[Modi’s conch-shell welcome to a befuddled looking-Trump in Ahmedabad]
Donald J Trump’s 2-day state visit has unfolded, as predicted. It has been a media show crowned with 100,000 people cramming Motera stadium, the sort of media coverage-drawing event that both principals — Indian PM Narendra Modi and the US President crave and revel in. Trump laid it on thick at Motera — bunging in mention of a whole bunch of disparate popular Indian cultural icons — Diwali, Bollywood, “Soochin Tendolkar”, “Sordor” Patel, “Vivekanamandana…”etc., an address, a retired Indian diplomat called “masterful”. (https://epaper.mailtoday.in/2568554/Mail-Today/Mail-Today-February-25-2020#page/18/2) He must have been watching coverage of a more serious event somewhere!
Pakistan-sourced terrorism has been Modi’s premier foreign policy plank during his 6 years in office (based on the time and effort PMO and MEA have expended on this issue). So, he must have been taken aback when Trump, in auto-correct mode, twinned his claim about America and India being frontline states in the fight against terrorism with a reassurance to Pakistan that America had “a good relationship” with it. How Modi can draw comfort from this forked statement is not clear. But what is is that he means to ride Trump’s coattails to the end for all it is worth, even if the ride lasts only another 9 months because it will be the end of the line should the Democratic Party candidate (likely Biden or Sanders) next occupy the White House. And even if it means signing up for a load of armaments with huge price tags but (many of them, such as the National Advanced Surface- to-Air Missile system — a reworking of the air-to-air Sidewinder missile) of immensely doubtful value.
The piling on of an odd assortment air defence systems (Prithvi interceptors, S-400, Akash, NASAMs, Barak-8) in “layered” missile defence will work as well as not having any such defence at all! That’s how ineffective each of the allegedly “anti-missile” system (as different from their anti-aircraft capability) is individually and, in an integrated architecture, collectively. It speaks volumes about the smooth-talking success achieved by foreign arms companies pushed by their governments and, at the same time, the cupidity and gullibility of Indian leaders and the generalist babu-infested Ministry of Defence and MEA who know squat about national security, and even less about actual defence. But that’s another story!! It reveals the passive defensive-minded pathology lacing India’s procurement policy that will yet be the death of India as a self-respecting power.
But what really happened in the Modi-Trump discussions at Hyderabad House this morning? When talking of the “terrorism” issue, which also presumably included an exchange on Pakistan-sourced cross-border terrorism, Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla referred to the “restricted and confidential” nature of the talks for not disclosing details. It is a dead giveaway that, notwithstanding Trump’s press conference where he was more voluble in backing Modi and India, the discussion didn’t go the way Modi and MEA expected, and that Trump would have nothing to do with punitive measures beyond those agreed on at the Financial Assistance Task Force forum and, sotto voce, that Washington would happily extend the June-2020 deadline if Islamabad continued to be helpful in facilitating battlefield peace with the Quetta-based Haqqani Network and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Just wait and see — this is exactly how the situation will pan out mid-year. And despite repeated brush-offs by Delhi, Trump once again set himself up as mediator on Kashmir.
In the meantime, Modi’s ploy of loosening Trump’s views on Pakistan-sourced terrorism and trade, etc. by pacifying Trump with arms purchases amounting to a $9 billion gain for the US defence industry as Shringla announced proudly, and with buys of American energy — oil, shale oil and gas, and urging Indian capitalists to invest “billions and billions of dollars in the US” (Trump’s words) and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs in America, has not diluted Trump’s attitude to India an iota. On trade, for instance, Shringla implied as much in his press conference when he talked of a one-sided transactional scheme being par for the course. This he did by differentiating between the trade “package” dealing with tariffs in current transactions and the “big deal” that Trump had sought to permit mutual concessions on a bilateral agreement basis. But either way, as Trump emphasized in his press conference, the US would always force its advantage. So, how has Modi’s coddling of the US in any way helped India? What has India got or gained?
The trade talks have stalled on a number of friction points. From India’s perspective these are, in the main, the low level of US technology transfer, and the joint R&D projects to develop “critical technologies” that the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative promised, which is still at the talking stage. If anybody in MEA and PMO is waiting for such programs to fructify soon or ever and is listening, you are advised to not hold your breath. It won’t happen.
Trouble is Modi cannot wish away the existing chasm between India’s and US interests. Short of Modi gifting Washington what remains of this country’s foreign policy integrity in order to get a pat on the back and a torrent of flattery from Trump — to wit, his speech at Motera, the differences simply cannot be bridged. In this respect, Shringla struggled to explain how the “comprehensive strategic global partnership” that’s supposed to have been initiated by the Trump-Modi duo is different from the less wordy “global strategic partnership” it apparently replaced. He talked of the former in terms of greater understanding and commitment on a wider array of subjects — none of which is reflected in the outcomes of the Trump trip that the Indian FS described, for reasons unknown, as “extraordinary”. Especially because the trip indicates that while Trump held on to his positions, Modi eroded the country’s bargaining leverage by ceding ground virtually on all fronts except in allowing unhindered, unlimited, exports to India of American dairy products.
