Where to begin with Biegun and 2×2

Trump Meets Rajnath Singh, S Jaishankar, Discusses India-US Ties
[2×2 in Washington — Jaishankar evoking mirth in US Secretary of State Pompeo, but not in the Pentagon boss Mark Esper or, for that matter, Rajnath Singh]

Biegun, unfortunately (in Hindi) means, “without redeeming quality”!

Still, let’s give the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arriving in Delhi Oct 12 the benefit of doubt. He will be here to set up the scene, firm up the agenda, for the next edition of the 2×2 meeting Oct 27-28 involving the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries.

In the lead-up to this visit, Biegun made the sort of noises to the Indian media that Americans know will put the foreign policy establishment in Delhi in the right mood to, as has been typical of Indian representatives who go weak in the knees when dealing with their American counterparts, to give away far, far more than India can ever hope to receive. After all, heading the MEA is the arch symbol of India’s giveaway culture — S. Jaishankar who signed the unequal and entirely unfair 2005 nuclear deal, and then contrived to stay on to reap the rewards!

Biegun made clear the American approach. After the de rigeur comments about the shared democratic values, etc., at some do called by the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, Biegun responded to a question about what more the US can do on defence cooperation, export controls and tech transfer, by playing to this country’s conceit as a “world power” and potential “net security provider” to countries in the extended Indian Ocean region. “We’re very eager to help India become and remain a world-class power in contributing [to] net security rather than worrying about net security and how it affects their interests. And I think defence cooperation is a key avenue for this.” He thus pointed out that Delhi does more talking about providing security than actually doing so.

Having slyly shown India its rightful place as talker more than doer, Biegun used his initial comments as launch pad for the business end of his trip and that of the Americans at the forthcoming 2×2 meeting — selling antiquated military hardware to squeeze the last cent for American defence companies before their production lines are junked, sold for scrap metal. He called India’s desire for self-reliance in armaments a “countervailing trend” that while appropriate in some sense, doesn’t jell with Washington’s ideas. “I get that”, he said. “No country wants to be entirely dependent on other parties.” But on this subject, he said, “Even…a partnership as close as the United States-India, can be tested… I understand that”, he continued smoothly, “but I think it can’t come at the exclusion of giving India the best-in-class defence capabilities, and I think India’s going to find a very willing and creative-thinking partner in the United States [in the time ahead] in that exact area.”

There’s no question that the US Government (starting in the George W. Bush era) has been very creative indeed in first fluffing up that tottering old granny of a combat aircraft from the Sixties — the toothless F-16 in new raiment, presenting it as an entirely new ‘F-21’ just for the yokels, and then pressuring India to go in for this bill of goods. Indeed, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), as part of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, signed at the last 2×2 round in Washington in December 2019, is meant specifically to facilitate Lockheed Martin’s sloughing off the F-21 to the IAF and Boeing selling its F/A-18 Super Hornet for use on aircraft carriers to the Indian Navy. At the time of ISA signing, defence minister Rajnath Singh, hoped it would “enable smooth transfer of technology and information between private entities of the US and India.”

So, F-16 is apparently “the best-in-class” capability Washington is generous enough to want India to buy for billions of dollars that India does not have, and even if it did, it is money that could be better spent on stuff that is more critical to national security than aged aircraft looooong past their sell-by date.

It is another matter that the requirement for 114 single engine fighters was created by IAF at the Indian government’s behest to accommodate Washington. It was spun off from, and as an additionality to, the supposed need for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft that the purchase of 36 Rafales partially met. Have presciently maintained all along — look up my posts- that the acquisition of the F-21 was always Jaishankar’s priority in whatever capacity he found himself in government, or outside of it. Chosen by Lockheed as its “strategic partner” per the Defence Procurement Procedure, the Tata Group has been itching ever since to produce the F-21 in India, and so hired Jaishankar as ‘President for Global Affairs’ in April 2018 to push for it. Jaishankar was appointed by Tata straight after he demitted office as Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister waiving the 2-year “cooling off” period rule applicable to all retiring civil servants. From this perch he canvassed for the Modi regime’s approval for the F-16 deal purchase. Tata hit the jackpot when little over a year later its President for Global Affairs was anointed foreign minister, putting him in a position to lubricate the F-16 transaction from within the cabinet. It’s just a matter of time.

