New opportunities that will be wasted

Image result for pics of kovind and duterte

[Kovind and Duterte]

This past fortnight, I was away, participating in the Yushan Forum 2019 in Taipei — an annual effort by the Taiwanese government to forge regional partnerships in the face of unrelentingly punitive policies of the communist China regime to isolate Taiwan, and thence to Istanbul where I sensed considerable unease among the people about the turn Erdogan’s war with the Syrian Kurds may be taking, especially after the videos telecast by CNN showing wanton killings and other atrocities on unarmed civilian Kurds by the Turkish-supported militia in the van of the action. While Ankara, with its critical buy of the S-400 air defence system may have gained some slight capacity to water down Russia’s enthusiasm for the joint front comprising its new found partners — the indefatigable Kurds, and its old ally — Assad’s army, which’s fetching up for a fight, things on the ground may spiral out of its control.

But it is the right time for the Modi government to payback Erdogan’s gambit to insert himself and Turkey into Kashmir affairs by offering Delhi’s good offices for mediation with the Kurds. Of course, Delhi won’t do any such thing because its timorous policy mindset won’t allow it to.

It is precisely this timorousness, or may be it is plain timidity, that may also prevent Delhi from grabbing the opportunity available at the other end of Asia, in the Philippines. Among the most significant state visits in recent years by India’s leaders is the one underway by the country’s President, Ram Nath Kovind — only the third in the last 70 years, to the Philippines, a long neglected archipelagic state that a strategically challenged Delhi has accorded far less importance to than it deserves. This situation is sought to be corrected but whether sufficient seriousness, intensity and purpose will be summoned by the Modi government remains the central question.

In fact, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a true maverick among regional leaders, who is as unpredictable as he is purposeful, referred candidly to the Indian government’s inattention despite Manila’s efforts at engaging it. Both countries, he noted, “are diversifying partnerships, rebalancing old ones and strengthening those that have traditionally been on the margins of our diplomacy.” But with the essence of the Hindustani phrase — “daer se aaye, durust aaye” perhaps in mind, he welcomed “India’s role in [Philippines’] defense capability upgrade program against the backdrop of our growing security cooperation” because as “countries strategically located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, we [have] shared interest to protect our maritime commons and advance the rule of law in our maritime domains.”  But aware of Delhi’s inability to muster strategic focus, Duterte warned, albeit gently, that while “We hope to look back on this day as a milestone in our relations, the day when we set out to turn promise into reality, and potential into concrete benefits” it will require, he said, “a deft and agile diplomacy that empowers us to maximize opportunities for cooperation in a complex external environment.” ( ) He thereby put his finger on a crucial Indian failing. “Deft and agile diplomacy” is, after all, not one of India’s strengths, or the country wouldn’t be in the dire strategic straits it finds itself in where China holds the whip hand.

Delhi may, however, be belatedly waking up to Philippines’ geostrategic usefulness in dealing with a rampaging China even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought not very successfully to inject a dose of Mamallapuram intimacy to the flagging Wuhan spirit. Unlike Modi, Xi Jinping, however, limits the nonsense about peacefully concerting with an obvious and manifest rival only to rhetoric, which costs him nothing, but leaves him free to pursue China’s interests without compromising them in the least, while gleefully expecting India to constrain itself — as it has always done — by following through on the Indian PM’s rhetorical flourishes.

But to return to topic, what sort of security cooperation does Manila have in mind? A couple of months back the leader of an Indian army team visiting Philippines had the remit to offer the Duterte government a “carte blanche” in this respect, in effect, asking Manila to list whatever it thought it needed by way of capacity build-up to militarily ward off China. Mightily impressed, the Philippine regime responded almost immediately with a long wish list, which is at the core of the “defence capability upgrade” Duterte referred to. But the Filipinos also offered India a glimpse of the kind of information Indian armed forces may find operationally useful. Such as real time information about Chinese naval assets, Chinese paramilitary naval vessels, and Chinese merchantmen with military equipment transiting the waters abutting on the Philippines.

For starters, India for the first time will be posting a Defence Attache in its embassy in Manila, who will become the official liaison for facilitating security cooperation particularly in the maritime domain. This will soon result in Indian assistance in erecting and, may be, even manning, radar and electronic intelligence stations on the main and outlier Philippine islands, transfer of naval capital hardware — fast attack and patrol craft and in the future, modern multi-role frigates and submarines, and training to handle and service these complex platforms.

