Raining trouble

When it rains, it pours has never been truer than it is now for India.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Moscow to prepare the ground for Prime Minister Modi’s state visit in November, got a proper, if cold, reception. Her defining Russia as India’s closest friend did little to temper the message that, according to sources, was conveyed by Kremlin that Delhi’s taking Russia for granted will hereafter come at a cost. Swaraj was told, for instance, that unlike his other tours, the Indian PM while in Russia can expect no frills and hoopla — just business-like meetings shorn of all ceremony. Secondly, that while Moscow was, by and large, attentive in the past to Indian security concerns, it cannot afford India a veto on arms supplies to Pakistan — starting with the sale of attack helicopters and MiG-35 combat aircraft. Thirdly, depending on how things progress or don’t, Russia’s participation in sensitive strategic DRDO and DAE projects will be re-thought, as will the offer on the table for a while of the second Akula-II class SSN, the Iribis, that Moscow had agreed to upgrade to Akula-III standard before leasing it to the Indian Navy.

Given its own leanings, the BJP regime is thoughtlessly pandering to the Indian military’s institutional tilt and desire towards Western armaments and, hence, Western arms suppliers, without calculating the strategic costs to the country of going over so completely to the other side, as it were, simply boggles the mind. If Modi really believes that the US and Western European states will happily insert themselves in technology-transfer and indigenous tech-development role that Russia had heretofore specialized in, he has a rethink coming sooner than he believes. In the interim, until that light switches on, an awful lot of goodwill and policy ground for foreign and military policy maneuver will have been lost.

It is providential, in fact, that Pak PM Nawaz Sharif’s trip to Washington has happened at the same time as Swaraj’s to Moscow. It points to precisely the problems India, loosening its links to Russia, will face in dealing with a US now confident that Delhi has nowhere else to go.

Consider the ‘2015 Joint Statement By President Barack Obama And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’ dated Oct 22, 2015 (accessible at
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/10/22/2015-joint-statement-president-barack-obama-and-prime-minister-nawaz) at the end of Nawaz Sharif’s parleys with Obama in Washington. The US Government has acquiesced in describing Pakistan “as one of the largest Muslim democracies [that is utilizing] its influence in support of peace, security, development, human rights across the world” and the US-Pak relationship as “enduring”, and “bilateral defense cooperation” as “robust”. While recognizing Pakistan’s role, albeit inferentially, in containing terrorism by referring to “Pakistan’s positive efforts to counter improvised explosive devices” — THERE WAS NOT A HINT ANYWHERE OF TERRORIST OUTFITS TARGETING INDIA, SUCH AS LeT LED BY THE ABOMINABLE HAFIZ SAYEED, NURSED BY PAKISTANI AGENCIES AND OPERATING OUT OF PAKISTANI TERRITORY.

In the most telling portion of the Nawaz-Obama. Statement, under the sub-section “Strategic Stability, Nuclear Security, and Nonproliferation”, the two leaders “acknowledged the importance of regional balance and stability in South Asia” and, in an obvious dig against India, talked of the need for “uninterrupted dialogue in support of peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes.”

Worse still from the Indian national interest perspective, the US kept its options to assist Pakistan militarily and otherwise keep its hand hot in South Asian affairs. In this respect, the Statement, most significantly, recognizes “the importance of regional balance and strategic stability in South Asia”, thereby accepting the point Islamabad has always made that “regional balance” is what leads to “strategic stability” which construction, it turns out equates Pakistan with India, and is a license for America to assist and help Islamabad by whatever means to maintain a “regional balance” in the subcontinent. The transfer of the most advanced Harpoon antiship missiles, fast patrol craft able to launch durable motorized rubber dinghies for sneak attacks of the kind mounted by terrorists on Mumbai 26/11, and six F-16s is the down payment on this US line of advance. Incidentally, this merely amounts to reviving an old US policy but one that’s been kept alive by the Washington thinktanks, such as Henry L. Stimson Center, which has provided one of its senior staffers (Joshua White) to the Obama NSC, whose South Asia head is Peter Lavoy, a known Pakistan sympathizer and one of the Americans who early preached reconciling to a nuclear-armed Pakistan by plying it with American largesse!