So, as I had long ago warned, brace yourselves because the F-16 will soon be expensively in the IAF fleet for the Pakistan Air Force to make mincemeat out of in prospective encounters — and all this at the poor Indian taxpayer’s expense! It is necessary to reiterate Jaishankar-qua-Modi government’s follies because they are going to cost the country plenty.

But to return to Beigun; at the said Forum in Washington he emphasized that for US’ strategy for the Indo-Pacific to be successful “we have to tap into the full scale…of economics,…of security cooperation, and that’s impossible to do without India as centrepiece….So as important as I’d like to think the United States is to this strategy, it’s not going to be successful for us without India also standing side by side”. And then he went to dilate on the Quadrilateral — India, Japan, Australia, US, before re-emphasizing India’s importance to this geopolitical scheme, and urging India not be a “passive player”. And then as if to stress that it was beyond the Indian government’s ability to think expansively and strategically, he concluded, that “Quad concept has really helped India find a place in the Indo-Pacific — in the larger Indo-Pacific theatre [and] it’s…obviously…in our interest to have India as a partner in these issues.”

What is significant is that earlier this summer Biegun had for the first time called US’ China policy a failure, and issued a mea culpa for China-friendly policies of the last 30-odd years. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 22, 2020, he said — and this is worth quoting in extenso:

“Across multiple administrations the United States has supported China’s entry into the rules-based international order in hopes that China would be a partner in upholding international law, norms, and institutions and that the United States and China could develop a friendly relationship with reciprocal benefit. Over more than three decades, U.S. policies towards the PRC have advanced that goal through a massive outpouring of international assistance and lending, foreign investment, facilitation of Chinese membership in global institutions, and the education of millions of China’s brightest scholars at our best schools. Where this Administration diverges from previous Administrations is in the will to face the uncomfortable truth in the U.S.-China relationship that the policies of the past three decades have simply not produced the outcome for which so many had hoped, and that the United States must and take decisive action to counter the PRC.

“As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, despite the huge dividends to the PRC in terms of prosperity, trade, and global influence that United States support and engagement has delivered, Beijing has instead chosen to take increasingly hardline and aggressive actions, both at home and abroad; and China has emerged as a strategic competitor to the United States, and to the rules-based global order. We find the U.S.-China relationship today weighed down by a growing number of disputes, including commercial espionage and intellectual property theft from American companies; unequal treatment of our diplomats, businesses, NGOs, and journalists by Chinese authorities; and abuse of the United States’ academic freedom and welcoming posture toward international students to steal sensitive technology and research from our universities in order to advance the PRC’s military.

“Other areas of concern include China’s increasingly assertive use against partners and allies of military and economic coercion and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, including, among others, India, Australia, Canada, the UK, ASEAN Members, the European Union, and several other European countries.”

The US Deputy Secretary of State then outlined the actions the Trump Administration was taking to counter China. “Across the Indo-Pacific region, the United States is deepening relationships with the countries that share our values and interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific. Last September, we held the first ministerial-level meeting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, marking a new milestone in our diplomatic engagement in the region. We are enhancing our alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, which have helped sustain peace and security for generations, and we are furthering our engagement with ASEAN, an organization central to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our security assistance to South China Sea claimant states and our recent rejection of the PRC’s maritime claims helps partners protect their autonomy and maritime resources. We are working with the Mekong countries to ensure sustainable development and energy security.