In return, Manila will be more than amenable to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force using the vast former US naval base at Subic Bay, the finest deep water harbour outside of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, and Clark’s air force base, as their forward operational posts with pre-positioned stores in the region. An Indian flotilla and air complement able thus to replenish, restock, and change crews at will in Subic Bay and at Clark’s, will translate into a virtually permanent Indian naval and air presence on China’s door step. It presents India with an extraordinary prospect and capability to bottle-up China’s Navy and naval aviation. But, as detailed in my last book, Why India is not a great Power (Yet), it is the vision-limited nay-sayers in the Indian Navy and in the Pakistan-fixated IAF who may put hurdles against such distant deployment, assuming a suddenly strategically imaginative and live Modi regime desires it.

If Philippines is a must-do security project for India, upgrading relations with Taiwan is an imperative. At the Yushan Forum, President Tsai ing-wen reaffirmed her country’s innovative “south bound policy” featuring in the main India, Australia and New Zealand. In discussions with officials at the highest levels of the Taiwan foreign ministry, it is clear cooperating intensively with Taipei in the military and cyber spheres can seriously hurt and therefore contain China. When, in my presentation and more informally I reiterated my longstanding advice to the Indian government to adopt tit-for-tat policies and in exchange for Beijing’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan that has permanently strategically discomfited India, to return the favour and nuclear missile arm countries on China’s periphery, senior Taiwanese officials reacted, supposedly in a lighter vein, saying “Please pass on some of these nuclear weapons to us!” There were also hints that Taipei had not altogether forsaken its own nuclear weapons option. Taiwan was pressured to close down its atom bomb project in the 1990s by, who else, its ostensible guardian — America!

What made an equal impression on the Taiwanese was my conceptualization of an “Asian Security system for Asia by rimland and offshore Asian states” to box in China that I have articulated in my books and other writings. It caught the fancy of the popular media, particularly online news outlets, and suggests it can gin up traction if India proposes it as a collective venture in this fraught time when Trump’s America is proving too thin a reed for Asian states to rest their security on.

It is still not too late for Delhi to recover the lost politico-military ground by, firstly, putting in motion the ‘Óne India’ concept — an extension of the government’s “One Country, one Constitution” notion generated post-Article 370 abrogation, inclusive of all territories of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir not excluding the portions presently occupied by China in Aksai Chin, and by Pakistan, demanding that all friendly states sign up for it. It’d be a direct counter to Beijing’s ‘Óne China’ principle its foreign policy adheres to. And secondly, by ratcheting up military security relationships with states bordering China, landward and seaward, with pride of place in this security system accorded Vietnam. Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia.

A singularly focussed Indian government, practicing hard realpolitik of this kind — something I have advocated for over 30 years now, will immediately vault India into a power that China and the United States will find hard not to respect. Alas, no Indian government to-date — not the ones run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and even less by the Congress party, has quite grasped the necessity for India to lead the charge against China in Asia, a role almost every Asian country without exception would like India to play as a means of reining in China, making an unreliable US more expendable, and of protecting their interests.

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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14 Responses to New opportunities that will be wasted

  1. Mr.Mister says:

    Sir, I do look forward to your articles, but the things you advice makes you sound as a pathetic pompous chicken-hawk, who is butt-hurt that the government of the day is not calling upon you for geo-strategic advice, and perhaps more appropriately handing you to keys to the foreign/defence ministry.

    • Mr Mister@ — Truth is I entertain no illusions of the kind you mention. What illusions I may have entertained about the acceptance of my foreign-defence policy ideas by the system disappeared early, with my experience in the (First) NSAB and owing to interactions with serving and retired diplomats, bureaucrats and military officers since. The small consolation I have is that bits and pieces of my numerous recommendations over the years are, from time to time, incorporated in policies by the Indian government. But these do not have the impact they would have had if these had been implemented in toto.

      • RG says:

        ….and there are some who are grateful for your efforts and unflinching zeal,thank you!

        I just finished reading Zra’s “Deng..” and Pillsburys’s Marathon,back to back.I could never get a handle on the articles on Global Times. Zra’s book gave me some insight into the minds of their leaders, Pillsbury’s book made it very clear. I would recommend these 2 ,to be read in that order, to anyone wanting to get insight into the minds of China’s leaders.

        In short, they are all drunk on warring states period, have internalized its teachings. It is even taught in schools. And by no means will it change.

