Score the physical for Modi, the substantive for Trump, and danger looming

Image result for pics of modi embracing trump

(Modi’s jhappi for an awkwardly unprepared Trump at the White House)

He did it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did stride across to the other lectern and envelope US President Donald Trump in a hug. Now slo-mo that entire sequence and you’ll see that even when forewarned about the Indian leader doing precisely this, Trump was unprepared for the physicality of it, and with some awkwardness limply reciprocated by putting his arm around Modi’s shoulders. This was the PM’s way of imposing himself physically on his American counterpart, forcing him to react. This was no bad game play.

But this imposition did not extend to the economic aspects of relations in the joint statement, where the US had its way. Sure, the designation of Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen as global terrorist (GT) must have satisfied the Indian side enough for it to hold back on injecting anything remotely related to the free flow of services and skilled manpower (H!B visa issue) in the public statement by Modi. Moreover, while there was mention about destroying “radical Islamic terrorism” — which phrase for Trump was a repeat from his Riyadh summit with the Saud-led sunni collective, there was none about Pakistan, its role in using terrorism against India or Afghanistan, or any pointed reference as was sought by Delhi.

The US State Department’s cleverness here must be noted. It played up to the Indians with the naming of Salahuddin without undermining its interests in Pakistan, which last would have happened had the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba chief Hafiz Sayeed earned the GT label from Trump as well, something MEA had lobbied for. Why was the fingering of Salahuddin, and not Sayeed, by the US clever from the American perspective? Because Salahuddin is a native of the Srinagar Valley, was a candidate in the 1989 state elections and crossed the LOC into POK only after his electoral defeat (assisted, unfortunately, by the Indian authorities), and labeling him as GT would not upset Islamabad as much as directly naming Sayeed would have done. Getting wind of what was in the offing, the Pakistan government quickly staged the terrorist incidents and rolled out the videos of Salahuddin ordering strikes on Indian targets in the last 2-3 days almost as if to prop up the US case against the Hizbul leader. This to say that Pakistan was quite happy to sacrifice Salahuddin, while protecting Sayeed.

For the rest, the American had the run of it. There was not even an indirect and remote reference to H1B-immigration issues and their cost to the Indian IT industry, nor any concern expressed in the PM’s statement about unwarranted pillorying of the Indian pharma industry juxtaposed against fulsome mention of unbalanced trade, and trade deficit that Trump stated needed correction by India requiring to open up its market to American imports of all kinds. Trump also was happy with the Indian side signing up for American shale gas.

But fortunately, Modi did not succumb to the trap set for him by those in Washington advocating that India buy the vintage  F-16 aircraft to merely update its combat aircraft assembly line technology, combined with the move by Lockheed Martin to precipitate a positive decision by securing an MOU with Tata Advanced Systems for assembling the F-16.

The fact is the US, notwithstanding its high-flying rhetoric about empowering the Indian military with cutting-edge fighting technology to keep the common threat, China, on its toes, not a single military high-tech collaboration has got underway from the time such talk was initiated by President Reagan’s Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the mid-1980s. There’s something really wrong here.

The US hesitation in exporting/selling to India some decisive miltech is evidenced, for instance, in Washington’s approving  the long-range, long endurance, Predator drone for maritime surveillance rather than the armed Predator India was keen to buy in fairly large numbers, because the US State Department fears these would be used against terrorist targets in POK, and upset the American apple cart in the Af-Pak Region.

Further, as I have consistently pointed out, it seems Trump’s government, in line with the previous regimes in Washington, has decided to impose a low lethality ceiling on the armaments/technologies the US sells to India. Whence the American eagerness to sell unarmed drones, obsolete F-16 type combat aircraft, and prohibitively expensive technologies that Indian platforms cannot cost-effectively integrate, such as the EMALS (Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System) for the 2nd and 3rd indigenous V-class carriers being built in Kochi.

Perhaps, the Modi government, aware of the limitations of the America connection, sent off part-time defence minister Arun Jaitley to Moscow to firm up defence ties with Russia (including the lease of the second Akula SSN, and investing in the FGFA) around the same time as the PM was taking off for the US.

Better to have the Russian bird in hand, than two American birds in the bush.

But there’s a great danger looming. There’s obviously a certain warmth in the Trump-Modi tango — they seem personally to like each other, each pressed the right buttons  — Trump by praising Modi’s leadership and his stewardship of India, etc, etc — something the PM craves as  personal endorsement; Modi in praising his opposite number, being over-effusive in expressing his gratitude for the reception by Trump,  inviting the President’s daughter Ivanka to lead the US investors’ delegation to Delhi, etc., etc. So what’s the problem? The danger is that Modi will nurse such warm feelings for Trump and in the wake of a “successful” summit in Washington impulsively approve/order the purchase of the extremely dated F-16 aircraft or the completely inappropriate EMALS, etc. After all, impulsiveness has its costs. The country will be paying for the Rafale folly for decades. To add the F-16 to this mess would be to sink the Indian Air Force.


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 Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Score the physical for Modi, the substantive for Trump, and danger looming

  1. Atul says:

    What do you mean by the following:
    “US State Department fears these would be used against terrorist targets in POK, and upset the American apple cart in the Af-Pak Region.”

