India lacks guts on Brahmos to Vietnam

Since around early 2000s I have been advocating the sale of nuclear-warheaded Brahmos supersonic anti-ship missile to Vietnam as a payback to China for its nuclear missile-arming Pakistan. The strategic need for this was detailed in my 2002 book ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ (Macmillan, a 2nd edition published in 2005) and again in my 2008 book ‘Índia’s Nuclear Policy'(Praeger, 2008)

The strategically-challenged Indian govts of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress Party’s Manmohan Singh sat on it making some excuse or the other. In 2011, when the Vietnamese govt first formally sought this missile from Delhi PM Manmohan Singh, more concerned with China’s adverse reaction than India’s national interest, raised the issue of Russian apprehension of such sale to stymie the request. Except some four years later, the Russian resistance to such sale magically disappeared — because there wasn’t any such barrier in the first place. In May 2015, Indian Defmin Manohar Parrikar signed an agreement with his visiting Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh that talked of maritime security cooperation without mentioning the fact that the BJP govt of Narendra Modi had finally acceded to Hanoi’s request for the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile.

Seven months later no Brahmos missile is in Vietnamese hands, and no Indian military technical team has visited Hanoi to firm up the means of transfer and to set up the infrastructure for the coast-based Brahmos batteries. The Modi dispensation is proving as strategically dense as its predecessor, delaying the sale and offering India’s non-membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as excuse for non-implementation of the Brahmos understanding. Delhi’s keen-ness about joining MTCR and thereby restricting its options to transferring longer-range Agni and other missiles to countries on China’s periphery in need of deterring China, cannot be explained except in terms of the traditional strategic spinelessness and myopia — a terminal affliction.

But MTCR is an excuse because, sotto voce, Indian officials freely divulge the real reason for the delay of the sale — American pressure. Now why would Washington object to an Indian weapons sale injurious to Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea? Because the US would rather Hanoi opt for American weapons as a security solution instead, that’s why. And Modi, like Manmohan Singh, will apparently do nothing to rile the US.

Meanwhile, Hanoi is not waiting around for Delhi to muster the guts it doesn’t have. It has got Russia to speedily ship 25 of the promised 50 sub-launched Klub-class anti-ship missile — the M-54E Klub-S (range 220km) or 3M-54E1 (range 300km), and the land attack 3M Klub4E (range 300km). And it has embarked the first of the six Kilo 636 submarines procured from Russia on patrols in the waters off its coast with the Klub supersonic missiles on board, to prevent China’s venturing against its oil rigs in that area. And the situation grows tense with the elite corps-sized Vietnamese Army formation — the 308 Division (of the legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap) guarding the 1400 km long mountainous border with China, getting into battle-ready condition because Hanoi smells trouble from that quarter.

And India once again fluffs an opportunity to show it can stand up to China by standing besides friendly frontline states. For Modi and his PMO to believe that China will back India as a permanent member of the UN security council if it desists from arming states on its borders with decisive armaments is to merely confirm the view of the Indian govt as populated by dreamers and lotus-eaters. China will not allow India entry into the Security council no matter what. Delhi better appreciate this fact and act disruptively to upend not just Chinese designs on Asia, but also keep the US at bay by doing things that need doing, especially those things Washington wishes India not do.

What are the things the Modi govt can and should immediately do? (1) ship out both anti-ship and land attack variants of the Brahmos missile to Vietnam on a priority basis, (2) arm some of the Brahmos land attack missiles with fuel air explosive warheads that DRDO developed some 20 years back — it will instill in the PLAN the fear of God — because a strike by these weapons on the Sanya South Sea Fleet HQrs will devastate that entire base — the sort of thing that will give the CMC in Zhongnanhai the willies, and (3) equip the Vietnamese Army 308 Division with the 700 km range Agni-1s. This will be sufficiently credible deterrence against the PLA pushing in as it did in 1979, except now it will get a bloodier nose. The Vietnamese are not like Indians with their tails between their legs when confronting China.

But would such measures materialize anytime soon? Not a spitball’s chance in hell! Because that would be a very different, great power India, and not a country that bends to the whims of this or that power, and stays its hand at the slightest hint of trouble.

