Amateurs Inc.

Image result for pics of Modi and trump
[An overjoyed Modi in a clinch with Trump]

It is by now a historic habit for India to miss opportunities, avoid contestation and, when absolutely pushed, lose from a winning position, in the main, because we can’t seem to keep our heads or our wits about us. This is as true for cricket as international affairs. At Old Trafford the supposedly famed top batting order collapsed with, on paper, a doable run chase to realize. In the external realm the Indian government for over two decades now, and helmed in the last five years by Narendra Modi, has likewise shown negligible strategic sense and intent, not appreciated the country’s many strengths nor leveraged them, and finds itself in reality collared by both Washington and Beijing, confused only about which side to appease at any given time and with what (making capital buys here, compromising on trade there, or offering some other concession.

Those who claim and believe that all this tilting, bowing, scraping and fawning is for show and that the alleged masters of the strategic game, namely, the firm of Modi, Jaishankar & Doval, is manipulating all comers to India’s advantage ought to be alerted to the fact that this Indian trio has fared worse on the realpolitik scale than the two predecessor regimes in the new Century, and have proved themselves amateurs going up against US and China — the most prominent and ruthless practitioners of hard realpolitik with a long record of success. Indeed, there’s not a single instance of an Indian foreign policy feint, initiative, measure or move of Modi’s in the last half decade and counting that surprised, offended, or pushed Washington and/or Beijing on the defensive– a simple metric to judge whether Delhi is doing something right by upsetting everybody equally. In fact, far from racking up any noticeable positives or substantive gains for the country, the Modi regime’s attitude, performance, and policies have smacked of gullibility laced with unwarranted complacency that it is doing great, and that persisting with whatever line it has been following so far is best.

Look at the recent record. Delhi countenanced a year of US tariffs on Indian steel and aluminum before responding weakly in kind, and then softened the blow by cleaving in half the perfectly legal imposts under WTO provisions on Harley-Davidson motorcycles coming into India only because every time Trump opens his mouth he raises this issue, making it some sort of benchmark for bilateral trade. Elsewhere, the US International Commission on Religious Freedom socks it to India, the terrorism-funding Sikhs for Justice Forum is permitted to indulge in activities in the US to reignite the Khalistan cause in Indian Punjab, India is frozen out of the Afghanistan peace talks at Pakistan’s behest, and the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns India, as Kipling had the tommies tell Ganga Din, to “put some juldee” in de-friending Iran and severing its arms supply links to Russia lest the boom of economic sanctions under the 2006 Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) and the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) respectively, be lowered. He made it clear that the waiver of sanctions was temporary, meant to afford time to Delhi to zero out imports of oil from Iran, and of armaments from Russia. And on Delhi’s push-for issue — the H1B visa, Trump has decisively shut this channel down!

But knowing how much Indian leaders crave a shabash from Westerners, Pompeo interspersed his fingerwagging with praise for the Modi-Jaishankar duo for turning off the Iranian oil spigot in India and, flushed with the US success in achieving this outcome, which is completely unfair to India and antithetical to its larger geostrategic interests of accessing Russia-Europe, Afghanistan and Central Asia to balance the spreading Chinese influence via Chabahar port, he urged Delhi to sign on to an equally inequitable “fair trade” as the US sees it, which will do in the Indian economy. It entails, among other things, an eased up flow of US agricultural commodities into India at the expense of the Indian farmer, allow US companies generating consumer data to retain it in servers abroad, stricter intellectual property rights enforcement to cripple, say, the Indian pharmaceutical companies specializing in reverse-engineering cheaper formulations of expensive drugs marketed by Western pharma majors which has proved a boon for affordable healthcare the world over, including America, blocking Huawei and China out of the Indian market for 5G systems for the sake of “security stability”, without any Indian official refering to just about every bit of telecom and computer hardware and software purchased from the US and the West being similarly packed with as many, if not more, electronic bugs, back doors and Trojan Horses.

However, the safest, most secure, option of relying fully and comprehensively on locally designed and produced 5G systems which Indian companies with advanced technological capabilities (such as Sankhya Labs) can easily design and develop in- country, but which capability remains unused because, ironically, the BJP government headed by Modi that bills itself as “nationalist” does not trust anything Indian! Just as the Indian armed services want to have nothing to do with home-designed goods even though the 5th generation Tejas light combat aircraft out-performed the Rafale for mountain ops (in so basic a thing as a cold start at the Leh air base, for instance), and the Arjun main battle tank beat the Russian T-90 hollow in all the rigorous test trials conducted in different terrains and altitudes. What more do India-produced weapons systems have to do to prove their mettle? Oh, yes, they cannot generate commissions for middlemen and funds for the party in power!

