pakistan and North Korea has endowed it with the capacity, moreover, to manipulate regional and Asian power balances at the expense of India, Japan and the US, and to simultaneously blunt the strategic edge of the three countries whose getting together China fears. In this triad China’s all-round heft affords protective cover to its lesser partners.

Pakistan prizes nuclear weapons because they help it to emulate the 19th century English satirist William Makepeace Thackeray’s frog blowing itself up to ox-size. It enables Islamabad, it believes, to remain relevant in the Islamic world, and in the subcontinental, Asian and global politics, gain some international traction and negotiating leverage for itself, and, by the by, dissuade a conventional military-wise superior India from taking liberties with it. But it is North Korea – the true outlaw state that is the lynchpin. It has apparently no qualms and no interest in adhering to the rules of the road, or following established norms, or entering the international mainstream. Backed by Beijing’s unwavering support, Pyongyang exploits its pariah status to the fullest to create havoc when and where it can. Kim Jong-un’s devil-may-care attitude means the crisis North Korea periodically triggers to needle the US, frighten its Asian allies and raise China’s value as mediator, also offers Pakistan opportunities to sharpen, under Chinese expert guidance, its nuclear weapons designing and production skills and competencies, and to test its designs.

How the Pakistan-North Korea tandem – the active part of the triad – functions was evidenced in the fourth North Korean test explosion of a Pakistani crafted fusion-boosted fission (FBF) device on January 3, 2016. Preparations for it, such as the digging of an angled L-shaped tunnel in the Hamyongg Mountains, began at least three years prior to the event. Several aspects were of note: the similarities between the instrumentation bunkers at Pungyye and Pakistan’s Ras Koh nuclear testing complex; the presence of South Asian-looking men in Pyongyang and the possibility that these were Pakistani nuclear technicians readying the nuclear device for testing; the Chinese vetting of the design, and its transportation along with the fusion fuel – tritium, and highly-enriched uranium needed for the FBF device – by road across the mountainous border from the adjoining Jiangsu province to the test site in northwestern North Korea to minimise the chances of detection. The open-ended nuclear tests in North Korea of Pakistani-designed weapons under Chinese supervision offer Beijing the means of controlling the nuclear skill levels of its partners just so this issue does not end up hurting its own interests, while enabling Islamabad’s nuclear weaponeers to validate their advanced designs without Pakistan having to conduct tests on its own territory and facing the prospect of damaging Western economic and other sanctions. Throughout this process of explosive testing, Pakistan and China are insulated from its consequences, even as North Korea, immune to economic bans and prohibitions, has its reputation as a budding nuclear weapon state burnished, gaining for the Kim Jong-un dispensation the freedom from fear of an external attack or externally-induced regime change.

Pyongyang’s nuclear antics precipitate crises that heighten Beijing’s clout and enhance the confidence of Pakistani nuclear weapons complex. The pattern is for North Korea to fire off a missile, conduct a nuclear test, or create a rumpus in the demilitarised zone and threaten to incinerate Seoul, Tokyo, or Manhattan. The targeted countries get agitated and mull an appropriate action, but ere a collective response can jell China, in its “responsible state”/stakeholder avatar joins Washington in calling for restraint, reins in its client state, leading to military de-escalation of a nascent conflictual situation and a Beijing, allergic to destabilising the current, diplomatically useful regime in Pyongyang, ensures Kim Jong-un stays on.

Such crises only deepen the mystery about how North Korea – a dirt poor, pre-industrial country with a subsistence agrarian economy and no science and technology infrastructure worth the name – has progressed inside of 20 years from the basic fission weapon stage and conventionally-armed missiles to, in 2016, testing a boosted fission nuclear device, launching a three stage rocket with an engine that can propel missiles intercontinental distances and miniaturising nuclear warheads. The literature on the Chinese policy of nuclear weaponising North Korea is meagre. There is no dearth of news reports and commentaries, however, along the lines of a nuclearised North Korea requiring Western help to avoid an implosion with potentially disastrous consequences for the region. It is a view Beijing would like to see gather steam in American policy circles in order to revive the “six party talks” that could lead to a negotiated outcome that will see the US sharing with China the costs of pacifying the mercurial Kim Jong-un regime.