    Can you please elaborate ?

    • The US needs Pak’s physical space for its anti-Taliban milops, so Pakistan indispensable. If India uses Predators to take out leaders of LeT, JeM, HM et al it upsets Pak’s proxy terrorist balance — the liability of hosting the Haqqani Network (the Quetta shura) frowned upon by Washington as against the benefits from sponsoring LeT, JeM, Hizbul to skewer India. If GHQ Rawalpindi is discomfited by the former, then the relations with the US become testier and US mil in Jacobabad becomes hostage.

  2. raja says:

    Whether the drain hole on the eastern side of the tank can be plugged quickly?

  3. Venkat says:

    In all these meetings own national interests are supreme, rest is all show bazi ! There is only an indian bird in hand, russian/American/French birds do not matter.

    • The point was that an Indian hand holding an Indian bird is no big deal, but its holding the Russian bird or the American bird is.

      • aban says:

        I am afraid, Show bazi is the only thing that remains. National interest has been replaced by Techie interest. Willing to concede anything in pursuit of H1B visas

  4. aban says:

    Three years back Mr. Modi had (carefully cultivated) image of being a nationalist who knew what was in India’s national internest. Today he comes across as a politically correct, unimaginative, repetitive and plain boring ; desperate to be a ‘world leader’ who will remain in the good-books of western world. Indian elite’s obsession with US makes it oblivious to the fact that the Americans are not well-wishers of India. All that the Americans want is an ever growing Indian market for American goods and India’s best and brightest talent willing to serve their industries at lower salaries ; demands that we are willing to concede without getting much in return.

  5. aban says:

    Don’t think Trump shares India’s concern about Chinese hegemony. Trump ,being isolationist, is least bothered about growing influence of China at the cost American influence and domination.
    Unless security of US is directly threatened , he will turn a blind eye to Chinese excesses. Mr. Modi would be mistaken if he thinks US will help India to counter China’s influence.

  6. saikanomie says:

    The point we keep harping about is “failed projects in India needs immediate replacements!” and so begin the begging drive. feed me radars, provide me stealth skins, protect me with emals, thrust me with general electric, code me with all white stuffs! Unless we mature and improve on our own models, this begging culture would not go anywhere.

    India’s needs, and its influence must be charted by India and not USA. USA knows that, but our stratmen and press baazis are hard pressed on eye-eye comparisons.

    Give up! get your own cup of water! Leave the USA alone for technology.

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

    So the Syed Salahuddin mention too turns out to be the same two faced pragmatic national interest as was on display there in Sharm-al-Shiekh. All thanks to the advisors from our Major Defence Partner and Ally.

  8. Bhaskar Chakraborty says:

    Hafiz Saeed is already a UN declared terrorist. There has been a bounty on him by US already.
    Was the US needed to do more in this regard?

    • The US, understandably, has been more diligent in pursuing its own terrorists than in constraining the activity of terrorists working against India. But if Washington wanted, it could compel Islamabad to rein in Hafiz Sayeed and that lot.

  9. raja says:

    whether the hugging will work?

  10. andy says:

    India must thank its lucky star for no F16 deal being announced…yet.One feels that GOI(PM.Modi?)is aware(if not they should be)of the whimsical nature of the US policy makers, especially with regards to the weapon systems supplied by them.

    The end user monitoring mechanism means the US will have a say on where these systems are to be used,in other words they would probably dictate wether the F16 can be used across the LOC.With Pakistans continued salience in the US geo strategic arena,not withstanding the noises being made by the US lawmakers regarding designation of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror,it would indeed be a folly to induct US fighter jets.These fighters might well be grounded awaiting US approvals for deployment if things get really hot on the Pakistan front ,such a scenario could have catastrophic consequences for any Indian military manoeuvres against Pakistan.

    RM Jaitleys presence in Russia and his wooing of Russian defense majors to set up shop in India,at about the same time as PM.Modi was in Washington sends a message to everyone that Moscows relevance in Indias military preparedness remains strong.The Indian military doesn’t seem to have any doubts regarding the potency of Russian military kit,having used these with devastating effect in the wars with Pakistan over the last half century,only their after sales service and parts availability are sub par ,resulting in poor percentage of servicabity.Now this seems such a ridiculous reason to justify procurement of exorbitant western military kit.I mean if a contract can be negotiated for importing new systems what stops similar negotiations for after sales service and parts availability?

    Also the Russian penchant for jacking up the price midway through the project seems to be a big turn off but such a practice is par for the course by defence suppliers,as the Scorpene submarine saga shows,so singling out Russia in this regard smacks of partisanship.

    GOI would be well advised to throw the RFI for a single engined fighter for the IAF and the Indian navy’s requirement of 57 jets out of the window and instead divert the approximately $50 billions thus saved into the indigenous LCA,NLCA and AMCA.

    Theres a lot of red hot technology and professionals that such humongous figures can buy for the Indian aerospace industry.Time to concentrate on this rather than buying obsolete F16s,which we cant even use without Uncle Sams approval.

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