“Last month, I joined Secretary Pompeo in Hawaii to meet with our Chinese counterparts. In the two-day discussion the Secretary stressed that deeds, not words, were the pathway to achieve mutual respect and reciprocity between our two countries across commercial, security, diplomatic, and people-to-people interactions. He made clear our determination to push back against Beijing’s efforts to undermine democratic norms, challenge the sovereignty of our friends and allies, and engage in unfair trade practices, but at the same time, he also outlined areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges.”

Two things to note: Firstly, that Washington has defined India’s centrality to America’s Indo-Pacific strategy and hence also Delhi’s leverage. The question is will Modi, Jaishankar, and the PMO-MEA lot habituated to giveaways rather than selling India’s participation dear, strictly condition Indian military involvement in Quad activities on monitorable tech-transfer and assistance to specific programmes, like the one to design and develop a scalable Kaveri jet turbine to power present and future Indian-designed combat aircraft? I think not. After all, the Trump Administration not too long ago shelved any collaboration in developing a jet engine in India because of Pentagon’s concerns about parting with cutting edge technologies and the Indian government did not even object. So one can expect the Modi government to make much of wasteful, vapid transactions for the F-16 and the like designed to keep India an arms dependency.

And secondly, refer to the last bit of Biegun’s Congressional testimony reproduced above: After cataloguing all the reasons why China cannot be trusted, he repeats Pompeo and Washington’s readiness to discuss with Beijing the “areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges”. In other words, as long as the US can however and by whatever means ensure that China does not step on its toes, it wouldn’t care a fig before throwing the interests of the other countries of the Indo-Pacific overboard. This is the harsh reality that ought to contextualize Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s deliberations with Biegun, but won’t.

Indo-Pacific is absolutely crucial to India’s security, but an unreliable US as the central pillar of the Quad is a liability. The reason why I have been advocating the concept of the Modifed Quadrilateral — Mod Quad — of India, Japan, Australia and a set of Southeast Asian states to include principally Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore that can more than even the balance of power with China. It is the only geostrategically organic and feasible solution the Modi government ought to be realizing instead of pursuing the chimera of the US as centrepiece in India’s security architecture. Combined with BRIS — Brazil, Russia-India-South Africa (BRICS minus China) as a complementary globe-girdling but loose security coalition harnessing the power and capacities of Russia, Brazil, and South Africa as well that Delhi should do its utmost to obtain, India could — with this twin security schema (elaborated in my 2018 book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’) — get into a position to dictate terms to China. And to even win America’s respect that Delhi so craves.

But this’d require a sea change in the mindset of the Indian government and military and, more specifically, in the thinking and approach of Prime Minister Modi. Of this last, however, there’s no sign.

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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21 Responses to Where to begin with Biegun and 2×2

  1. Jayanta Basu says:

    I always value your insight & resilience to advice the yokels in power echelon. Chapeau. But what’s the use to teach the donkey about Wednesday?

  2. RS says:

    BRIS and mod quad can only be pursued if India has something to offer to those countries. With economic policies more socialist than China, education systems producing garbage and no law enforcement, I see this as a purely academic pursuit for the next twenty years.

    On the net security provider issue you raise, with a puny navy of 30 odd surface combatants and 8 odd subs, not sure what assets will be available at any time to provide that security. The Air Force with myriad platforms and ad hoc acquisition schemes seems hell bent on fighting inter service wars than serving national security. And the cherry is the million strong army that sits on the border eye ball to eye ball and gives “befitting” replies rather than equip,train and fight to win. Acute lack of senior military leadership and the balls to pull it off.

    This is all talk, Bharat, and no cattle. And I’m not seeing this change, are you?

    • Actually, Mod Quad and BRIS are eminently practicable and realizable loose security coalitions. These geostrategic constructs are analyzed at length in my book ‘Staggering Forward’ as also the manner in which India can use its select assets and advantages to realize them.