But that’s because — and this is not hard to speculate — doing so would imperil the burgeoning milk cooperative industry, exemplified by the success of the Amul-brand of dairy items on home turf. It is one thing for Modi to ask India to be treated as a developing state in America’s Generalized System of [trade] Preferences, from which slate India was yanked in the runup to the presidential trip — so much for Trump’s love for India and his desire to expand and enlarge the relationship! Quite another thing to undermine the dairy business in Gujarat and fatally weaken Modi’s and BJP’s grip on their political base in home province. Yea, all politics is local.
The only slight and manifest convergence was regards halting China’s CPEC-kind of infrastructure projects all round the Indian Ocean basin, the East African littoral, and in Central Asia. Whence the two sides agreed on the need for “transparency” in “connectivity” projects about their financial viability, debt load, etc. Not that this will do much good because the US does not dare take ‘pangas’ with China and Beijing knows it.
Hi Bharat Sir…Do you think instead of going for MH60 romeo choppers, India could have asked HAL or an indigeneous private sector company (by tech transfer from HAL) to develop a naval variant of its attack helicopter LCH for anti submarine warfare and such like ??? I mean HAL LCH is one of the finest attack helicopters. Further if HAL could develop naval version of Tejas then same could also be used in LCH. It would have saved lots of money too…
What do you say sir??
es, that’s what HAL should have done — prepared a maritime ASW version in consultation with Navy.
Thanks for replying sir….
And what about Pi-8 aircraft??? Everytime there is a deal for it…Is it that effective???
P-8I is an MR plane and a safe buy, as I have said in my writings, to make it along with C-17s and C-130Js, a staple purchase.
Sir, shouldn’t we try to sign FTAs with Japan or Russia (and their neighbours)? Both of them are intrested. Besides, we would get a more fair deal regarding the economic position of India.
Yes, but that’d upset Trump and this Modi doesn’t want.
Apart from the fact that babus like plush positions/green cards etc. for their kids in developed countries, USA, what else drives this bizarre pro-American tilt in Indian foreign policy? Surely, we are not that weak so as to be not able to take some shocks from (possible) American sanctions a la 1998. I am aware that you’ve extensively written about close coordination and consulation between Carnegie, Brookings, Ford etc. with Indian counterparts, and their influence in even assignment of cabinet rank to their candidates — could this vicious cycle never be broken?
Sincere question: Is there a way out of this American obsession at all?
This Indian middle class “obsession” with America is with what’s understood to be “the good life”. At one level this is understandable. But not when it comes to tilting the country’s policies one way to the detriment of the national interest. There’s no way out of it as long as the innovation eco-system and opportunities are not created in India, and Indian talent is not invested in. This won’t happen until we stop importing everything in sight, especially capital, high-value, hardware. And, yes, you are right, India can weather any sanctions at any time.
Hi Bharat sir…just asking a general question..
In one of your interviews to swarajya, you talked about India to have a nuclear first use policy against China. Your argument was that China may not risk such a war bcz it would be destroyed completely as its entire wealth producing region lies in eastern region (Hong Kong to shanghai to fujian coast) which could be destroyed by K5 and K6 missiles that India is developing. But the question is and as you have said in other videos and books, our nukes have very low yield (around 15-20 KT), so can they really take out completely the whole eastern part of china??? I mean we really need to develop nukes having yield in megatons (maybe 5 MT or more) and long range missiles with MIRV tech..
What do you say sir???
MT weapons are best for psychological-deterrence parity. But a series of 20KT explosions can be quite devastating.
“There’s no way out of it as long as the innovation eco-system and opportunities are not created in India, and Indian talent is not invested in.”
It requires a comprehensive, all-encompassing vision for development, governance (the elephant in the room), indigenization, promoting local talent, being people friendly (unlike present day suspicious inspectors) and learning from what is best outside (like the Meiji Japan’s ‘Western Technology, Japanese Spirit’).
Assuming our govt. moves in this direction ‘right away’, and at war footing, this will take–by very optimistic estimates–at a minimum of a decade. So that means for most of the near future (10-15 years), we are likely to remain a mediocre power which continues to punch below its weight (while simultaneously harboring unrealistic and laughable dreams of being a Great Power/Vishwa Guru etc.). Discerning experts in many fields privately admit that we can do far better if we learn, cooperate and take inspiration from Japan or South Korea (even China and Israel, in limited ways). Alas! The mental colonization will not let it happen anytime soon.
I hope against hope that more and more of babus/leaders listen to your advice . . .
Thanks a lot for your well-informed article Mr. karnad. Praveen Sawhney mentions very often that in a decade’s time, China-Pakistan military interoperability alongside CPEC would draw most of South Asia under the Chinese influence whereby India will be isolated in her own region.
Do you think that is a realistic assessment made by Praveen Sawhney ? Do you think the Indo-US indo-pacific alliance can mitigate this ?
I would be eagerly awaiting your views on the same.
Thanks and regards with best wishes
Yes there’s that danger. Though there are limits to how close Pakistan can get to China because most of its government, civil services and senior military are compromised, like ours, by green card, etc. That still does not absolve India of trying to coopt Pakistan for enduring strategic benefits which is within our capacity to do, political will permitting. As I have grown old advocating, there’s no other way to get the country out of a right royal strategic jam successive govts (starting with Narasimha Rao’s) has got India into.
Sir, what is happening in America taliban talks. What would india do if taliban comes to power? Will that be detrimental to our interests? What are the options available before us?
Please see my posts related to Afghanistan.