The subterranean objectives of STA-1

James Mattis and Wilbur Ross Photos - 3 of 4

[Trump, to his left, General James Mattis, and Commerce Secretary William Ross]

The September 6 timeline for the 2×2 talks between the Indian and US foreign and defence ministers was approaching fast. This is a postponement of the July 6 meeting. Because of preoccupations of Washington at the time, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in particular — whose agency conducts America’s foreign affairs — found on the eve of the visit by Messrs Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman to Washington in July that the Trump administration had not addressed the growing doubts and skepticism in Delhi, occasioned by possible CAATSA sanctions, about the advisability and benefits of getting close to the US which the American ambassador Kenneth Juster in Delhi had warned could become a stumbling block in 2×2 forum. So the two month period was sought by Pompeo to try and see what could be done to retrieve the situation by giving evidence of US good faith. With the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) having produced nothing in the last six years but hot air, and with Mattis’ and Juster’s concerted pushing, Pompeo got the Trump White House to approve the Strategic Trade Authorization (STA)-1 status for India, because Washington has long been aware that Delhi can be pacified with symbolic gestures. There’s much glee hereabouts that Pakistan and China are no part of the STA-schemata. Such are the small things Indians are happy with.

STA-1 is just a symbolic gesture because all it does is merely enlarge a little the list of technologies India can access — NOT open America’s advanced technology shop for the Indian MOD and military to raid as uninformed Indian press and media elatedly implied. The MEA pitched in, with the idea of providing a fig leaf, saying it would help promote defence technology cooperation under the aegis of the so far barren DTTI when the real US purpose behind according India STA-1 standing is to prompt the sale of more high value military goods to this country. In theory STA-1 will allow India the same access as NATO allies, Japan and South Korea. In practice, no cutting edge stuff will be made available. Just to prove what I am saying the Indian government should try asking for the Globohawk — the long duration flying armed drone. As technologies go, it isn’t at all cutting edge — but Delhi will discover it can’t get it. Why, because that will loosen the already tenuous bonds with Pakistan, which Washington cannot afford, not if it is serious about persisting with its hopeless strategy of militarily defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Nor will  the US countenance the transfer the “know why” for combat aircraft design — the source codes and operational algorithms, etc. or for designing and producing combat aircraft jet engines. Or, the silencing technologies for submarines. Or,….

But the Indian ambassador Navtej Sarna piped up to extol this development as “a sign of trust not only in the relationship but also on India’s capabilities as an economy and as a security partner, because it also presupposes that India has the multilateral export control regime in place.” Mind you, the export regimes Sarna is referring to are the missile technology control regime, the 2008 civilian nuclear deal, and the Wassenar Agreement, that Delhi has signed, even when aware that this put legal clamps on India exporting even indigenously designed and developed sensitive goods and technologies to countries that the US feels shouldn’t have them. India is thus compelled to conform to Washington’s threat perceptions and to follow its policy dictates at the expense of its own national interest, technology leverage and foreign policy options which India could otherwise have exercised.

US’ still more salient and significant strategic objective is to ensure that STA-1 incentivizes the already American hardware-besotted Indian armed services to source more and more of their requirements from US companies — a trend greenlighted by defence minister Sitharaman, a former employee of both BBC and PriceWaterhouse Cooper who, it may be recalled, some months backs blithely announced that the Indian military is free to procure its needs from anywhere and are not restricted in any way. But, let’s also be clear that it is the PMO passing this policy line for Sitharaman to pursue.  [There was reason for installing Sitharaman, a fairly undistinguished junior minister and political ingenue in MoD — susceptibility to accepting directions from PMO without hesitation.] Most US military high-tech, like any other technology, is routed in Washington through the Commerce Department headed by secretary  William Ross, whose brief is to promote the interests of US industry. Giving the game away,  Ross explained that STA-1 means that “US companies will be able to more efficiently export a much wider range of products to Indian high technology and military customers. India’s new status will benefit US manufacturers while continuing to protect our national security.”

What is the flip side of more monies to fund the larger volume of imports of military armaments and technologies? Yes, you guessed it — something I have been hammering away at in this blog —  the throttling of funds for indigenous R&D projects and programmes, turning a potentially vibrant defence industry in the private sector into another link in the global supply chain — and all to make financial room for more extensive arms imports. This is how the killing of the national effort at  arms indigenization and achieving self-sufficiency in weaponry will be furthered. And the twin meta-strategic goals of crowding Russia out of the Indian arms market and replacing it with America as India’s main military supplier, and keeping this country forever an arms dependency, accomplished.

Strange to think that Modi was voted to power as a nationalist!

