Pussyfooting around the truth

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[Jaishankar in Rajya Sabha]

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar skirted around the truth with his professional diplomatic flummery in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. Asked about India’s chances about securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, he said ” “Well, I will hope soon.” But then realizing he had gone too far in raising hopes, quickly corrected himself in the very next sentence. “I am realistic enough to know”, he added, “that it is a long and patient effort. We are not lacking in patience and not lacking in our perseverance and we are not lacking in our aspirations. We will get that one day. I am very confident and it is progressing step by step.” Ah,”one day”. He should have been honest and replied “never”, certainly not if India under Modi (persisting with the policy of his predecessors) continues enthusiastically to subscribe to and support the current world order.

Why? Because it is mightily inconvenient to slice up the international power pie six ways, when the existing 5 powers have each a fifth of the pie. Which country among the present permanent five members — US, Russia, China, UK and France — is idiot enough to want diminution of its power and authority that the permanent UNSC status endows them with? Pleading pitifully for the sixth seat in the UNSC — a glorified talk shop, displaying “patience” and “perseverance” and seeking “to progress step by step” in this regard, won’t do it, and hurts India’s self-respect and amor propre, not that the Indian government seems to care, won’t do it.

What will, I have argued, is if India becomes so excessively disruptive of international norms and the extant system that the P-5 are compelled to accommodate it in their ranks,or face a breakdown in their carefully constructed global power edifice. The example to follow is Maozedong who simply ran roughshod over the UN and its “rule-based international order, repeatedly cocked a snook at it, drove the US-led UN forces south of the 38th parallel, fought General Douglas MacArthur’s army to an impasse on the Korean Peninsula, and then enjoyed the great fortune of having a Third World chump in Jawaharlal Nehru surrender a Permanent seat offered India to China, just so that country took its rightful place at the global apex!!

India, as a non-signatory, could have made a beginning by upsetting the global nuclear apple cart that the P-5 had cobbled together by ignoring the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty and responded with alacrity to China’s clandestine transfers of nuclear materials, expertise, bomb designs and missile systems to Pakistan starting in the mid-1970s by shipping whole N-bombs to Vietnam and, in time, to other states on China’s borders who expressed a desire for such armaments. Recall that China invaded Vietnam in 1979 and got a bloody nose for its troubles, the aggressor PLA Group Army leading the charge actually being defeated by the Vietnamese irregulars who took to the field before the Vietnamese army could see action. Given its security context, wouldn’t Hanoi have appreciated such a gesture and permanently put the Chinese dragon’s tail in a twist in a way the Pakistani nuclear deterrent has done to India? And consider the strong message that Indian action would have sent Beijing, and the absolute parity in geomilitary terms that would have subsequently achieved for India. Instead, under Manmohan Singh, India finally succumbed to the NPT and signed the civilian nuclear deal negotiated by, who else, our truly — S Jaishankar, then a relative small fry — Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, and now the country’s foreign minister, no less. As a result of the N-deal the possibility of India ever securing credible thermonuclear weapons to match China was thus dashed.

The fact is it is still not too late for Delhi to activate this option. But then Narendra Modi, as he has shown, would rather be patted on his back by the West and China for showing restraint when anything nuclear and to do with Beijing are concerned, and be celebrated for India’s “responsible behaviour” than serve the hard Indian national interest.


Jaishankar said one other important thing in Parliament — this regarding the Russian S-400 air defence system. It is  “very clear” to everybody, he declaimed that India took decisions on merits. “We will not be influenced”, he observed,”by other countries on what we do in terms of our national security and defence. If we have committed to the S-400 agreement, which we have, then other countries need to respect that decision.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it though? One little problem. He talked of the “merits” of weapon systems India buys from a slew of foreign countries as an explanatory variable.

Doesn’t this open up the matter of the Modi regime and F-21 — the venerable 50 year old “museum ready” F-16 fighter aircraft by another name which Jaishankar, in his capacity, incidentally, as head of the Tata Group’s global operations (or some such designation) pushed the BJP government to buy? Would Jaishankar in the cabinet when the decision comes up tout this aircraft’s “merits”, which other than permitting Tata — a haloed Indian company that has gone down the wrong path under Ratan Tata, to assemble it and rake in the money in cahoots with Lockheed Martin, has no real benefits. Unless you count the dubious gains from India from plugging into the US global value and production chain.

Jaishankar single-handedly negotiated the nuclear deal that finished off India’s nuclear ambitions. Who is to to say he, as foreign minister, won’t be equally persuasive — considering the direction in which prime minister Modi is leaning, in getting the Country to plonk for this perfectly inappropriate F-16 buy and kill off the indigenous Tejas LCA and its AMCA derivatives and what remains of the Indian Air Force’s fighting capability? When he does, we will be left pondering the “merits” of the F-16 in IAF colours he will no doubt reveal.