It is in this socio-cultural context, that Delhi entertains a constant stream of, when it is not senior American officials from the Pentagon and US Commerce Department, then American and Western defence industry representatives and arms salesmen, all of them stressing the virtues of India switching from the hardy Russian military equipment to the delicate American and European hardware that require kid treatment to operate at even reduced efficiency levels. To wit, French Mirage 2000 and Rafale combat aircraft and their requirement of airconditioned hangars. The US with much less need of Indian custom but able to muster lot more pressure on the Modi government is determined to sell the 1960s vintage F-16 hung out with bells and whistles to impress a Third Wold military and a new and alarmingly bulbous midriff that makes nonsense of its stealth claims. Even if the IAF resists, will Jaishankar, who came straight to the foreign minister’s chair from canvassing for this aircraft as an employee of Tata Corp keen to manufacture this plane under license, do other than counsel Modi to green-signal this project? And, in the event, will the current CAS, BS Dhanoa, or his successor (Nambiar, AOC-in-C, Western Air Command or some one else) have it in him to offer his resignation to stall such procurement?

It is another matter, that this ‘Make in India’ F-16 project mocks the very purpose of the PM’s ídea to make India self-reliant in arms with what — a fourth generation minus fighting platform long past its sell-by date? But this is precisely the arms imports path charted by Nirmala Sitharaman, who as Finance Minister has continued from where she left off as defence minister, by making provisions in the 2019-2020 budget for the military services to obtain foreign armaments at will on the specious basis that the armed forces need quality weapons. Implicit in this view is the belief that anything designed, developed and produced in India is second rate. She never applied her mind, and neither has the PM or anyone else in the Modi government, to setting up the private sector as a competing supplier of arms by compelling DRDO to share the source codes for the Tejas warplane and the Arjun tank, for a start, with firms like L&T, Bharat Forge, and Mahindra Aerospace, et al with the will and the wherewithal to produce world-class military goods for the Indian services and for export from the get-go in order to provide the scale and to attract massive investments and ensure quality products. That’s the surefire way, pradhan mantriji, to set up employment and economic value multipliers, and to rejuvenate the slovenly defence public sector units and ordnance factories. Stories of just how bad DPSU products are, are legion. Just one example: Newly assembled Jaguars coming out of HAL sport leaking fuel lines!

But India’s reliance on imported guns, etc has a long history. As pointed out in my book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1498, and some of his gunsmiths jumped ship and set up a foundry to sell guns to the Zamorin — they sold 400 of guns within a year but no indigenous industry ever developed in Calicut or anywhere else. But the same Portugese reached Canton in 1521, started the same arms trade, but within a period of 2 year the Chinese began designing and forging guns. A similar pattern emerged in Japan in 1654 where the Portugese arrived and sold guns and within 20 years Japanese guns exceeded European guns in quality. It also reveals why India remains poor and technologically backward and China and Japan are superior economies and powers.

Then again, when forced to rely on oneself India has produced the goods in the strategic sphere, ranging from nuclear weapons, accurate long range missile and even the Arihant-class “boomer” — a longrange ballistic and cruise missile firing nuclear powered submarine, for God’s sake, and the Indian Navy still thinks it needs to go in for yet another conventional submarine from abroad that will decant even more of the national wealth into foreign pockets and defence industries with its Project 75I, and the IAF still hungers for an augmented Rafale fleet and even antique American aircraft when from the Tejas template can be derived all manner of differently missioned combat aircraft.

All that is required is for Modi, Rajnath Singh and Sitharaman to sit down, think clearly, generate some slight foresight to see that imports will only keep India an arms and technological dependency, and that now’s the time for them to make the hard decision of banning all arms imports, getting the private sector into the defence business, and changing the parameters of the game so long skewed against the national interest. Because there’s nothing well-heeled foreign countries are more grateful for to the shortsighted Indian government and military than that they keep buying weapons systems, telecom equipment, etc from them even though India is eminently capable of making them all at home.

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, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, 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, Indian Politics, Iran and West Asia, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Amateurs Inc.

  1. Rupam says:

    I am pretty sure we will see another Chinese offensive in the next 2 decades by which China will have full fledged infrastructure in place in the Himalayas to take on conventional war as well if it happens. We will face a similar situation like 1962 only this time our future would probably be permanently sealed as a puppet of China or US.

  2. Dhruv says:

    Well India has been truly gutted by Trumps moves in Afghanistan and Iran. India has had to yeild to US pressure to stop all oil imports from Iran and Venezuela,which we were getting on much better terms, instead having to now rely on Saudi Arabia,UAE and of course the US for energy security.