  3. Amit says:

    Interesting idea. I agree with the notion that the US is too intertwined with China to go completely against it. So it will be suspect. But you could say the same of Australia and Japan. They too are intertwined with China’s economy. And with new leadership in Japan, do you think any alliance minus the US can do anything? India has never had a history of leadership, but rather always hedges. So how can countries that have not really been leaders show this kind of leadership?

    • Of course, India’s leadership is crucial to marshalling the necessary effort, but Mod Quad and BRIS members can steam under their own power and permits the US to come in as an extra-territorial balancer, and not as the central pillar of these coalitions. Japan and Australia, incidentally, are already contemplating building up their military counters to China, separate from America’s.

  4. Emailed by Joydeep Sircar — oropolitics@gmail.com, Mon, 12 Oct at 11:01 am

    There is a great deal of good sense in what you have written. Modi has never recovered from his early brainwashing trip to USA and the Americans have carefully ego-massaged him to keep him pliant. Jaishankar has been from inception pro-America, whose mission is to lure lndia into jettisoning our neutral stance and become a client of USA, and also to buy American military hardware with our hard-saved dollars.

    l am surprised at Modi’s subservience to US, considering the staunch anti- American stand of the RSS. Has Modi fallen completely into the clutches of the pro-US lndian business lobby? Has the RSS surrendered it’s principles to Modi’s vote-catching ability?

    History has shown that Americans have a bankruptcy of strategic originality, and Biegun has unashamedly confessed that China outmaneuvred America and used America’s own wealth to grow into a challenger for world dominance. So much for super-strategist Kissinger. We have seen this before with whiz-kid McNamara during Vietnam. The world is now saying that Xi has made a mistake in taking on the world in 2020. Has he? Do you remember Chamberlain exulting ‘Hitler has missed the bus’ when the Germans invaded Norway?

    Xi is aware that America has become a flabby spineless unpatriotic country hopelessly riven by internal feuding, and will slide into anarchy if the November election result is not accepted by the contenders, as seems likely. Then who will be in a position to declare war on China if it becomes necessary? The Quad will become a trio, and may get thrown under the bus by Biden if he thinks he needs Xi’s support to get into the White House.

    So depending on the USA is a no-no. Your hopeful postulation of ASEAN odds-and-sods filling up the vacancy left by USA is a pipe dream, all these minnows will gladly accept a Chinese handout rather than fight for their common benefit. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

    India has probably sealed it’s fate already by scientific and technical ineptitude, and criminally tardy decision-making. We will have to fight with what we have here and now. The 114 fighter tender should be scrapped and we should buy a lot more Rafales. The Tejas production line should be speeded up, and so should be our nuke program. China will always be terrified that lndia can do fatal nuclear damage to it’s manufacturing heartland in East China and Manchuria, which would temporarily wreck its manufacturing-based economy and leave it exposed to US blackmail and loss of markets. We should unhesitatingly carry out multiple MIRV and megaton testing and accelerated warhead production for deterrence, and to hell with US disapproval (the dogs will bluster, but then come and lick our feet).We should seriously evaluate supplying Vietnam and Taiwan with nuke tipped missiles to extend the threat to China.This will shake up the pieces on the board and force everybody to step back for a rethink, which benefits us.

    There remains the level of war at the submilitary threshold – skirmishes and digital attack. We will be hard put to defend ourselves against the Information Technology threat posed by China, North Korea and Pakistan in tandem. The saving grace is our soldiers know their duty and will shoot the PLA without needing to look at their laptops, but our logistics may not be hardened.

    Biegun and company should be told what we need in terms of hardware, and sent away until he can provide these to us at our prices. Let the USA show us it’s genuine goodwill by putting its money where its mouth is. Howdy Modi will not cut it.