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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32 Responses to Pussyfooting around the truth

  1. V.Ganesh says:

    Sir, so does this mean that India will buy F-21/F-16 for the IAF and F-18 for the Indian Navy for sure now that Jaishankar is the EAM?

      • V.Ganesh says:

        💯% likely, sir? I 🙋🏾‍♂ would be the happiest person on Earth 🌎 if India were to buy the F-21/F-16 for the IAF, because, it’d be a proud moment to see the IAF’s roundels on the F-21/F-16 and then the IAF will give the PAF a dose of its own F-21/F-16 medicine. I 🙋🏾‍♂ would also be happy if Indian Navy bought the F-18, because with the F-21/F-16 and F-18, India would get the latest American 🇺🇸🗽 military hardware and technology that America has to offer. If this happens, the US may offer the F-35 and include India in the F-35 program. Also, since India is buying lot of American military hardware like the Apache attack helicopter 🚁 and now planing to buy the MK-45 naval artillery guns from America, is it possible that the Indian military will soon be full of US hardware like NATO members?

      • V.Ganesh says:

        Sir, would this also mean overriding the objection of the IAF to the F-21/F-16 because it doesn’t want to have what the PAF already has – the F-16?

  2. Edelbert Kmenlang Badwar says:

    What benefits a Security Council seat will bring to us I do not understand.Other than the veto power which in today’s world had very little value.

  3. vivek says:

    Question is if India retests TN weapon and a MIRV with global reach, does it really need run for permanent seat in UN Council ??

  4. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi Bharat sir….what is the reason that some 70 years after independence, the real-politik sense is missing from Indian leaders mindset, which has resulted in almost zero disruptive behaviour by our leaders????? One of the reasons could be 200 years of colonial rule.

  5. Vaibhavafro says:

    My father is an additional Secretary at an undisclosed Ministry in the government. I had heard him recently talking about the apparent ‘Americanization’ of our bureaucracy. He said, referring to the recent recruitment of ‘outsider’ (non-IAS) experts in positions of joint secretaries, that “iss baar 10 logo ko liya hai, agli baar 100 logo ko lelega”. (English: “Modi has recruited 10 people this time; next time the number maybe 100”) Isn’t this a good sign? Won’t this help weaken our status-quo loving bureaucracy?

  6. Bharat kumar says:

    Spent fuel of the Fast breeder reactor could it be used for WGPU or is there any IAEA regulatory obstructions present in the nuclear deal

  7. V.Ganesh says:

    Sir, can you please answer my comment wherein I’ve spoken about Apache attack helicopters 🚁, MK-45 naval artillery guns and NATO?

  8. V.Ganesh says:

    Sir, if its a given that India will buy the F-21/F-16 for the Indian Air Force and the F-18 for the Indian Navy, then, will America automatically induct India into its F-35 program?

    • That’s the US/Lockheed lure.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        Sir, but, don’t you think that the American 🇺🇸🗽/Lockheed lure is lot better than going in for the seemingly jinxed PAK/FA project with Russia even at a later stage? Russia is going only for limited number of Su-57s for the Russian Aerospace Forces even after testing them in the war in Syria 🇸🇾. So, don’t you think that means Russia is not confident of the Su-57 and India will be better off by joining the F-35 program and by buying the F-35?

      • F-35 is a lemon. Look up my past posts on the subject.


    Thanks a lot Mr Karnad for your wonderful views. I recently came to know about the Kartarpur corridor decision from Pakistan. Do you think this is a good move on behalf of Pakistan to shore up soft power ? I would welcome your views on the same.

    • Soft power, yes. But Pak COAS General Qamar Bajwa is supposed to be the author of this initiative and perhaps thinks of the Kartarpur Corridor as possible means of reviving the Khalistan Movement by indoctrinating Sikh pilgrims from the Indian side of Punjab.

  10. Vaibhavafro says:

    I have acquired a general distaste for Jaishankar’s appearance after I started reading your posts here; he looks like a clever fox too me who wants to fool people around.

    Anyway, coming to my main question, I think that the China-model of Communist-capitalism is far superior to a democracy; look at any western country, all of them are embroiled in the same domestic politics and some sort of paralysis and illness. But then I also think about things like free speech etc etc.

    What are your views on this? Which system is superior?

  11. Rahul says:

    High lexical density

  12. Bhumish Khudkhudia says:

    Mr. Karnad, the Financial Times on 4th December published a story written by Kiran Sharma on Malaysia’s plans to purchase Tejas multi-role combat aircraft despite strained ties with New Delhi over Kashmir.

    Your thoughts on this? And how often has Hindustan Aeronautics sold their weapons and aircraft to foreign buyers since its inception?


    • Considering is not the same as buying. Malaysia has used the possibility of buying this or that armament as diplomatic tool, or to pacify big countries. Tejas has, perhaps, come in for “consideration” because of the brouhaha over 370, Kuala Lumpur’s siding with Pakistan and, thereafter, Delhi’s cancellation of huge contracts for Malaysian palm oil.

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