Combine this considerable Pakistani political-diplomatic success with India being unmoored from its historical Russian military technology anchor, and one can see India heading for a strategic crash-landing. Tighten your seat belts!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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11 Responses to Raining trouble

  1. Viv S says:

    External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Moscow to prepare the ground for Prime Minister Modi’s state visit in November, got a proper, if cold, reception. Her defining Russia as India’s closest friend did little to temper the message that, according to sources, was conveyed by Kremlin that Delhi’s taking Russia for granted will hereafter come at a cost.

    – Was India the one taking Russia for granted when the latter started exporting arms and technology to China in 1991, laying the basis for the modern Chinese defence industry?

    – Were we the ones who took the other side for granted when it came to the Gorshkov negotiations, or the T-90’s ToT saga (both of which predated our major defence buying from the US)?

    – If the Indian military has ‘an institutional tilt’ towards Western arms, that’s a ‘bias’ that’s been earned through superior reliability and after-sales support.

    – The Russians already export the Mi-17 & RD-93s to Pakistan via middle-men. If they now wish to do so directly, so be it. Its not as if Pakistan is a oil-rich sheikhdom with billions to splurge on arms.

    ‘THERE WAS NOT A HINT ANYWHERE OF TERRORIST OUTFITS TARGETING INDIA, SUCH AS LeT LED BY THE ABOMINABLE HAFIZ SAYEED, NURSED BY PAKISTANI AGENCIES AND OPERATING OUT OF PAKISTANI TERRITORY.’

    – Can you please point out how many times the LeT & Co. were mentioned in the joint statement between Nawaz Sharif and Vladimir Putin?

    http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/49911

    • @viv — the basis for the Chinese defense industry was laid by the Chinese themselves by setting up reverse engineering setups to replicate everything they could get their hands on. This process got on the modernization track by the access to modern military hardware and manufacturing processes facilitated during the Reagan era (and the policy of building-up China as counter to Soviet Union — “the evil empire”) with the Pentagon Project — ‘Orient Pearl’ (I think) to update Chinese F-7 combat aircraft with modern American avionics. The T-90 is a redundant buy I always opposed, as I consider Indian army’s armrd and mech forces a colossal waste of resources given the more credible threat posed by China which India has not properly addressed. Look up my previous writings — in this blogsite and elsewhere. And finally, there’s a great difference between the mention or lack thereof of terrorism in a Sharif-Obama communique and in a Sharif-Putin Statement — because it is US, not Russia, that has trumpeted its Global War on Terrorism!

    • Aks says:

      Is the legendary western support also available for our AN/TPQ-37s which are rotting for lack of spares support? Its good to be skeptical of pro-Russia hyperbole. But may I suggest you stop acting like an apologist for the US as well?

      • @Aks — Absolutely right. In fact, the arty-spotting radar is precisely what I have time and again brought up in my writings, including in this blog, as an example of spares and service support being just as iffy as regards Western, especially US, suppliers. And particularly significant since these were a showpiece acquisition to highlight American technology and secured through the direct govt-to-govt mode (which in US parlance is FMS — foreign military sales arranged by the Pentagon).

  2. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    But the Americans will fight ‘our fight against China’ bhai jaan!

    OK Sarc off.

    But here is the low down on the tango and cash deals.
    P-8I – No go on anything over the horizon. Result – Brahmos will never get airborne in the Navy. But now we take pride in being able to launch the subsonic harpoons from P-8I.
    F-16IN & F-18 – Both reportedly had troubles in leh cold tests and if Ajai Shukla is to be believed then even their much vaunted sustained turn rates which was supposed to be there USP.
    Jalashwa – In 71 the Admirals had said that they would arrange for a whiskey session with Task Force 74 commander. Well now they can. The ship is good only for that much.
    Javeline/Spike – Weh! just got saved by a whisker by Amogh ATGM.
    Apache/Chinook – Well we have decided to buy the M-777. So we need to carry the M-777 into Himalayas with these chinooks and give protection with Apaches. Off course now we should buy more Chinooks since we also need to haul the shells too.
    EMALS & AAG – Yeh right. Let us recover 20% lesser aircrafts than we launch and do that at 3 times the extra electrical power requirement.

    And all this because we can get some radio and datalinking indigenization. Man this keeps getting funnier every passing day.

    And Pakis get the Harpoons (modified for land attack), F-16s, DARHT. And now even the pretense of US alliance with Pakis being limited to GWOT gets off. So how long before we get the Aman Ki Asha also in, through the back door.