    The only hope for us is to have Putin come to our aid, but poor chap, he has been harrassed by the US, a stupid greedy country that will always sacrifice principles to expediency. It promoted the Taliban with the help of Pakistan, and now both are it’s enemy. It let China out of the cage to cripple Russia, and now totters about in a drunkards walk trying to contain China. In another ten or twenty years another American moron will utter another mea culpa that the USA missed the chance to build a principle-based world order after the fall of the USSR by trying to squeeze Russia into extinction. But it may be too late for us as we have already entered into too close an embrace with the USA.

  5. Sankar says:

    I am not clear about the issue with F-16 or F-21 in so far as “platform” is implied in this article and not the weapon system mounted on them. I get the feeling that IAF is focused on state-of-the-art platforms and has blinkered vision on the latest sensors and missiles which determine the final outcome in air warfare. This came to light in the post Balakot skirmish when its MiG 21bis was downed by an RF-missile of PAF

    Russia’s Next-Generation Fighter PAK-FA (Prospective Aviation Complex for frontal aviation) has a number of prototypes T-50 already being flight trialed. The most interesting novelty will be its weapon system. It has an integrated multi-function radar system Sh-121 (AESA technology). Its architecture is based on a forward-facing part in nose, two lateral arrays mounted on either side of the forward fuselage and so on.

    Using these sensors (antennas), the Sh-121 will be able to provide the fighter pilot with an air picture that includes coverage of both sides of the aircraft as well as the front sector. Information will be presented via cockpit and helmet-mounted displays. The complete weapon system will be used for detecting and tracking air and ground targets, the targeting of weapons and navigation. Jamming functions are also incorporated.

    The question arises if India could build and successfully mount a weapon system like that on locally manufactured F-16, it would be a formidable fighter aircraft. My point is the platform is secondary to the weapon system it carries. And the weapon dominates against the adversary in air warfare.

    • F-16 is a platform the PAF is intimately familiar with. And BVR sensors and weapons haven’t tech-wise reached foolproof certainty of kill. Hence, the problem.

      • andy says:

        There is no guarantee that OEMs will even cooperate with the IAF for integrating any and every weapon system, The UAE spent some $3 billion on the design and development of the F-16 E/F Block 60 variant. Despite funding and owning the ‘Block 60’ variant of the F-16, it was refused support when they wanted to integrate the ‘Black Shaheen’, a variant of the British Storm Shadow cruise missile, onto its F-16s, with the US taking cover under MTCR regulations. Ultimately their Airforce had to seek help from France to integrate the missile with its French-built Mirage-2000 aircraft .

        Recently when India wanted to arm its Su30s with the Israeli Derby ER missiles it ran into trouble with the Russians,As per documentation, if India wants to integrate any third-country armament in the aircraft, it would need permission of the original equipment manufacturer . These problems are not there for the Tejas ,since its an indegenous fighter jet, so the source codes are known and any suitable weapon can be integrated. Basically it’s just plug and play with the Tejas.

  6. vivek says:

    So obsolete f16 aka f21 is finally coming to India, didn’t expect this from BJP.

  7. andy says:

    Inducting the F21 into the IAF would not be of great value for several reasons. The transfer of technology would be minimal at best and the most important items,like the source codes, AESA radar and engine would remain out of the TOT ambit. Critical items like avionics, radar, engines, and electronic warfare (EW) systems will likely continue to be manufactured in the USA. The jet would be manufactured in India,but the most critical parts would be shipped here from the USA and only integration would be done ,therefore limiting India’s participation to production only,while the design and development, for later upgrades if any, would remain out of bounds.

    Even if the procurement process is fast tracked and an order placed for 114 jets by the end of 2021, it would still take a minimum of 5 yrs for a greenfield jet manufacturing facility to be off and running, by which time the indigenous MWF program would have matured considerably, with a first flight expected by 2023 end

    Also,with a number of missiles and munitions , like the Astra A to A missiles reaching maturity, their integration on the F21 would remain at the whim of the OEM supplier.This has been India’s experience with previous such offers leading to a situation whereby OEMs have milked the IAF for subsequent customization and upgradation, such as the integration of new weapons and sensors.

