US Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta was accompanied by a big retinue of DOD officials and US military officers to the IDSA auditorium for his speech yesterday evening, among them the old stand-bys — Peter Lavoy, and the highest ranking American of Indian origin — Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and South East Asia, Vijay Singh.
The speech by Panetta at IDSA was not significant in terms of anything new. It was a rehash of things he has been saying on this Asia trip of his. Except for two things.
One, he talked of collaborative ventures, co-development projects, to produce new weapons systems and military-use technologies but only as something that may happen down the line AFTER a number of big item sales/deals are consumated and the US defense Companies take home the profits. When Russia, Israel, and France are involved/getting involved in just such enterprises, where’s the incentive for India to choose American equipment? There’s a huge opportunity cost component to America’s staged buildup to genuine defense industrial cooperation that US DOD has not factored into the calculations. The United States is setting itself up to lose out.
And two, Panetta vociferously denied there is any attempt by US Govt/Pentagon to halve the Indian army’s order for the Raytheon/Lockheed Javelin anti-tank, man-portable, missile. The fact is this is precisely a restriction the American interlocuters injected into the talks with their Indian army/MOD counterparts. With this bit of American imposition becoming public info, the US defense team had to express strong denials, and try to explain it away as I have indicated in my “Countering US pressure piece”. But this sort of thing only reinforces the view that Washington is keying narrowly on its own agenda — still keen to maintain an India-Pakistan conventional military balance, but try and use India as strategic counter-weight to China in Asia, while holding out the threat of sanctions in case India conducted nuclear tests to validate rejigged Indian thermonuclear weapons designs. These sorts of anomalies and fundamental flaws in the US policy premises and construction should be the bread and butter issues that the Indian side ought to bring up in the next round of the strategic dialogue with the US to be held in Washington the coming week. But that won’t happen because the Indian govt is acting as if these things are not important enough to matter.