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, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Relations with Russia, Russia, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The subterranean objectives of STA-1

  1. AD says:


    There is something tragically comic about the elected leaders and bureaucrats of a country, with more than a billion people, spend a fortune trying to buy used underwear from the west. As I might have said earlier, they are like a stupid child who will willingly lick the outside of a garbage can in the hopes of being accepted by all the “cool” kids. And all this while ignoring, belittling and destroying their own people who could develop and build quality indigenous products- and employ others in nicely paid jobs. Then again.. maybe some people live to buy used underwear and lick garbage cans.

    A distant observer might come to the conclusion that political leadership class of India (irrespective of party affiliations) and bureaucracy exist solely to keep India poor, servile and dependent on the west. As far as Modi and the BJP is concerned, they seem to more interested in protecting cows, stopping people from eating meat, enriching their select corporate patrons and selling off Indian interests to whoever provides them the best photo ops, made-up ‘international’ awards and sinecures. It certainly does not help that no other major political party has leadership with strategic vision or a spine.

    • Shankara says:

      I feel much more tragic
      When modi bakts scream from roof top as though India is going to.counter china with each and every deal signed USA
      Just by importing weapons any COUNTRY can safe gaud herself ??
      It’s pathetic
      Failure of Congresss is it’s mired with scamasters so not able to convince suspicious public

      Success of bjp is it has been able to rename all congresss policies and reformulated herself

      Now what ever wrong decisions BJP does it becomes right
      We civilians if question will be labeled as Congressi …..that’s what happening

  2. devraj says:

    Sir in future if any prime minister of india decides to give freedom to jammu and kashmir from india on the greed of getting support of indian muslim votes or for hoping noble peace prize.Will , Yes sir l said will the patriot indian military follow his orders to vacate land of jammu and kashmir or indian military rebel against such prime minister and so called secular government.because after looking attitude of leaders like mamta banerji ,mayavati , lalu prasad , arvind kejrival and rahul gandhi.l think if someone of them become prime minister of india will definitely do it to praise its minority votes and international image

  3. devraj says:

    Sir in short if any indian prime minister order military to vacate jammu and kashmir and decides to give freedom to jammu and kashmir .Will indian military obey him and rebel against such government.

  4. devraj says:

    Will indian military rebel against such prime minster or obey his orders to give freedom to jammu and kashmir

  5. devraj says:

    Sir if any indian prime minister order to military vacate jammu and kashmir. Will indian military obey him or rebel against him.

  6. Edmond Dantes says:

    Please correct important Typo in an otherwise stellar post.

    Kenneth Juster is the US ambassador.(Not Kevin)

  7. vivek says:

    any news about S400? will india going to buy it?

    • Yes, India will buy the S-400 – as a sop to Russia.

      • Vishnugupt says:

        @ Prof. Karnad

        Do you think Pentagon will agree to sell the RQ-4 Global Hawk without us signing the COMCASA?

        Since Northrop Grumman has finally convinced Pentagon to allow it to sell its “magnificent” YF-23 Black Widow tech to Japan, do you think we should tie up with the Japanese,for our FGFA programme?

        If Northrop helps Tokyo build a fifth gen fighter with YF-23 tech and that along with Mitsubishi’s experience with the X-2 will lead to a truly remarkable fighter.

        Since the Ruskies aren’t getting anywhere with their SU-57s and given Shinzo Abe’s liking for Modi do you think we can pull it off?

        So is this already happening? One cannot help but notice the uncanny resemblance of HAL’s FGFA to the X-2 Shinshin.

      • v says:

        good to hear.. atleast our govt didnt buldge under american pressure on this

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Whether we need it or not.

        Best way to ensure that India does not get the right thing is to ensure that India gets the wrong thing.

  8. Veeru says:

    How many decades is Russia away from making anything like Global Hawk Drone ?

    India can make low to medium tech weapons on its own.We only need to import very high tech weapons, which only Americans have.So it is a good relationships.Without Jettisoning the Russians, India can never develop its defence industry because in order to maintain good relations with Russia India has to buy Weapons from Russia. India has more or less reached the level of tech where Russians are.

    • Kya says:

      So says clueless pathetic coolie Indian who has delusion of grandeur like this

      ” India has more or less reached the level of tech where Russians are.”!!

  9. Rajesh Khosla says:

    I was particularly hit by Mr Karnad’s line ” Strange to think that Modi was voted to power as a nationalist!”. As far as the political loot is concerned, that is, ill gotten gains by political parties when is power (Arms imports are the biggest political loot). That loot remains with the politicians irrespective of party affiliations. The Dhingra commission is a case in point. I could go on and on. To any political party, its own survival is its first instinct. To hell with the nation. Furthermore, in an interesting point raised by a reader, If you think the Indian Armed Forces will act in any way to prevent separation of J& K from India against the wishes of the politician, you are living in cloud cuckoo land.
    As far as weapon tech is concerned, if you can be the only country in the world to hit Mars in the first shot you already have the capability of weapon tech. Weapon tech is not rocket science. Just elbow grease.