    The other option would be to keep using their exorbitantly priced A to A missiles or other munitions ,that cost upto $1.5 million apiece. Factor in the MRO and logistics required for a completely new platform,plus the tactics and manoeuvres to be learnt and honed for a new fighter, the headaches only multiply for the IAF. Not to forget that the Pakistanis know the F16 inside out , having flown it since the mid 80s,notwithstanding any upgrades carried out on the legacy F16 block 52 that’s part of their arsenal.

    The best solution to ramp up IAF squadron numbers would be to keep the Su30 line running upto 2025 for an additional 72 nos of jets(4 squadrons) and ramp up the production of the Tejas mark 1a for a total of 198(11 squadrons) Tejas by 2030, including the 40 IOC/FOC iterations. Opting for an additional 36 Rafale, to be delivered by 2026, would also work to recover sunk costs of India specific enhancements and basing infrastructure already created. 1 squadron of MIG 29 is also slated for procurement. We could have a total of 19 squadrons added by 2030.With the MWF slated for production by 2028,we can expect at least 1 squadron by 2030. Taking the total squadrons added to 20 by then. With such numbers the IAF can be rid of the troublesome MIG 21s and also the underpowered Jaguars,whose old engines are losing more power by the day.

    If the Sukhois are not palatable to the IAF then a low cost option exists in the 60 Taiwanese Mirage 2000s that can be procured and upgraded to the IAF M2k fleets standard,for a total cost of about $3.5 billion,but that’s a political decision and probably not feasible for a China appeasing country like India.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/35500/why-russias-mig-35-is-starting-to-look-like-a-dead-duck
      “Even in its original form, the cost of a basic MiG-29 was 80% that of the Su-27 Flanker. The difference in operating costs between the two fighters was also similar.”

      Same with Rafale, same with other twin engined MMRCAs.

      • andy says:

        That’s right, a single engined fighter is obviously low on per hour flying cost and maintenance too, that’s why having more Tejas in the IAF is a superior option. But the production rate is so slow, as also the decision making regarding the order of a lousy 83nos, that 200 Tejas mark 1/1A being inducted is doubtful.

        Here, the IAF has partially succeeded by simultaneously stalling the Tejas induction and raising the bogey of falling squadron strength, now there’s no option but to induct more SU30s and/ or Rafale, for the commonality of platforms if nothing else. The single engine M2Ks from Taiwan are an option, but they’re used and the political will to make such a purchase might not be forthcoming.

        F16 cannot be manufactured in India before 2026,even if things move faster than before,so why not wait a couple more years for the single engine MWF?and make up numbers with SU30s and Tejas in the meantime. Can’t keep dawdling over critical defense necessities with both China and Pakistan breathing down our necks.

  8. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Pre-Covid-19 presented a real problem as there were 2 directions and 3 possible outcomes – outside the ditch, stuck in the ditch, climbing back out of the ditch after we have climbed into it.
    Now that the reset is already upon us, life is much simpler – with only 1 direction to take and only 2 possible outcomes. So may be relenting on criticism of Modi and his government, is a logical alternative available today.

    Sorry Modi saab, it was important to cuss and swear at you and your close in team, earlier since it was not reasonable to do that against your supporters. 🙂

  9. Kunal Singh says:

    Sir, why r u not active on twitter

  10. DEBANJAN BANERJEE says:

    Another wonderful article Mr. Karnad. Mr. Praveen Sawhney has claimed that India signing BECA would mean the end of strategic autonomy for India and it will end up as another junior naval partner for the US in the Indo-Pacific region. Do you agree with Mr. Sawhney about this ? I would love your views on the same question.

    Wish you and your family a very happy Durga Puja in advance.

    Thanks and regards with best wishes
    Debanjan

  11. Raju says:

    Sir, shall we raise another Mountain Division against China or focus on the current Mountain Division’s Modernization ?

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