Strangely, westerners permitted access to the closed North Korean system far from being informative, end up supporting the Chinese line that Beijing has little or no influence on the North Korean nuclear programme. Thus Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the main US nuclear weapons designing centre, who has visited Pyongyang’s secretive nuclear programme, said after his 2010 trip, that North Korea’s progress in the uranium enrichment field was due to Pakistan’s help with centrifuges, and raised the spectre of Pyongyang emerging as an autonomous nuclear proliferator. It is again the sort of worry the North Korean dictator and Beijing would like to see kindled in order to strengthen Pyongyang’s negotiating hand in future talks with Washington, whenever these happen. Around the time Kim Jong-un was threatening nuclear attacks on Seoul in April 2013, Hecker returned from another North Korean trip and, once again, was off on a tangent, this time referring to North Korean capability-shortfalls in centrifuge enrichment, while avoiding any mention of China’s role in that country’s advancement in the nuclear weapons sphere. Perhaps, deliberately ignoring China’s role, he wrongly asserted that nuclear warhead miniaturisation was beyond Pyongyang’s ken. Two years later, Hecker, who claims to have visited North Korea seven times and the Yongbyon nuclear complex four times, astoundingly absolved China of all responsibility for the North Korean nuclear program growing “from having the option for a bomb in 2003, to having a handful of bombs five years later, to having an expanding nuclear arsenal now”, saying flatly that “Chinese experts did not have access to Yongbyon”. Such credulity on Hecker’s part – if it is not entirely by US government design – makes him, in Lenin’s memorable phrase for capitalist Armand Hammer and from Kim Jong-un’s perspective, “a useful idiot”. In the meantime, the US military’s assessment of North Korean strategic capabilities was increasingly less sanguine. Testifying before the US House Armed Services Committee in October 2015, heads of the US Pacific Command and US Northern Command declared that North Korea can hurl missiles with miniaturised warheads at US targets and is “the greatest threat”, directly contradicting Hecker’s 2013 estimate of North Korea’s warhead miniaturising capability. In the event, the conclusion India should reasonably reach is that China, through the North Korean channel, has managed to transmit the warhead-miniaturising skills and capability both to Pakistan’s strategic plans division, to inject credibility into its tactical nuclear missile-based deterrence, and to Pyongyang.

Bending over backwards to not implicate China in Pakistan and North Korea’s nuclearisation and assigning benign motives to Beijing’s policies despite its reckless nuclear proliferation track record is something that has been correctly ascribed to Henry Kissinger’s awe of China, which has since been institutionalised, congealing into a Washington foreign policy blind spot. But it does not explain why, some 25 years after the termination of the Cold War and a decade since China’s emergence as a military rival and economic peer competitor to the US, Washington continues to coddle China – the Frankensteinian monster it created as a Cold War ploy. A powerful China now wants to construct its own world order on the ruins of the existing NPT system. Whence, Kim Jong-un is stimulated to carry on with his confrontationist tactics to maximise its own peace-keeping value and Pakistan is encouraged to keep the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) talks at the UN Commission on Disarmament in Geneva gummed up, because Beijing is unconvinced the FMCT serves its security interests. Diplomatically it is all gain and no pain for China, notwithstanding accusations by informed commentators that the US government is reinforcing “the worst tendencies in Beijing by inadvertently creating a set of perverse incentives”.

Fostering North Korea and Pakistan as nuclear security threats and helping to deal with the contingencies they create firms up the perception that no regional or international issue of war or peace can be resolved without China’s goodwill and involvement. It allows Beijing to condition its help in tackling the crises its rogue clients precipitate on the US terminating its arms sales to Taiwan, and to carry on freely with aiding and abetting the clandestine efforts of non-weaponised nuclear aspirant states, such as Iran. As a strategy, it has helped China to decisively turn regional and international affairs to its advantage. The failure of Washington and the US’ Asian allies to recognise and react to China’s running with the hares and hunting with the hounds policy, and to accept Beijing as the source of nuclear security problems and an inalienable part of their solution, is doubly evident. China is thus nicely placed, unique in its ability to simultaneously undermine the global system, strengthen its own relative position, and to exploit the privileges and maneuvering room it enjoys as a near great power and a Non-Proliferation Treaty-recognised nuclear weapons state to pursue its narrow national interests without regard for the common good.

A triadic counter

With Washington uneasy about doing anything other than skirting around Beijing’s culpability for creating nuclear flashpoints, Asian countries directly in the line of fire have to wonder if US President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” does not amount to doing nothing and whether the natural follow-on to this isn’t Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s view that because the US cannot, in any case, afford to protect Japan and South Korea, they would be better off procuring nuclear weapons of their own for security? In the event, is it now time to begin assembling a counter-triad of India, Japan and South Korea to take the fight to China? This is the drastic solution for the dire security situation they face, to function in an overt-covert concert to replicate for China the touch-trigger situation Beijing has created for them by arming countries in China’s periphery, such as Vietnam, with nuclear missiles and other strategic armaments.

Such a counter-triad would right the distribution of power long tilted in Beijing’s favour and strategically roil the security situation for the Asian behemoth in the manner India, Japan and South Korea have been discommoded by China and its nuclear henchmen, Pakistan and North Korea, and will be in line with the US policy of strategic partner capacity building. It is a strategy to compel Beijing, as Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer put it, to “share the [nuclear] nightmare”. Such a response has become urgent with the news that China may be upping the ante by transferring wherewithal to help Islamabad and Pyongyang configure full-fledged thermonuclear armaments and ICBMs. Unless the game is turned around, and harsh payback and high costs imposed on Beijing, China will persist with its policy of targeted nuclear proliferation to undermine its adversaries.