    • Vishnugupt says:

      @Rajesh Khosla,
      “Weapon tech is not rocket science. Just elbow grease.” yes, indeed. But the problem is we are a “Socialist” state. We have a pathological dislike for capitalism.

      And Defense PSUs are the crown jewels of a Socialist state.

      When all that the ever growing middle class has is the insatiable LUST for government jobs, i don’t think any party irrespective of its strength in the parliament will dare to disinvest these white elephants to let the private sector pitch in.

      These wretchedly subversive DPSUs routinely underbid to win orders and keep the private sector out.

      The state of affairs is unbelievable.

    • Neu Spirit says:

      The Mars rocket is not big science. It is something others have done before (though trial and error) and we have learned from them. Our Rocket technology is 40-50 years old. Nothing new or innovative except for improvements in what others have done. Also remember we got a lot of help from the French (Vikas engine) and the Russians and earlier the US. Otherwise we would not even be in this stage and be talking about Rahu and Ketu all day.

      The US is the most advanced in technology for the simple reason that it has a robust R&D based connecting Universities with private companies by way of grants and funding for innovation.

      If you are not aware, the US has a secret space program which some claims to have already settled on Mars.

  10. Neu Spirit says:

    It is really fool hardy to think that the US has all our balls in their hands. Why do we compare ourselves with Pakistan, Korea or Japan I wonder. Are we not confident in our own abilities as a nation regardless of who is ruling the country and whom we are dealing with. Be it Russians in the past of US in the future. The worse are ofcourse the Israelis

    Now just as the US of A can change their mind on granting or non-granting of technology, the Indian Government can also change its mind on accepting or getting stuff from other places.

    Regarding indigenous development of defense technologies, we are a laughing stock around the world. We spend crores of rupees on protecting a terrorist who slaughtered Indians in Mumbai but will not give out a few lakhs to budding entrepreneur. This is the sorry state of our technology environment.

    Yes, we have come a long way in many fields but that has been the exceptional performance of a few talented individuals like Mr. Narayan Murthy. Most of the masses are happy sitting at home loafing over Lassi and Samosa as their compatriots in other countries work hard sometimes with 2 jobs to pay their bills. And we wait for doles from 7th and Nth Commission to get our chula burning.

    So then naturally, people will think not so highly about us and our country and take us from granted.

    So it is better to take the side of the US which is a nation of brave and hard working citizens who also enjoy life and give out to others and learn a few things from them on how to be a great country. Maybe some of their magic will rub on us and we improve ourselves before we can hope to get free gifts from the world.

  11. San Mann says:

    Mr Karnad,

    My perspective is that there is a part of the US which is beneficial to India, and then there is a part of the US which is inimical to India. The Russia-baiting Atlanticist lobby inside the US are particularly inimical to India, because their never-ending jihad against Russia has only increasingly driven Moscow into Beijing’s arms, which is really bad for India’s interests (it’s also contrary to America’s own interests, but their die-hard Cold War lobby simply just don’t care).

    Meanwhile, the rise of an anti-Globalist backlash under Trump is potentially an opportunity to disrupt the traditional Atlanticist hegemony which has entrenched itself in the US over the past 70 years. The Trump whitehouse is more alive to the threats posed by the rise of China, seeing them as a more pressing issue than Russia.

    That being said, we all understand the areas where Trump & Co diverge from India, which is mainly on issues of global trade and market access. That’s where we may also have to look beyond the US to diversify our trade basket.

    While I agree that the past track record of India-US interaction leaves a lot of room for trepidation, I feel that India shouldn’t lose the opportunity to engage with the Trump administration, due to the latter’s break from past destructive patterns of US behavior. We should however do so with eyes wide open, aware of the fact that the old negative patterns may likely be resumed when Trump and his acolytes leave office. Perhaps then instead of thinking of “Indo-US partnership”, we should think of India hooking up with particular elements in the US like Trump & Co, who are distinct from the opposing faction of Atlanticists which eulogize Europe and a Euro-centrist foreign policy.

    India just simply is not yet strong enough or developed enough to just go it alone and be aloof and alone, standing as its own separate pole of power. We’re going to have to take advantage of opportunities for tie-ups whenever they present themselves, instead of turning up our noses at them to cast them aside. Beggars like ourselves can’t be too choosey.

    As far as impacting relations with Russia is concerned, we should be transparent with the Russians on our motives of aligning with the sub-section of Americans whose worldview benefits India, even while we reject the American factions having a worldview that undermines our interests. Perhaps all nations who suffer from the negative effects of the Atlanticist grip on US politics, whether Russia, or India, or even Japan, should coordinate a common strategy. In this regard, I feel that our own interests and Russian interests are sufficiently congruent that they will see the longer term mutual benefit of such a policy.