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.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to India lacks guts on Brahmos to Vietnam

  1. Dear Mr. Karnad:

    You can keep hoping. Nothing of what you advocate will materialize. The sad fact is that generations of conquest have diluted the genetic equity of the Hindu, and the Hindu is now nothing but a Dhimmi. Any semblance of courage and self-respect has long since been raped out of the Hindu by generations of Central and West Asian barbarians.

    To make a virtue of a necessity, the Hindu now preens himself on being an apostle of nonviolence. However, a cursory look at the Hindu’s interactions with animals, his habitat, and those weaker than him should reveal the truth; the Hindu is a coward, a bully who preys on those who cannot fight back and ingratiates himself with those who are stronger than him.

    Thank you.

    • Can’t and shouldn’t lose hope. The only disagreement is about “barbarian” outsiders reducing Indians to the state we are in. The fact is we have done it to ourselves, and continue to do ourselves in.

      • Shaurya says:

        +1. Also, the issue is a narrow one, one of acquiring a strategic outlook. It is a tough issue with many layers of structural administrative changes needed but eminently fixable in a short time. Talk of Hindus genes being this way or the other is talking like a Paki!

    • quickboy says:

      Once you read India’s available History carefully, you can see that any successful conquest of India always had support of some Indian. No one ever succeeded in fighting and winning against India unless they got support from this HOLY Land itself. That is the truth, Our history of being defeated is always due to our own history of back-biting.. Even now we could see there are those who secretly wish that India fails. That remains an heartburning truth.

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

    China has consistently armed Pakistan with knock offs of Russian weaponry. Why would the Russians object if Brahmos is provided to Vietnam by Indians? For god sake, the Russians are selling 6 Kilo class subs and Klubs to the Vietnamese. At worst Russians will like to have some monetary share and that is it.

    A country that hosts in constitutional posts like reserve banks, a rat from the west, cannot ever hope to do business for itself.

    Modi has some good ideas for long term success but his route to national success lies from the mercantile route. He and his team probably does imagine that being rich will help us being independent. Military success, cultural spine, building up national power and civilizational longevity, as a consistent goal, will always remain subservient to mercantile gains under the Modi leadership. Mostly these are matters for which lip service is regularly paid and only somebody in future will be able to build up on Modi’s performance. Regards hard power I guess we will have to remain content with importing like minions and deploying with permissions.

    My suggestion to Vietnamese would be that they go directly to the Russians with their own Make in Vietnam projects. If the Viets have to face the Chinese then they better get used to some seriously long multi century competition. A country that has fought a super power and a wanna be super power for its own independence deserves better than having to negotiate with a few merchants sitting across the table. Indian capacity is not exactly fighting fit right now and cannot support a Look East Policy with an Act East Policy.

    On Parikar’s part he should at least be honest to say upfront that he needs permissions. Will help save time for both the Indians and Viets.

  3. shalesh jain says:

    No doubt, they call u Indian Machiavelli of 21st century for whom National Interest is supreme in present times of chaos and dimwitted policy making. Alas,if Indian policy makers ever listened to this advice and stood up to Global thugs, India would not have been such an under-achiever state without any course correction in sight.

  4. Shail says:

    So, supposing we do that, how do you propose to retain and control the resulting escalation dominance?

    • Shail@ — assuming u are referring to arming Vietnam with the Brahmos — FAE-warheaded and anti-ship, and A-1s, where’s the question of of escalation dominance involving a 3rd party any more than there’s an escalatory spiral in Beijing’s arming Pak as it takes on India? India sits on the sideline, assisting Hanoi along as it fights PLA.

  5. Raahul Kumar says:

    Bharat needs to help Việt Nam modernize its armed forces in their entirety, along with training and alliances. It is not just the Brahmos, but also every other weapon in the arsenal that is badly needed.

    Their entire inventory has not been upgraded since the war against the USA. They need Arjun’s, Tejas, Prahaar, Pinaka and much, much more. It’s time to get started, no matter what other nations may think.

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