India’s situation is in every respect more worrisome and, should Tokyo and Seoul be pressured by Washington and otherwise have reservations about participating in a counter-triad to blunt China’s aggression, New Delhi should prosecute its own policy of selectively and covertly proliferating nuclear weapons technology, especially to an assertive Hanoi, which has time and again shown the mettle to stand up to China. India is aware of China’s responsibility for equipping Pakistan with nuclear missiles, and concerned about Islamabad’s role in using the North Korean nuclear tests to improve its “boosted fission” weapon- and, eventually, hydrogen bomb-making skills. The time for payback is nigh. A platform exists for the secret transfer of the necessary nuclear goods and expertise to Vietnam – the 2003 India-Vietnam civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. It was augmented in 2009 by the defence cooperation accord and in May 2015 further enhanced by the ‘joint vision statement’ envisaging a comprehensive upgrade in relations. In line with its new “Act East” thrust of policy, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has finally agreed to sell to Vietnam the indigenous Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. It is another matter that New Delhi is yet to dispatch them to Hanoi.

It is possible that Washington’s reluctance to call out China in a more forceful manner on nuclear proliferation is inducing caution in New Delhi. The other factor that may be acting as a dampener on an aggressive policy of counter-proliferating to Southeast Asian countries inclined to stand up to Chinese bullying is the potentially adverse reaction of the US, which the Modi regime is particularly mindful of. Will Washington react with its usual mindless nonproliferation zeal, or look the other way, which it has repeatedly done in the past? In this respect, notwithstanding the US government’s consistent opposition to India resuming nuclear tests and acquiring credible thermonuclear armaments to achieve at least notional strategic parity with China, the fact is such a development serves US strategic interests. The chances, however, are Washington will stay with its longstanding “Kissingerian” policy of currying favour with Beijing in the hope of constituting a global G-2 order with the US and China at the apex, permitting the CPUS triad to covertly “balance” a nuclear India with a nuclear Pakistan in South Asia, and to bind a worried Japan and North Korea more closely to America by keeping alive the bogey of a crazy nuclearised North Korea.

Japan and South Korea may ultimately be restrained by Washington. But a determined and resolute India that knows its interests and is intent on equalising the strategic correlation of forces in Asia cannot be stopped from strategically undermining by any and all means the security system China has over the years so ruthlessly installed to further its goal of domination. The policy of nuclear empowering of its Asian friends may win New Delhi some genuine respect in the world. Then again, Beijing is, perhaps, banking on the proven timidity and diffidence of Indian rulers to escape the actions of a justly vengeful India (and an Asian counter-triad). The question, therefore, is whether the Indian government will be disruptive for a change in order to permanently reduce China strategically – a big enough goal for New Delhi to temper its risk-averse habit of mind.

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Wish IAF had PAF’s innovative, cost-benefit, mindset

There’s a report about the Pakistan Air Force acquiring a squadron of Mirage 2000-5s from Qatar. (See But for the interventions by ACM S Tyagi (Retd) — yea, the same IAF chief since fingered in the Agusta-Westland scam, sixty of these planes would have been in the Indian fleet, a decade back. These Mirages with 80% of their operational life intact, would have speedily made up the depleting fighter squadrons Vayu Bhavan keeps bellyaching about.

Again, PAF had a while back secured all the Mirage –IIIs/Vs they could get their hands on from anywhere, especially from richer air forces (including Australian) phasing out these aircraft. It proceeded to upgrade the radar and avionics, configuring them to fire more modern weapons. UAE have also expressed their willingness to sell Pakistan (with Saudi compensation and American OK in mind) upto two squadrons of the Mirage 2000-9s in its air force. Actually, UAE were planning on diverting 60 of this aircraft to Iraq except Baghdad has chosen to go in for Russian combat aircraft. PAF has long experience of handling these Mirages ‘coz its pilots regularly fly these planes for the Qatari and the Emirati air forces.

The same PAF attitude of getting something reasonably good for a small price is elsewhere coming into play with respect to the F-16. Rather than pay $270 million per plane for 8 new F-16s from the US, a squadron’s worth of this aircraft is being procured at a fraction of the cost from Jordan. It helps that the Saudis will pay for this transaction (as they have for similar deals in the past), and that it has prior approval of the US. Washington has also agreed to help the PAF brass firm up the supply of spares for the ex-Jordanian F-16s from Ankara (via possibly the US stores prepositioned at Incirlik, the NATO air force base in southern Turkey). Moreover, these ex-Jordanian F-16s are likely to be upgraded to “Block 60 plus” level through the US-Turkey route. These Blk-60 F-16s, it is said, will be enabled to fire the Chinese-designed Ra’ad cruise missile in PAF’s employ, which missile, many apprehend, is outfitted with the terrain mapping technology for guidance to target on-board the US Tomahawk, which fired from a ship in the Arabian Sea against an Afghan target crash-landed in Pakistan instead, and was promptly shipped off to the Chinese, who reverse engineered the guidance system and, besides equipping their own CJ series of cruise missiles, also passed it on to Pakistan for fitting on the Ra’ad. Welcome to the world of innovative tech interplay to realize strategic aims!

