Analysts at home and abroad have noted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s curious efforts to siddle up to the US president Barack Obama at the recent G-20 summit, as if seeking little pats on the back for finally committing India to LEMOA — only the first such agreement with the other two “foundational” accords to follow. Indian commentators, even some former flag-rank officers have by and large welcomed this development almost as a reflex action of those habituated to taking orders who can’t afford to think for themselves or even strategically for a change. Many of these reactions border on the inane when they are not ludicrous. For instance, the view that LEMOA will not eventuate in the posting on Indian territory of American military personnel and that this will in no way create any social and other frisson and lasting cultural disruption (notwithstanding the record of US military presence in whatever guise in Southeast Asia, and Japan)! They also doubt whether Russia will react adversely and add that the military tech level of Russian hardware is not all that high anyway.
This rather innocent view is par for the course for GOI and Indian armed services, of course, and presumes that India will easily obtain other than equally derated stuff from the United States, when the pattern so far from the tech-transfer parleys between the two sides suggests that EMALS apart there’s no movement in any other tech sector that is remotely cutting edge. Unless, these people consider the F-16 top-notch. Besides, EMALS is being offered to the Indian Navy simply because the General Atomics company that produced it is desperate to find foreign customers to amortize its vast investment, now that Pentagon cannot rifle up the funds it once could, in a technology which ultimately will have limited use. This last is so because EMALS can only be incorporated in very large 90,000-100,000 tonne aircraft carriers necessarily powered by two or more nuclear power plants of the kind driving the latest such carrier in the US Navy, USS Gerald Ford.
One had expected the Indian Navy brass to be a bit more tech-savvy and discriminating. Do they really believe that humungous aircraft carriers have even the slightest chance of survival in a hypersonic glide bomb/missile regime? If they do then they must know something the rest of us with a bit of common sense and up on technology advancements don’t. The naval brass seem to be falling in line without so much as demurring with whatever policy trend path is indicated by the PMO. In the post-LEMOA phase, of getting in close with the US. That this US tilt in Indian foreign and defence policies are all wrong has been expounded in extenso in this blog and in my books and writings.
The reason most Indian analysts inside GOI and outside are of this view is because most of them have had no experience of the US policy reality, and hence are vulnerable to inducements of invitations to seminars, conferences, short stints in the US and, lately, offers of appointments in US thinktanks established in Delhi. These are great forums to voice the viewpoint reflective of hardcore Indian national Interests. This they don’t do, choosing instead to support or embroider the Washington perspective in ways acceptable to the Indian establishment of the day. Over the years, I always found myself the lone Indian — and this is not by way of a boast but as a statement of fact — at most such events in the past to consistently and always express an Indian nationalist viewpoint. With so much “ayeing” across the aisle, as it were, small wonder Americans in policy circles, in thinktanks in the US, and in the academia believe that India has climbed on to the American bandwagon. The ranks of these Indians, now bolstered by Modi and his so-called national security advisoriate, all seem to be convinced that “What’s good for Uncle Sam is good for India”.
No surprise then that India is being increasingly reduced to a cipher when not actually earning the status of a Western poodle. Some fall for the country. And to think the Indian people expected so much, and so very different from Modi and the BJP government. The press reports indicating Modi-Parrikar are hard at work ironing out the last few wrinkles in the deal with France for 36 Rafales are thus of a piece.
The American EMALS with the Indian Navy, US F-16s/F-15s and Rafales with the Indian Air Force, and God alone knows what other pieces of unaffordably expensive and useless, inappropriate, or antiquated but expertly “talked up” military hardware will next grace the country’s order-of-battle. Except now the logistics “short reins” will be in Western hands, and woe be to India if it departs from the Washington line, say, on resuming thermonuclear testing, or adopting an independent stance on China, or a too-punitive policy vis a vis Pakistan of the kind many in PMO policy favour, or moving with all speed on Chahbahar and strengthening relations with Iran with railways/roads to Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics, and gas/oil pipelines, etc., or ….., or….., for then the Indian armed services and New Delhi will soon realize how mercilessly they will be jerked around.
Modi may be a master of politics and politicking in India, but (along with MEA, MOD, and rest of GOI, and the whole lot of the local commentariat on Indian security issues) is a babe in the woods where dealing with the West is concerned.
Sooner or later, India will recall with nostalgia the leverage that a more balanced approach afforded India and, perhaps, the intimacy and interactions with the ham-handed, less “sophisticated” and lovable “Russkies”.