    @BK, when you say “the basis for the Chinese defense industry was laid by the Chinese themselves by setting up reverse engineering setups to replicate everything they could get their hands on”, please understand that whatever the Chinese did was not at the cost of their indigenous efforts and capability. So whether they reverse engineered or they did it by the first principle hardly matters. In any case this Chinese Copying has yet to force consequent changes in the methods in force, in the countries who were presumably ‘robbed’. If you really believe this ‘Chinese Copying’ mythology then you need to be able to answer further questions that arise from it.

  3. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1000/RR1021/RAND_RR1021.pdf

    The Americans are salivating at the prospect of coalition govt. They have their proxies already in India in form of NGO’s and are now exploring how India can be co opted into their Rebalance of China move.

  4. Shail says:

    In fact, I am deeply sceptical of the whole Offset argument. I cant fathom why any manufacturer whether friendly or not would ever part with the tech that he developed at great cost and effort. That is why I am not surprised at reports that suggest manufacturers are not falling over themselves to part with tech in offsets and resort to all kinds of delay and renege on offset considerations.

    One reason could be failed sales. In this regard, we must target precisely those major manufacturers who have the tech but cant make the sales. Only they could ever be desperate enough to part with their tech for sales to keep their production lines alive.
    Our quest for self sufficiency must start at home with the best and brightest kids being groomed to become DRDO scientists rather than become examples of Brain Drain. That in my mind is the ultimate solution.
    We must start with the same methods the famous “thousand grains of sand” approach and get the tech. Moore’s law waits for no man ( or strategist), Indigenously manufacturing 20-30 old QRs or tech is no longer a feat that needs to be tom-tommed or supported. Its like hailing an indigenous manufacturer who makes a Nokia 3110 in todays world.
    I wonder if many people realise that say the Tejas hardware has lesser processing power and speed than most high end mobile phones today?
    Indigenisation – yes, Russian tech – why? failure prone, poor quality control, escalating nighmarish logistics and maintenance costs and several generations behind the cutting edge in many crucial fields. For christs sake they import UAV tech from the israelis and steal american designs for their aircraft – look at the Tu 160 ( B1B clone) , Su 24 ( F-111) Su -25 ( the losing design in the A-10 contest the erstwhile A-9)
    Reverse engineering also requires more skill than we apparently possess. If it really was so easy why havent we been able to reverse engineer a propellor engine for the HPT-32, a tiny jet engine for the Kiran ( in 30-35 years) the MiG 21 engine? a basic Radar? a basic air to air missile? aircraft instruments? The LCA uses the old out dated MiG -21 Gun, the GsH 23 , can there be a bigger shame than not being able to produce even a machine gun?

  5. Aks says:

    Shail: I wonder if many people realise that say the Tejas hardware has lesser processing power and speed than most high end mobile phones today?

    That would be true of 90% of fighter planes out there, given the focus on reliability & ruggedness of software and hardware over mere processing power and speed. Seriously, when you know so little why do you type so much?

    >> This is the kind of stuff i refer to. we cant even make a bloody torpedo
    Those bloody torpedos are made only by a handful of countries for a reason. In the European case, multinational consortiums. And involve complex multidisciplinary expertise in everything from the best structures to energy rich fuel development which is compatible with naval requirements to high impulse and yet silent propulsion, plus seeker tech. Very easy, I am sure.

  6. Aks says:

    Mr Karnad, in the present milieu, getting the Indian MIC up and running should be the primary focus of the Indian state. The DRDO has long been clamoring for private manufacturers to support it, over the reliance on the OFB, BDL etc. That seems to be happening. Opening up multiple programs – FICV, armor, guns to the private consortiums will also reduce our reliance on Russia and tone down some of its own arrogance. While the west is busy messing with them all the time, what are they thinking, in that they can run down or ignore Indian concerns about Pakistan? The FGFA, Super30 upgrade, T-90/BMP uogrades run into the tens of billions.

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Indian concerns on Pakistan are articulated and lead by a sell out babudom and a compromised selectee-only armed forces leadership. If this so called Indian leadership can suck upto the West capitals when it comes to Pakistan, then why cannot they do the same towards Russians. For the country and constitution this so called leadership should find it easy to do it.

    And this is why the 20% of defence budget benchmark should be the deciding ground for who exactly stands for India. Unless this benchmark gets used consistently every man would would be willing to sell out Indian interests.

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