By way of reference, the F-16 Blk-60 is what the US government and the Lockheed Martin chief, Marillyn A. Hewison, recently in New Delhi, are pushing the Modi regime to buy and manufacture locally under the aegis of the ‘Make in India’ programme.

Witness the pattern here. Petro-rich and spendthrift nations of the Gulf, more paranoid than with brains, are replacing the perfectly serviceable Mirages with the over-expensive Typhoon Eurofighter. On the other hand, PAF, compensates for its manifest resource scarcity with innovative thinking and retrofitting older aircraft with newer radar, avionics, and weapons to have a relatively technologically in-date force at all times.

The IAF, spoiled by the Indian government sans expertise which, if it can be imagined, has even less common sense and can’t manage the inter se priorities if their lives depended on it, errs on the side of caution and even though cash starved, behaves as the Gulf states do — throwing money around for new and shiny military hardware as if there’s no tomorrow!

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has the right instincts, and sees Su-30MKIs upgraded to “super Sukhoi” level and hordes of Tejas Mk-II as the answer to IAF’s problems of sustaining fighting prowess and filling the combat squadron gap. Of course, IAF geared to always plonking for the cost-prohibitive option is pleading for 36 French Rafales (@ $290 million), two squadrons of which dainty aircraft will be good for nothing except as show pieces clogging up the operational picture and, in any case, won’t make up for the declining fighter strength.

Besides every other advantage, including its being the best fighter plane in the skies today, the Super Sukhoi Su-30s can, for instance, make mincemeat of the Rafale as also the latest fighter in the US stable, the disastrous F-35 Lightening-II, which as American experts, such as Pierre Sprey, claim can’t maneuver, can’t fight, and can’t get out of harm’s way! Speedily inducting more Super Sukoi-level Su-30 Squadrons will immediately ramp up many times over IAF’s fighter presence in the skies. This is because the Rafale or any other aircraft (F-16/F-18, Typhoon Eurofighter and Saab Gripen NG) that will be new to IAF and cannot be operationalized without the basic training, diagnostic, and maintenance infrastructure in place and which to be installed will take anything up to six years, until 2022, if the acquisition decision is made today. On the other hand, large numbers of fresh Su-30 entrants into IAF can be immediately serviced with the infrastructure already in place at a bunch of air bases all over the country.

This to say that no matter what metric is used, there’s no getting around the Super Sukhoi Su-30 as the best, most cost-effective, no brainer choice before the Indian govt and IAF, unless one assumes that either IAF or GOI or both have brain-freeze.

Unless, Prime Minister Modi completely loses all perspective, rejects Parrikar’s logical thinking, and orders the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to release funds for some Western combat aircraft buy or the other, whatever the deleterious consequences for the national interest, the only economically feasible choice is, priority-wise, to get huge numbers of Tejas Mk-II produced by Indian private sector defence companies in parallel production lines with HAL, in the air, along with super Sukhois acceleratedly manufactured at HAL, Nasik.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, SAARC, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia | 57 Comments

Rid India of salafi-wahabbism — do it before it is too late

Can one think of India without Muslims and Islam? Honestly, no. A sentiment reflected in Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in the Parliamentary debate on developments in Kashmir today that Indian Islam is peaceful. It is if one conflates sufi Islam with Indian Islam, which generally describes the state of art of this religion in India. Except, Islam has many strains in the subcontinent including Wahabbism brought into South Asia in early 19th Century from Saudi Arabia. But it did not, for good reasons, quite take root in the Indian milieu in the main because the austere mien of this desert Islam and its insistence on the strictest and literal adherence to Koran and Hadith grounded in the 7th Century was at odds with not just the tropical lushness of India but the live and let live attitude and ethos embedded in Indian culture — an easy- minded amalgam of food, literature, religion, ritual, music and dance that sufi Islam was in sync with.

This changed with export of labour to start with from peninsular India (Hyderabad and Kerala) to West Asia, in particular, oil rich Gulf emirates and especially Saudi Arabia where the Sauds — the most debauched ruling elite to be found anywhere, as a matter of survival tactic permitted the wahabbis to impose the sharia and define the behaviour of the state while keeping themselves outside its ambit. Stacking a large part of the oil revenues in Swiss accounts and in capital acquisitions and other lucrative investments in the United States and Western Europe that made for rich returns, endowed these Sauds and their counterparts in the Gulf with unimagined amounts of expendable income. The extended Saud family and its retainers — numbering roughly some 10,000 plus persons, thus acquired the freedom and the means to have the run of the fleshpots of Europe and the gambling dens of Monte Carlo and London, and to indulge themselves in every vice and luxury forbidden by wahabbi Islam at home. Thus satiated after their excesses, they returned home to hypocritically play out their roles for the Muslim ummah as the abstemious guardians of Mecca and Medina.

