Wages of getting close to US

Image result for pics of modi and trump

(Headed in different directions — India and the US)

Have sounded the tocsin time and again in my books and other writings since the post-1998 tests when the Indian government  under the Vajpayee-Brijesh Mishra-duo began the country’s tilt America-wards about getting too close to the United States. A whole chapter in my last book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, was devoted to Washington’s awful record of hurting and trying to harm India’s interests, and why the US is the most feckless of friends and unreliable strategic partner, and  a whole host of substantial reasons why it is advisable for this country to keep its distance from Uncle Sam. I have been arguing that Washington’s main agenda point is to somehow and by any means to replace Russia as the premier supplier of military goods to India believing, perhaps, incorrectly, that this is the vantage point that Moscow gained in the early 1960s when it jumped in with the offer of licensed production of MiG-21s at a time when the US rejected India’s demand of the F-104, and has never vacated since. What the US has never appreciated is just why the Indo-Russian relationship grew, despite initial mutual suspicions, into a solid edifice that will not easily be shaken built as it is not just on the sale of hardware but, more importantly, on the transfer of military technology of the kind that the US cannot even contemplate. This extraordinary access to technology afforded India is crowned by nearly unstinted help and assistance in the most sensitive and strategic indigenous programmes that resulted in an array of effective Agni missiles, the Arihant-class SSBN.

It is another matter that India did not use this access to technology to build up an innovation-centered defence industrial base of the kind China managed to do with exactly the same sort of resources available to India when in 1979 Dengxiaoping started the ‘Four Modernizations’ Programme.  Nearly 40 years later the Chinese military has advanced to a state where it is giving Washington the willies, while India wallows in the shallows screwdrivering items of foreign origin — which mode is likely to be formalized by Modi’s Make in India policy with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman giving the armed services the license to import whatever they wished from wherever they wished, ensuring India remains an arms dependency for the next 100 years. Or, forever.

So what was the difference — why did China rocket into the stratosphere even as India stumbled with one wrong decision after another. There’s one and only one decisive  factor: Deng and the Chinese leadership had the POLITICAL WILL and the aim to best the best (the US) by being disruptive as hell — it was the Chinese bull in a Western china shop. The Indian government was led by a succession of small-minded, null-visioned, pygmies who have been content to be patted on their backs by the West and happy to join Western clubs and technology cartels (NSG, Wassenar, MTCR, etc) on their terms, and to crow about this as some singular achievement.

But why did this happen? Who or what are the enablers in the Indian system? The fact is  Indian leaders and those manning the apparatus of the Indian state — the horde of civil servants, military brass, and DRDO elite all are afflicted by one fatal weakness — their desire for their progeny and family members to have a better life in the US and Western Europe. It is the promise of the ‘promised land’  (green card, H1B or work visa, permanent resident status) laced with scholarship to average sons/daughters of secretaries to GOI, senior diplomats, top military and civilian officers, to Ivy League and similar institutions of higher learning, discretely dangled before the country’s interlocuters when interacting with their American and West European counterparts, that lubricates the passage of US-tilting policies through the byzantine bureaucratic maze that is GOI.

To add to this are similar aspirations  of the upwardly mobile political class and what we have is a policy environment so bending over backwards to accommodate Washington it is surprising there’s still something left in the Indian cupboard to be sold! This entire milieu is helmed by the Delhi chapters of Washington thinktanks — Carnegie and Brookings, set up in the last decade with financial contributions by Indian corporates. Thus, not only is GOI willing to put India’s neck in the noose but Indian financiers in the private sector are willing to buy the rope!  This is in brief the US-leaning policy eco-system that I have detailed and analysed in my forthcoming book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, and which system cannot easily be thwarted.

If one were to critically assess the relationships the US has forged with its European and Asian allies, one thing is clear — America’s friends have to fall in line, toe the US line, or get punished as any adversary would. Thus, when the visiting chairman of the House armed services committee of the US Congress, William Thornberry, asks Delhi to desist from buying the Russian S-400 air defence system, the “or else” is par for the course. And when, as is now demanded, that India sign on the dotted line of COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security) Agreement and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation) — the remaining two “foundational accords”, the Logistics Support Agreement being already in America’s bag, it is with the accompanying threat that otherwise the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) will come down hard on India because of its ongoing ties with  Russia and Iran — two policy pillars of India’s independent stance. CAATSA in any case will hang over India’s head as long as Delhi wants to do business with Moscow and Tehran and anybody else Washington doesn’t want India to transact with. This mind you despite the anxieties in the more nationalist quarters of the military — yes, these still survive! — that COMCASA will assist the US to penetrate — horizontally and vertically –the most secret communications links, including the command and control net involving the strategic forces!

So, it isn’t really about the S-400 — a damn good air defence system that can bring down any aircraft now flying. It is about Washington seeking to impose its will on the Modi government. If Modi bends on this issue, India has to be prepared to concede more and more on everything hereafter, and will indicate the direction in which India is headed. Up or down.


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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15 Responses to Wages of getting close to US

  1. Rupam says:

    When will the book be released Bharat ji?

  2. andy says:

    The only thing more brazen than the American attempt to arm twist India over its purchase of military kit from Russia is the total audacity with which they are going about doing so.

    That they are eyeing a bigger slice of the Indian arms import bill is very obvious but what have they offered thus far?the F16 is 4 decades old,the Emals system is way too overpriced,the Javelin ATGM isn’t better than the Spike,the P8i was shorn of its most potent sensors and electronics because India is not a signatory of the COMCASA/BECA,the M777 has quality issues(barrel burst during trials),they wont even share hot engine technologies all they are trumpeting about are the predator drones as if its some kind of manna from heaven.