        There are moderates in Beijing in the sense they want the same stuff albeit without making much noise. They are not moderates! There is no such thing as doves or moderates there(to paraphrase Gen. Spalding)

        I had given some thought to what Adm. Praksh had said about your book being a little over the top in some views but now my views stand changed. Adm Prakash whom I used to consider a thinking type is just not in the know. Oh he’s not! I wonder if anyone in the Indian military is. Sad!!!!! My views have changed so much , in such a drastic way that I think that if we don’t do something now, we would face a very challenging future. I think the next 20 yrs or so is the time we can be mot disruptive and get away with it. I also see much meaning in co-opting Pakistan but I just don’t see how it would happen. Christine fair’s book ,I found very gloomy.

        For the future- Even a change in the form of government there,if it happens at all, would only create some space for influence, that’s all. We still would be required on be on our toes. We must get rich and strong fast, always operating with the same ‘warring states period mindset’ in dealing with China.

      • RG says:

        PS: I voted for AAP in 2014, 2 years later I repented. I had huge hopes from Modi, he’s been a huge disappointment. Everything about them is about expediency. It’s a given….this summit that summit is just photo ops. Then our vicious,bitter northern…neighbour

    • The thing is we would have been happy if our nation’s defence was self-reliant in arms. We Indians pull the legs of others who at least try to do something. So first of all, we should try to get out of Mental Slavery then we would be successful.

      • RG says:

        Beg, borrow or steal.All is ok for national interests. Stealing is a must,we don’t do that enough.Did you hear about the South Korean 5th generation fighter? Yes, South Korea!!! I wanted to kick myself in the butt when I heard that.

        I know many Indians are compromised or are shady or give in to incentives.Politicians, civil servants,journalists all across the spectrum, do the same thing — go to China, attend conferences, enjoy the freebies, and when the time comes, maybe do Beijing’s bidding.

        We are a joke. India will not be a great power because to become a great power requires proficiency in a different kind of a language-to speak, write and read. This language is mostly alien to us. Indian politics in the name of democracy is eating at our potential to be a great power, they don’t even see that realizing this potential can be existential.

        A Jayaram Ramesh has no hesitation in openly saying that based on stats we should be able to reach middle income status-and that’s enough, we would be happy. If that’s how your mind works then you are NOT smart enough to even be considered a player for great power status even if you have the attributes.

        Great power means to be a ‘Gunda’ in a civilized way but a ‘Gunda’ nonetheless, a most cunning,swift and powerful Gunda. Vishwamitra made his own heaven and we beg for a seat at NSG? Gunda kya aise baat karta hai? He made the Gods compromise!!!!!

      • Technologically, South Korea is a first rate power.

  2. Apna says:

    IN the whole decade of the 80s when USA was using China against Russia it was the former and her stooge inside India who were forcing the INDIAN be very friendly to China and be distant to Russia; So much so that they forced Rajiv Gandhi to accept Tibet as part of China in autumn 1988.

    INCIDENTLY this also the time the British and the Americans created the Taliban Muslim terrorists and funded and sheltered Khalistani terrorists in the Anglo World. At that time those traitorous Indians wanted India to be friendly to the US and to China and be indifferent to Russia! There was a chairman of FICCI who was also owner of Ranbaxy, who was daily saying that India should befriend China and not Russia -all because the Americans wanted it that way.
    Then in the 90s he was saying India should demand goods in hard currency from Russia because of rouble devaluation. He was also pushing for less military expenditure in India. You can check this papers and weekly journals of that period. Such are the coolie elites of India -a lackey breed of the lowest kind.
    During the 1971 War, China didn’t even move a truck despite US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s repeated requests to launch an attack on India. The Chinese sat on the sidelines watching India humiliate their client. Even during the Kargil war when India was hammering the Pakistanis there was not a peep out of Beijing.

  3. devraj says:

    BJP showed guts to remove article 370, favour Ram mandir strongly. Will Modi remove reservation in 2020? As merit is the only way to become super power, will he end reservation?

  4. Gram Massla says:

    Several good points made here. Thank you. Those of us who who have lived among the Chinese are aware of several traits they possess. They acknowledge bullies and make space for them and that they are the only major civilization that did not fashion their laws under God(s). As such their laws were framed to recognize power to be the ultimate arbiter. Though tit for tat actions are distasteful, to deal with a bully this becomes a necessity. Allying militarily with the Philippines will allow Indian armory to interdict Chinese trade during armed conflict (the defense attache has to be aware that the Philippines is awash with Chinese spies). The border with China will not be solved; it is deliberately left as a festering sore for the sole purpose of applying pressure on India. This can change if India intimates to the Chinese that the next war on the border will be fought on their soil.

  5. Von says:

    Hi Bharat,

    Is your presentation for the Yushan Forum 2019 in Taipei available online? The positive reaction of the Taiwanese audience has piqued my interest. Thanks!

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