As part of the deal cut with the Wahabbis, the Saudi state, through numerous religious charities, also undertook to spread wahabbi Islam to the outside world in every way possible. The Indian subcontinent seething with impoverished and illiterate Muslim masses was an irresistible and attractive target to launch a campaign to convert the majority of sunni Indian Muslims from the more tolerant hanafi/sufi version of Islam to salafist wahabbism. Regular transfer of rials/dollars lubricated this process of funding the Deoband seminary and its offshoots and influencing the Muslim clergy to adopt the wahabbi outlook. Deobandi graduates became the medium for wahabbi propagation, which joined up with the already existing Wahabbi strain lurking in the Indian Islamic fold. Saudi Arabia is thus the locus genesis of the terrorist Islamic State — not something the US and the West too long interwined with Saudi interests, will ever acknowledge or act on, despite IS violence and eruptions in Europe.

The wahabbist Islam began settling in for good in India, however, with a trickle and later flood of returning Muslim expat labour, investing their nest eggs in conspicuously garish residences in Kerala and elsewhere but also in building mosques and madrassas in their local communities preaching wahabbi Islam they had become habituated to. This activity meshed with the monies being channeled into the building up of same sort of wahabbi cultural assets. The political cover was provided by the Indian Muslim League in Kerala, which invariably partnered with the Congress party in the state wedded to “secularism” that blinded and desensitized them to imported wahabbi undercurrents in society.

Thus, there is no mechanism to monitor monies gushing into India from wahabbi Arab “charities” — other than a small cell in the Enforcement Directorate in the Finance Ministry, no legal requirement for auditing of the accounts of Indian charities that benefited from these large fund inflows, and absolutely no policing of the madrassas and mosques that with growing confidence began openly promoting wahabbism, until now when the previously harmonious society in Kerala is rent apart. Fatwas are being issued for Muslims to shun celebrations of onam and christmas.

Have policing and administrative measures, audit requirements, etc been put in place since the BJP came to power at the centre to ensure the wahabbist influences begin to be reined in? Alas, no, because law& order is a state subject. Yes, but the enforcement directorate can haul up Indian beneficiary institutions of Arab largesse, and keep them under a keen policing lens. Throttling the money movement is one sure way to reverse the wahabbi spread. It was not until everybody suddenly discovered the wacko Zakir Naik — the “suited and booted” Saudi-supported wahabbi televangelist, who appeals to the middle class Muslims of South Asia, in the aftermath of the Dhaka killings, that the GOI suddenly shook itself awake and now talks of tasking intel agencies to trace the flow and pattern of Saudi-sourced funding. How Naik could get away for so long while regularly denigrating other religions, especially Hindu gods and Hinduism in a Hindu-majority state in the vilest terms, is a wonder. Shouldn’t these kinds of provocations have attracted the attention of the CrPC provisions about creating communal disharmony and disturbance, and earned him time in the slammer? It is laughable that this same Naik now claims the protection of the Indian Constitution. It reminds one of that old joke of the youth killing his parents and then pleading for lenient treatment by the judge on account of his being an orphan!

There are great many things the government can and must do. It need look no farther than majority Muslim Bangaldesh, which has been very innovative, notwithstanding the recent violence against non-muslims by jammaat extremists, in corralling these elements bent on mischief and disorder.

Chief among the measures Dhaka has successfully implemented are (1) the licensing of madarssas by the education ministry, which also oversees the curriculum and inclusion of science, mathematics and other secular subjects, and putting the maulvis in the mosques and madarssas on govt dole, and (2) monitoring of the jumma prayers in mosques to ensure the salaried maulvis do not preach wahabbism, for instance.

Now, why can’t the Kerala govt adopt such measures and the central govt release funds from the HRD Ministry on condition that Bangladesh-type regulations are promulgated and followed?

One of the side benefits of the govt maulvis in madarssas and indirect control of what’s said in the mosques is that Dhaka has used these clerics to popularize small family norms. Indeed, this has been so stellar a success — which’s not known in India — that Bangladesh has been able to control to a commendable degree the surge in the rate of population growth. Of all the states in South Asia Bangladesh will be the first to reach replacement rate (meaning equal number of births and deaths) and demographically stabilize Bangladeshi society — the start point for a rocketing takeoff economically.

GOI’s and the privilegentsia’s persistently confused take on secularism thus bids fair to obtain in India a wahabbi hell, a denouement Bangladesh — that many still perceive as a basket case — may escape. Something for all the right-thinking people in this country to ponder, because GOI is apparently not doing so, and if it is, not going beyond and doing something on the ground. It is better something lasting be done before it is too late. Extremist religion is one thing the govt should ruthlessly contain by any and all means, or see it consume the Indian society that is already restless and just short of being in the grip perennial turmoil and terrorist violence, a’la Pakistan. This is more than a mere problem of internal security but an issue of the nation’s well being.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Culture, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US., West Asia | 32 Comments

Russian terms

A Russian-speaking scientific source in touch with friends in Moscow said he was informed that the Kremlin had forwarded a note that mentioned certain things to the Modi government, chief among them are the following:

