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In Pragati: The Cameron Opening

Mr Cameron’s austerity measures may provide a mutually beneficial opportunity to both India and UK.

In this month’s Pragati, I argue that a real opportunity for India and the U.K. to forge the bonds of an important strategic relationship exists.  In order to do this, India and the U.K. first need to get past curry and cricket and focus on issues of strategic importance to each other, and the world.  Three such issues stand out: security, energy and climate change.

The first pertains to what C Raja Mohan calls “keeping the global commons open and secure for all.” The security and safety of vital commodities in transit is critical to any economy; more so to one growing at such a rapid pace as India’s. The growth of India and China, and the Southeast Asian economies will increase competition for resources and further underscore the vitality of Indian Ocean trade routes to their economic growth. Today, India is already engaged with like-minded countries such the United States in securing these high traffic energy and trade routes, from the Horn of Africa to the Straits of Malacca. An India-UK collaboration on maritime security in the Indian Ocean and beyond can significantly transform the nature of this bilateral relationship.

A related aspect involves opportunities for qualitative defence transactions between the two countries. During Mr Cameron’s visit to Bangalore, the much awaited $800 million contract for 57 advanced jet trainers was signed between BAE Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati. (PDF ; or  HTML)

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The ties that bind (2)

Transforming the nature of the India-UK relationship.

In my previous blogpost, I argued that for India and the U.K. to enter into what Prime Minister David Cameron calls an “enhanced partnership,” would require both countries to engage each other on issues impacting their strategic interests.  I had argued that security was one such area, and the extent to which the U.K. can play a meaningful role in addressing India’s security needs could go a long way in determining how successful this “enhanced partnership” will be.  Today’s TIME online has an interesting piece on the on-going battle between U.K.’s MoD and the Exchequer over replacement costs for the Royal Navy’s V-Class nuclear submarines (h/t @pragmatic_d):

As part of Britain’s austerity cuts, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been asked to find savings of between 10 and 20% by 2014, and then work off of steady-level funding until 2020. Britain’s V-class subs, known as Trident after the U.S.-made ballistic missiles they carry, are aging and need to be replaced by 2024. A replacement system as sophisticated as the V-class submarine will cost around $30 billion, with the first contracts to be inked by 2016.

Defense Secretary Liam Fox has said the MoD could not spend that much on nuclear subs while simultaneously cutting its budget without jeopardizing the purchasing of other big-ticket weapons such as armored vehicles, aircraft carriers, and fighter jets. He insisted the money should come not from the MoD but from the Treasury, which has traditionally paid for Britain’s subs. However, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who heads the Treasury, said that wasn’t going to happen. “The [nuclear submarine] costs … are part of the defense budget. All budgets have pressure. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defense,” he said.

Malcolm Chalmers, a former nuclear adviser to two British foreign secretaries, says V-class submarines are relics of the Cold War. While Britain’s conventional forces are no longer organized to defend against a military attack from the Soviet Union, its nuclear policy has “remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, when a surprise attack on Western Europe was a central driver for U.K. force planning,” he wrote. The [RUSI] report concludes that the government should save money by either halving the number of new V-class-type boats it builds, building a new submarine fleet capable of both conventional and nuclear roles, or scrapping the submarine-based system altogether and maintaining a non-deployed arsenal to be delivered either by airplane or special forces. [TIME]

Some of this current monetary pressure can be alleviated by a U.K. offer to lease its V-class submarines to India on a short-term basis. This will be well received in New Delhi and will help in broadening the scope of bilateral engagement. India today is seeking to diversify its delivery systems — essential for maintaining a credible secondary-strike capability.  Its sea-based deterrence system, however, is nascent, with a small fleet of aging diesel-powered submarines. The induction of the nuclear-powered Arihant-class submarines — products of India’s indigenous Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project — is still few years away.

U.K. has made significant contributions to the Indian Navy in the past — lest we forget, the only aircraft carriers India has had — Vikrant and Viraat — were both purchased from the Royal Navy; HMS Hermes (Viraat) played a pivotal role in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.

Given the sensitivity of the technology, India and the U.K. will need to conclude a more over-arching dual-use agreement before any transfer takes place, which could pave the way for future high-technology trade.  And while the sale of Advanced Jet Trainers to  HAL is an important step, more potential on defense and security collaboration between India and the U.K. exists and can be realized.  This will require both India and the U.K. to determine commonalities in each others’ long-term strategic interests, re-visit mechanisms that can make such collaboration possible, and commit to exploring the full potential of an Indo-U.K. strategic partnership.

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The ties that bind

Enough about curry and cricket.

U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron is in India on a three day state visit.  His visit comes on the heels of his trip to Turkey, where he pledged to support that country’s membership to the European Union.  Some say that is part of the Mr. Cameron’s new foreign policy initiative to woo the East.  Indeed, in an op-ed in The Hindu, Mr. Cameron declared as much:

From the British perspective, it’s clear why India matters. Most obviously, there is the dynamism of your economy. In the U.S., they used to say: “Go West, young man” to find opportunity and fortune. For today’s entrepreneurs, the real promise is in the East. But your economy isn’t the only reason India matters to Britain. There’s also your democracy with its three million elected representatives — a beacon to our world. There is your tradition of tolerance, with dozens of faiths and hundreds of languages living side by side — a lesson to our world. And there is this country’s sense of responsibility. Whether it’s donating reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, peacekeeping in Sierra Leone or providing intellectual leadership in the G20, India is a source of strength to our world. [The Hindu]

Faced with government debt and high levels of unemployment, Mr. Cameron will do what he must to revive his country from the global economic slump.  At the backdrop of a domestic debate on immigration, Mr. Cameron arrived in Bangalore — not New Delhi — visiting Infosys’ technology park and HAL, where a $800 million deal between BAE and HAL for 57 advanced jet trainers (AJTs) was signed.

The U.K. is already India’s largest trading partner in the E.U.  Trade between India and the U.K. has, and will continue to amble along, increasing annually in absolute terms, while decreasing in terms of U.K.’s overall contribution to India’s economy. Certainly, India is open for business and any mutually beneficial opportunity for trade and commerce is welcome.  But if the goal of Mr. Cameron’s visit is to forge the bonds of an “enhanced relationship” with India,we will need to move beyond the (dare I say) mundane and begin talking about issues of strategic importance to each other; for India, this includes  energy and security.  Indeed, France has shown that such an engagement model can be successful.

In this respect, news of progress on civilian nuclear cooperation and the AJT deal, though long overdue, is perhaps welcome.  However, it is as yet unclear if U.K.’s leaders truly understand and are willing to commit to a more broad-based partnership with India.  It is also unlikely that India will bother to sit around and wait.

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