  3. Vishnugupt says:

    “It is another matter that India did not use this access to technology to build up an innovation-centered defence industrial base of the kind China managed to do”

    China copied the best way to run a “sarkari” establishment from the Russian. They knew complacency will set in so they made departments in the same sector compete with each other to get contracts for the military.

    Like for example the Chinese asked their Shenyang Aircraft Corp. and Chengdu Aircraft group. to develop their own version of 5th gen fighter aircrafts separately. Just like the Russians do with by making Mikhoyan and Sukhoi compete for orders, which is a very effective practice.

    And back home our socialist leaders rejected the tried and tested model of their “Comrades” and made HAL the alpha and omega of aircraft development. Is it any surprising that it is yet to deliver a good jet engine?
    Curiously the story of Naval development is arguably a little less worse. Perhaps their mediocre success is justified by the fact that Indian ship building PSUs have some level of competition amongst them.

    I have noticed that you have tired to paint Nehru as some sort of a visionary on strategic matters if this is not a “product differentiation” strategy to differentiate your work from other conservative experts who are now days into vocal Nehru bashing.

    Could you please tell us why exactly he failed to institutionalize his version of the “Operation Paper Clip” in a systematic manner? Why it remained as a one off attempt with Kurt Tank being the only one to be poached? Why did he failed to poach other such experts in other strategic fields relevant for military like the Americans and the Russians(Operation Osoaviakhim) did at the end of the second world war?

    (for the viewers )

    Don’t you think we lost a golden chance again in 1991 when the USSR collapsed? What stopped us from poaching disgruntled ex-soviet scientist from Ukraine and other such former soviet countries?

  4. Veeru says:

    Respected Sir,
    India was never offered or given any tech transfer by Soviets(Russians) in 1950s and 60s like they gave to China.All of the Russian Weapons were only assembled in India.The one thing that you always brag about is Russian help in Indian ballistic missiles like Agni and Arihant nuclear Submarine.If Nehru had followed a realpolitik foreign Policy in 1950s then India would have got missile technology from West also and as far as submarines are concerned India can become self sufficient in Submarine design base only with western help.
    India cannot make a Submarine on its own but India can make a good enough Infantry combat vehicle.India’s project FICV is struck because of Russians trying to push their piece of crap of BMP-3 down our throat.Americans are not trying to scuttle DRDO’s FMBT. DRDO with India’s private sector is fuly capable of delivering a next gen Tank but first Russians need to be shown the door first.The same goes for Project 17A Class frigates.
    Now India has reached a stage where India can make low to medium level tech weapons on its own and we need to buy only very advanced weapons from Abroad.

    • Your history, alas, is not quite right. I cannot go into all of it here. But suffice to say that USSR stepped in when the US refused to part with the F-104, leave alone its tech. And Nehru did follow a realpolitik policy — see my Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, where all this history is detailed in extenso based on US, UK and Indian archival documents and interviews.

      • Veeru says:

        Sir, Nehru right from Day one was following a harebrained Pro-soviet foreign and economic Policy.He launched Non-alinged movement in the 1950s. Please explain that to me How can Non-aligned movement be a product of Realpolitik .

        Nehru’s evil genius VK Menon spent all his time in 1950s criticizing US in United Nations.When in 1958 there was a coup in Pakistan, he called Menon back from United Nations and made him defence minister.VK Menon’s sole purpose was to stop Indian Army from staging a coup in India.Nehru and Menon went onto make Political generals.This was the main reason for India’s defeat in 1961 war at the hands of the chinese.
        Now can How can a realpolitik brain think that there can be a military coup in Hindu India ? There is a difference between Islam and Hinduism
        Nehru was a left-wing idealist!!!!!

      • &^%$#@! says:


  5. Rupam says:

    Bharat ji what is your view of the latest order of DM opening all cantt roads to civilians without any check posts and no go zones?

  6. Shaurya says:

    @Veeru: There was variance between Nehru’s intent and action. Gaps between his vision and what was executed. NAM was a great ploy to find India’s own independent space – especially for a new nation-state. Where Nehru failed was in its execution, where his ideals and quite frankly idiosyncracies and IMO deracination got the better of his FP real poltik moves. There were a few sparks, the Asian security conference, NAM, focus on advanced industries including nuclear. But his failures are too many to list. Do not think Bharat means to spare JLN but from a grand vision perspective, Nehru did have the right sparks, which are missing till this day. What we have today is a low-level manager, honest and hardworking but at an entirely different level.

  7. avkirankumar says:

    Prof. Karnad Sir, do you think Gen V K Singh would be a better Defence Minister?

    Secondly, i have read few of your recommendations regarding military (10th finance commission) but where can we read full list of your recommendations to 10th finance commission?

    Thirdly, i request you to write an article about “Future Trend of Warfare” by elaborating your speech to CLAWS (Center for Land Warfare Studies) (audio is fully not clear) (Quantum comp, Cognitive computing etc) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnHX2iomS1g

    (if you can just indicate when you will write)

    • Avkirankumar@ — Thank you. Yes, that’s a subject I need to develop in some depth. This won’t happen anytime soon, however, because of other things on my plate. Re: General VK Singh, know him personally — a good man and the first COAS to fulsomely stress the China front. Ideally, what the country would want in a defence minister is the analytical ability to size up things to make judgements independent of babus and with the political heft and, more importantly, the will to push the right solutions through. In short, a Parrikar + will + political clout.

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