1) Russia’s readiness to have Indian Air Force fighter pilots test-fly the prototype FGFA (fifth generation fighter aircraft) was communicated to New Delhi many months back, so far eliciting no names of pilots Air HQrs want deputed for this test-flying stint (lasting from 6 months to a year). Moscow asked for the names to permit the Russians to do background checks on them and otherwise clear them for familiarization training. This is to include, besides classroom instruction, actually logging the necessary number of flying hours in two-seat trainers with Russian test pilots before they are permitted to take up the aircraft on solo flights. The Russians are afraid that allowing un-vetted “pro-Western” pilots may lead to the “secrets” of this aircraft — many new and novel technologies and aeroframe features — being leaked by them to the US and West European (French, British, German) government reps, and thence to their R&D labs, and defence industries.

2) The United Aircraft Corporation of Russia is also receptive to entertaining whatever new technologies and features they want incorporated in the “super Sukhoi” version of the Su-30. This super Sukhoi version will eventually replace the older Su-30MKIs, with the fleet size growing to some 272 + 45 or some 317 Super Sukhoi fighter-bombers in all in IAF. But these improvements need to be communicated soonest for the project to get underway. Especially, as the demand for Su-35 is revving up and some of the work force from the super Sukhoi line may have to be shifted to produce the Su-35.

3) Russia is also worried that in case the production of the US F-16/F-18 in India is approved by Modi, it will be difficult to keep the Russian technology from being accessed by Western technicians, whence the need has been voiced for a strict separation of the Russian aircraft and West-sourced combat aircraft all the way from operational location to production and servicing/maintenance. It is the sort of segregation, it may be recalled, US insisted on for its hardware since the 1990s (because they were afraid the Russioans would flick their technologies). With the F-16/F-18 level of technologies, even of the upgraded variety, these will be nowhere in the same league technologically as the super Sukhois and FGFAs. So now Russia has to be seriously concerned about thieving Western supplier states.

4) Moscow has also suggested a deadline of 4-6 months to finalize the super Sukhoi and FGFA contracts. It feels the Indian govt has tarried long enough, and the more time New Delhi is given to make up its mind, the more it will fritter away what its says are its scarce resources on Western equipment, leaving the Russian suppliers high and dry. For example, Rs 1,000 crore was found to buy an additional six Poseidon P-8Is for maritime reconnaissance, which minus the original avionics suite, amount to purchasing shells of the Boeing 737 plane but at three times the cost of the passenger aircraft, albeit with embedded wiring, etc. for plugging in various DRDO and private sector developed indigenous sensors, etc. [For some serious details in extenso on this subject, see a whole section on the P-8I as the flagship Indo-US project in my book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.] But, the Modi govt says it has no money to fund, in the same amount, the upgrading of Su-30MKIs to the super-Sukhoi configuration. This, according to the source, has left Moscow perplexed and angry.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 49 Comments

Limits of Modi’s personalised diplomacy

THE DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC of Narendra Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister are the foreign trips he has racked up—16 in his first year, followed by another 10 in his second year in office. It seems he likes nothing better than jaw-jawing in foreign climes.

For all the media hoo-ha, Modi’s tours are fetching diminishing returns, with each new foreign tour appearing less fresh, less substantive, but more wearisome. Consider Modi’s interactions with the US President: He has met Barack Obama seven times in all, four times in America, and twice on visits to Washington. But a few days before the supposed honour done Modi with the invitation to address the US Congress, the US Senate rejected recognising India as America’s ‘global strategic and defence partner’ and the White House did not pitch India’s case to Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, Brazil and Turkey, for admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), unlike in 2008 when the then President George W Bush burned the wires—including with China—to get India its NSG waiver. And, notwithstanding Modi’s charm offensive and personal pleading on state visits to Mexico and Switzerland, neither Mexico City nor Berne relented in opposing India’s NSG membership.

So, what’s going wrong with Modi’s forays in the external realm, which made such a splash early on, transfixing the country and at least the expat part of the Western world, replete with crazed crowds in Madison Garden, New York, Wembley Stadium, London, and the Allphones Arena, Sydney? Well, they hit the limits of personalised diplomacy.

What makes personalised diplomacy tick? Mainly, its rarity and the manner in which it is conducted and for what purpose. It is a double-edged sword, though. A helmsman putting his prestige and status on the line, and doing the slog-work—the domain of professional diplomats—of stumping for support from foreign countries, endows the venture he is involved in with significance beyond anything the foreign country may accord it. But there have been more failures than payoffs. This is due to the hyperbolic media build-up and raising of expectations that have provided clever adversary states the opportunity to show India in bad light, pull Modi down a peg or two, and magnify his failure. Thus, Chinese President Xi Jinping ignored Modi’s entreaties for “a fair and objective assessment” of India’s case for NSG membership in their meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Tashkent on 23 June, resulting in egg on the latter’s face and a hit to India’s reputation.