    Indias plans of accessing Afghanistan and central Asia through Chahbahar port also lie in shambles because of Trumps hurry to get out of Afghanistan, in fact the closure of Pakistani airspace and the Iranian imbroglio has well nigh put this strategically very important region out of reach for India.

    What did we get for kowtowing to the USA on Iran? Aside from the rants on twitter of how India is the tariff king,we’ve been totally sidelined in the Afghan peace talks ,while Pakistan is at the high table. Imran will soon visit the white house, while we are put in the strategic dog house. A US trade delegation will be here soon to crack the whip, hope we don’t give away the store.

    Its just providential that we’ve made nice with Putin in the past year otherwise the hole we are in would have been that much deeper. India should reassess the friendliness of the US because with such a friend, there’s no need of enemies. A country that tramples on our core interest in such fashion has no business being called a friend.

  3. andy says:

    “I believe that we should resume this project, Russia is open to that. We are ready and are proposing this programme to our Indian partners,” Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Deputy Director Vladimir Drozhzhov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency in Moscow on July 9. He added that the Sukhoi Su-57 is an extremely capable 5th Generation multirole aircraft with unique capabilities

    Regarding the needs of the IAF ,heres something that should never have gone off the table,the Russian SU 57 or the so called FGFA. New engines,stealthy,super manoeuvrable,AESA radar etc. The Russians are still interested in collaborating with India on this cutting edge project,need to be hasty before the Chinks get a similar offer.

    We’re anyway having to order another SU30 squadron along with 21 old MIG 29 airframes from Russia that have never been flown and kept in storage for many years, upgraded to the IAFs UPG standard. So much for the western aircraft fulfilling our security needs.

    The FGFA could be another Indo Russian collaboration on the lines of the successful Brahmos project.

    The Russians have also offered a collaborative effort for the Indian navys conventional submarine requirements (project 75i) they have offered to design a completely new sub based on their super silent Amur class.

    If these are not great prospects try asking Washington for a submarine or even the F35. Go figure!

  4. “5th generation Tejas”?

    You might find this book on connection between arms, industrialization and British empire interesting.

    Smothering of Indian arms industry in 18th Century.

    https://qz.com/india/1253318/empire-of-guns-wars-not-just-genius-fuelled-britains-industrial-revolution/

    “Indian craftsmen also copied European firearms. Peasants of the Gangetic plains used cheap handguns made by local blacksmiths. Travancore, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab and Sindh possessed sites of arms manufacture. Indian guns and gun parts were also sold in Persia, Oman and across the Indian Ocean. British military men noted the superior range and velocity of Indian matchlocks. European observers also praised Golconda muskets. Indian designs, the British recognised, were sophisticated and effective; subcontinental arms emerged from a rich and dynamic culture of technical knowledge.”

    https://aeon.co/essays/is-the-gun-the-basis-of-modern-anglo-civilisation

  5. Ashish says:

    Dear Sir, I have been an avid reader of your blogs for the last 1 year. Your arguments make a lot of sense to me. Your points about Tejas and Indian tanks being better than western ones also make me proud. However, if you have access to this information about these consistently coming superior against foreign powers, how is it that nobody in the establishment takes notice. How can the entire system be so corrupt that everyone including Army chief, Air force chief, Defense Minister, bureaucrats, senior political leadership are hell bent on selling India’s legitimate interests?

  6. vivek says:

    So F21 aka F16 is final?

  7. India = Superpower in waiting.

  8. devraj says:

    Sir russia induct su57 by 2028.but that time usa will inducting sixth generation jets.even today su57 cannt compete f35.then by 2030s how russia handle usa sixth generation jets with su57 and will india get su57 by mid 2030s.but at that time china have advanced fifth or sixth generatiion jets as it has huge money backup and industrial base.uas and china will completly dominate india and russia in fighter jet arena by 2030s by money and industrial base

  9. AD says:

    Just a suggestion.. you might want to start marking comments from a certain reader as spam, because letting him post his deranged rants degrades the readability of your posts and normal comments. Akismet (the default comment moderating system on WP blogs) does a pretty good job of blocking spam from specific commentators once you start providing it with feedback by identifying comments with certain patterns as spam.

    As far as the topic of this post is concerned, you might have heard that Modi is going to make more trips to USA in next 2-3 months. Sad but predictable. Then again, not a single leader in post-1947 India has consistently displayed the ability to stand up to the west or anybody with a lighter skin and a well tailored suit. But somehow leaders of much smaller Asian countries such as Vietnam and DPRK have done so, successfully.

    • Have marked that particular person’s posts as spam, but apparently the spam filter does not work automatically but the said posts have to be removed by me physically every time. This is tiresome.

  10. No. But will do so now. Thanks.

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