  12. devraj says:

    Pakistan was influenced by 3 A’s.Allaha ,Army and America.but now Allaha and America have left the Pakistan leaving its Army to finish it Similarly, India was influenced by 3 R’s They were Ram, Russia and RSS sadly Ram and Russia have loosing influence on India and 3rd R i.e RSS is struggling to maintain its core nationalistic influence on India.for god sake these 3 R again gets stronger and prosper our motherland India.Vande Mataram

    • devraj says:

      Oh what a great days of USSR supporting India in each imperial attack of usa china pak and england.but why destiny choose end of USSR.why the hell china usa or even pak in modern era only devil wins and angel loose thats why ussr ended and usa survived with those coward chinese

  13. devraj says:

    Sorry but I have phobia of patriotism.But yeh every one of us should have such nationalistic phobia then only India will become great power which india is not yet. Jai Hind

  14. San Mann says:

    Mr Karnad,

    I have a relevant question to ask. As you know, Indian election season has more or less started, in preparation for the 2019 general election – and we now see Wikileaks suddenly exposing unflattering information on Sonia Gandhi’s govt. Given certain controversies swirling around Russia, is there any possibility of Russia attempting to interfere in Indian elections? Is there any possibility that in its desperation to try all avenues to escape the difficult predicament of unrelenting US hostility and sanctions, Russia may perceive a swing-state like India as a “low-hanging fruit” which can be “nudged” in certain directions that are beneficial to Moscow?

    • Vishnugupt says:

      @San Mann
      Indians can never be nudged the way Americans or Europeans can. For one only a fraction of Indians are online so the psychographic data is very limited and psychometrics too is going to be less effective because, we Indians have a natural affinity to have entrenched biases(for better or worse), we are actually never “swinging”,which is a very important requirement to nudge someone into something. Indians are either with opinions or without them.(Millennials are a different ballgame though,but they aren’t a homogeneous lot like in the west )

      But i am not denying the effect of real on ground drama by politicians.(Like Rahul baba getting married to a high caste Hindu girl in a orthodox ceremony exposing his janu(Ceremonial thread) to woo higher caste Hindus who are currently dead against him.) Or Rahul baba faking an attack on him etc.These types of nudging not withstanding,majority of Indians are not susceptible to electronic nudging(yet).

      Let me give you another example subtle non-electronic nudging failing:You remember how the AAP started its unique campaign back then, with their printed caps,brooms etc.
      It had all the traits of a well orchestrated campaign using psychometrics, and it even worked in Delhi, but didn’t on a pan India scale.( The help Kejri got from foreign actors who are well know for psychometric warfare is fairly well acknowledged in the intelligence community)

      This is where the diversity of the Indian subcontinent throws every calculation out of he window. For Delhites Kejri’s printed cap,unpolished “common man’s” image, IIT education was enough, but for India these credentials were not enough and incidentally worked against him.

      Apparently Indians in rural India took him for a fraudster for his printed cap,unconventional looks and discourteous language.

      In short, rural India has a ancient psyche which is susceptible only to a highly emotional realife political drama.( Even subtle nudging like Kejri’s cap is pointless)

      And like it or not, Modi is the master of emotional nudging, he can instantly connect with the poor India in a apparently genuine manner( whether he delivers or not is a topic for debate)

      Electronic nudging has a very long tiresome Himalayan trek called Indian conservatism to complete to be relevant in India.

      • San Mann says:


        I’ll agree that Kejriwal and his AAP look very conspicuously like foreign agents. The emergence of his party from nothing seemed reminiscent of various externally-sponsored revolutions in other countries. The lack of a coherent ideology among the AAP made them look like an ad-hoc levée-en-masse group of conscripts. The conspicuous zeroing-in on Delhi, the national capitol, seemed geared to achieve national-level leverage from the get-go. Kejriwal’s hyperaggressive political stuntsmanshp and brinksmanship also seemed to be unseemly and externally driven. The machiavellian behaviour of ousting the co-founding party members through internal coup blew off any figleaf of liberal principles. Their aloofness from the Muslim lobby in particular gave an odour of a US-leaning alignment.

        Fortunately, the uncharismatic Kejriwal and his AAP have no natural base, and their party is already disintegrating with internecine fighting, including the recent breakoff of its Punjab faction. I’ve been to pro-Khalistani gurdwaras and events with pro-Khalistani activists wearing AAP badges and banners. They were purely interesting in promoting AAP as a vehicle for their own agenda. There was never any chance that Kejriwal would have been able to keep his assorted herd of aroused rabble corraled and intact.

  15. Rupam says:

    Namaste Bharat ji,
    Just saw your upcoming book listed in Amazon, slated to be released in Aug. 15. Have to ask any special reason to release it on Independence day. Is this your way of telling how the Indian policy makers should go full independent in their thinking regarding Defense, Foreign policy etc. and not be dependent over others to become a great power.

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