Modi’s calling card—his tight embraces, bear hugs and hand- holding—unique to his personalised diplomacy, which he believes makes for instant warmth and cordiality, hasn’t worked either. Nawaz Sharif responded happily to such gestures, and Obama, who roomed with a Pakistani during his days at Columbia University, reciprocated. But it has left most other leaders, such as French President François Hollande, in a state of embarrassed discomfort.

At its core, the trouble is that the Prime Minister has made too many foreign trips and converted too many foreign policy issues into occasions for grandstanding, and his interventions have now palled, eroding his credibility and raising doubts about his ability to distinguish between the truly significant national interest that needs pursuing with his direct involvement and relatively less important concerns that can be productively handled by diplomats.

It underlines just how precious a head of government’s personal political capital is in international relations and why it should be carefully husbanded, doled out in very small doses, and his presence deployed only in rare situations to obtain decisive results on large issues of war and peace, or to garner huge economic gains. In the field of foreign policy, ‘out of the box’ thinking and actions that Modi extols do not require that he always lead the charge. Since squandered personal capital cannot easily be restocked, the Indian Prime Minister may soon discover he has exhausted this resource when he most needs it in the future, rendering him less effective as a statesman.

There is also the danger that every passing failure will lead him to engage his ego more deeply in failing causes and to ‘lose face’. The great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu had warned that losing face has costs. But Modi indicated in his interview to Times TV that his Government will bull ahead regardless on the NSG front. Or as MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup put it: “Today, Indian diplomacy doesn’t fear failure. If we don’t get desired results, we [will] redouble our efforts.” But doggedness is not always a diplomatic virtue; it can result in the country digging itself into a bigger hole, nor is backing off to mount an offensive on another axis a show of weakness.

Modi’s personalised diplomacy is affected by other factors as well. It is clear the Prime Minister has his own foreign policy agenda and plan of action, has strong views on everything, and welcomes only policy ideas conforming to his own notions, summarily rejecting contrary advice from any quarter. Convinced of his power to persuade Xi, Modi, for example, shrugged off the MEA’s apprehensions about China’s unwavering opposition to India’s NSG entry. Modi’s style of working reveals tremendous confidence, and massive ego, pride, and vanity to match—natural for a person who has traversed the distance from the lowest rungs of society to the highest position in the country.

In this set-up, his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar are mere functionaries doing Modi’s bidding. It has simplified the policymaking process. Jaishankar, for instance, has dispensed with the ‘collegium’ system followed by his predecessors of consulting other secretaries in the Ministry because such collective counsel is deemed extraneous to his brief and the Prime Minister’s needs. The MEA, including its Minister Sushma Swaraj, are thus marginalised.

Doval and Jaishankar have only to take care not to question Modi’s outlook and approach, or to contradict his views, and to deliver on cue. Then again, they have the same orientation the Prime Minister does of seeing the West as the source of solutions for India’s problems. Apparently, they have had a harder time adjusting to Modi’s peculiarly Gujarati conceit (representative of the trader community of that province) central to his diplomacy that because his negotiating wiles cannot easily be countered, he can cut beneficial deals all by himself with anybody. With Modi, in effect, both writing the diplomatic music and directing the orchestra, the PMO and MEA are reduced to keeping the musicians and their instruments in order.

With long experience of dealing with egotistical Third World leaders, Western governments long ago finessed the ministering to their vanity as means of advancing national interests into a fine art. Western capitals quickly learned, for instance, that gargantuan returns can be raked in by making the right noises, seconding Modi’s perspective, and waxing emphatic about his ‘Make in India’ programme. Fawned on and feted by Hollande in Paris, Modi suddenly announced the buy of 36 Rafale fighter planes that torpedoed the underway medium multi-role combat aircraft procurement process and undermined Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s more economical and effective option of buying twice as many Indian-assembled Su-30MKIs for the same amount as the Rafale, that would have left money over for producing the locally-designed Tejas light combat aircraft.

Likewise, in tilting towards the US, Modi has been unmindful of the huge economic and geopolitical costs involved in terms of loss of strategic autonomy and alienating Russia, an indispensable strategic partner. Unlike the US, Moscow has been relaxed about transferring frontline military equipment (such as the Akula-II nuclear attack submarine) in contrast to Washington flogging 1970s vintage F-16 and F-18 aircraft, and in assisting in the design and production of the Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarines. Compare this technology level to the US promise of help in producing short-range tactical drones and battery packs.

Modi has seemingly bought into Washington’s transactional policy requiring New Delhi to make endless buys of inordinately expensive technology and military hardware just so the US grows to trust India. Except, US punitive policies created the trust deficit in the first place, which Modi doesn’t think matters.

He has thus agreed to purchase six Westinghouse AP 1000 light water reactors that will divert scarce funds from Indian projects to develop breeder reactors and follow-on thorium reactors. The US offer of the electro-magnetic aircraft launch system will make the Indian-built carriers cost-prohibitive, at $10 billion per vessel. And importing the 155 mm M-777 howitzer from the US instead of procuring the Bharat Forge-designed and produced lightweight, air transportable utility gun, will dampen private sector initiatives and mock Modi’s defence indigenisation policy. The total bill will be in tens of billions of dollars.

