Bottomline | Blinded by Love

For better relations with the US, India is compromising on its interests

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice has said that the US will help India become a major world power in the 21st century. What we do not quite know is the US’ agenda behind this big favour, and which lobbies in India will assist Washington in this mission.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal of March 21, former US ambassador in India, Robert Blackwill who is close to the Bush administration says: “We should sell advanced weaponry to India. The million-man Indian Army actually fights, unlike the post-modern militaries of many of our European allies. Given the strategic challenges ahead, the US should want the Indian armed forces to be equipped with the best weapons systems and that often means American. To make this happen, the US has to become a reliable long-term supplier, including through co-production and licensed manufacture arrangements, and to end its previous inclination to interrupt defence suppliers to India in a crisis.”

Even as the US is working on this by putting pressure on India to co-produce the F-16 and F-18 aircraft, preferably both, it is making sure that the Indian armed forces are deterred from fighting with Pakistan. For example, Rice says that sale of F-16s and other sophisticated US equipment to Pakistan will help Islamabad maintain a conventional arms military balance with India. This will deter Indian military from implementing its limited war doctrine where it sees an opportunity for a conventional war below the nuclear threshold level with Pakistan.

Once this is done, the US would care even less about Pakistan’s continuing proxy war inside Jammu and Kashmir and India’s defensive responses. In any case, the US has managed to slow down India’s nuclear weapons capability. Let alone China, it does not even deter Pakistan, two countries in occupation of Indian territories and claiming more. The question is: if the Indian armed forces lack a credible nuclear deterrence, and are rendered incapable of achieving required military objectives in a conventional war with Pakistan and China, what will they do? They will do US’ bidding. How?

A leading Indian analyst, a member of the National Security Advisory Board that advises the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, provides the answer. Writing in the Indian Express on June 28, he says: “As the size and capabilities of the Indian military grow, the world (read US) will make greater demands on it. But will India look beyond its own territorial defence and an occasional peace-keeping operation and transform its military into an expeditionary force capable of contributing to international peace and stability at short notice? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must begin to articulate new Indian thinking on these issues.” What the analyst is saying is one of the two things. Either he believes that the Indian military has the capability to simultaneously handle four fronts: proxy war with Pakistan, conventional war with Pakistan, a war with China, and also provide a credible expeditionary force which is equipped and trained at short notice to, let us say, work with the US forces for international stability. Or, he does not care much about India’s territorial defence as long as the Indian military does US forces’ bidding to become a major world power. Either way such thinking does not serve India’s national security interests.

Unfortunately, in a country where most people and politicians understand little about national security matters, these opinion-maker lobbyists carry weight with the government. This is not all. India’s powerful middle class is yet another US lobby in India. The latest 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll conducted across 19 countries shows that after the Americans, it is Indians who most love America. In the whole world, Indians are the only people who view the US as the land of opportunities, and would prefer to settle there for a good life. (Interestingly, British prefer Australia and Pakistanis prefer China as their destination for a better life). This prestigious survey is not surprising. There is hardly a decent Indian house, including that of the Prime Minister himself, whose some family member is not a US citizen, or is aspiring to become one. Children of powerful Indian bureaucrats and senior military officers are high on the US residents’ list. This powerful US lobby looks after Washington’s interests in India. For this reason, the buzzword in New Delhi is that India can become a major world power by economic might alone.

The truth is that at a time when China and Pakistan are enhancing their military capabilities, India’s military requirements are either neglected or being roughshod by the government. Force levels of the Indian Air Force and the Navy are decreasing with few replacements. The Indian Army is heavily committed is fighting a war in Jammu and Kashmir. The three defence services have their own respective doctrines with little hope of ‘jointness’ needed for a successful short war. Defence procurements are ad hoc. Plenty needs to be done to provide a level field to the private sector to compete with the bloated public sector, which is a must for indigenisation. Even as weapons’ imports already in the pipeline have stalled because of kickback allegations, India is on the threshold of a more intense military partnership with the US. This may just be detrimental India’s national security interests.


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