There’s no one to tell Modi he is on the wrong track. A liability in diplomacy, vanity won’t permit him to acknowledge his mistakes. Worse, it has made him susceptible ‘to be turned’, as a senior diplomat put it, ‘for small cash’.
Published as ‘Open Essay’ under the title “As Modi Embraces the World: Limits of personalised diplomacy” in Open magazine, July 15, 2016 at

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Latin America, Military Acquisitions, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 27 Comments

Turkey do, Pakistan follow?

The US pledged “absolute support for Turkey’s democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions” and immediately ended the attempted coup in Turkey. This attitude of Washington must have come as a nasty surprise to the coup planners — the leaders are not yet identified, because that country under Tayyip Erdogan’s first prime ministership and then presidency has become more receptive towards Islamization, a movement seeking a return of the Turkish society to the faith. This was, as always, counter-balanced, if not resisted, by the Turkish Army the upholder of the modern secular state and Constitution that Kemal Attaturk established in the ruins of the Ottoman rule in the wake of the First World War.

But Attaturk’s secular revolution was from the beginning opposed by the Muslim clergy and the old order where the mosque had great say. Visiting Istanbul, one could clearly see, feel, and sense that deep divide. The bridge across the Bosphorus, linking “European” Istanbul and Turkey (wide avenues, glittering shops, clean lines of buildings in big compounds) to a manifestly “Asiatic” Turkey (a crowded, rising jumble of settlements) is the very symbol of the uneasy but persistent internal tensions. No wonder the units involved in the coup positioned their armoured vehicles on this bridge to prevent the more Islamist people from streaming into the European quarter. In any case, one spotted Islamists in black turbans and kaftans even in the “Western” sections of the city, sporting a sullen attitude, plainly disapproving of the westernized Turkish society they abhorred.

Why does what happen in Ankara and Istanbul matter for developments in Islamabad and Pakistan? Pakistan army chiefs, especially the more adventurous among them who launched coups (Pervez Musharraf, for one, who spent his early years in Turkey as his Dad was posted in the Ankara embassy) have always seen themselves as Pakistani Attaturks, rescuing their country from poor civilian governance, corruption and squalor of a country set too soon and prematurely on the democratic path. Their self-image is that of state modernizers. (Th exception being Zia “the mullah” ul-Haq, who dragged the country back several hundred years with his nizam-e-mustafa.) Whatever his other faults, Musharraf, for example, did something quite unique — actually facilitated a free and lively press and media to proliferate, grow and flourish until now when Pakistan, in my view, has a far freer, more vocal, media, more critical of its government than in India. Just youtube Pakistani news and panel discussion programmes for evidence. Or scan the online versions of Pakistani newspapers featuring, perhaps, the most vociferous bunch of columnists in South Asia (such as the extraordinarily literate Ayaz Amir writing in ‘The News’).

The problem is the relentless 24/7 criticism of the Muslim League (N) government has prepared the ground for possible army takeover by the current Pak COAS, General Raheel Sharif ere his term ends in four months time (November). The apparently no-nonsense Raheel is the new Saladin on the Pak scene — the man who can do no wrong, who deployed his forces to all but wipe out the Pakistani Taliban in FATA and North Wazirstan, cleanse to a considerable extent the Karachi metro region of its tribal crime syndicates, and cut the MQM supremo Altaf Hussain and his Movement to size. And, he is liked by the Pentagon as a “straight shooter”. The situation has all the ingredients for a Raheel coup.

But here’s the difference with Turkey. There Erdogan over the years had weeded out “undesirable” — read too secular — generals from the command structure, leaving the coup to be attempted by mid-level officers that guaranteed its failure. In Pakistan, it is the “secular” army that could reassert its role as the guardian of the state. Fed up with a non-performing govt and a Nawaz Sharif who avoids hard decisions and whose family is allegedly into self-aggrandizement, people have put up posters on lamp posts lining Islamabad avenues pleading for Raheel to rescue the country.

Here’s where the unpredictability is. The Obama Admin’s nyet pretty much let the air out of the coup in Ankara. After all, Erdogan has played ball with the US in its military ventures against the Bashar al-Assad clique in Syria, and is deemed useful. Washington may well disapprove should 111 (“Coup”) Brigade gets its orders from GHQ, Rawalpindi, to take over Radio Pakistan and Pakistan TV studios — the usual events that mark the onset of a coup in Islamabad. However, Raheel (like his predecessors, Ayub Khan, Zia, and Musharraf) is unlikely to be as deterred because he knows the US govt will come round to accepting the imposition of martial law as Afghanistan and other geostrategic concerns will undercut any American interest in strengthening Pakistani democracy.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Iran and West Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, United States, US., West Asia, Western militaries | 17 Comments