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On Indo-US ties

India needs to do its share of heavy-lifting too.

News trickled in yesterday that New Delhi shorlisted two European fighter aircraft — Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon as prospective candidates for the highly publicized $10 billion Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRA) competition.  My Takshashila colleagues Nitin Pai and Dhruva Jaishankar have two excellent posts on India’s MMCRA decision.  Significantly, this decision meant the downlisting of two American firms competing for the MMRCA contract — Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed’s F-16.

It is not everyday that countries sign $10 billion contracts for fighter aircraft.  The sheer scale, value and nature of the MMRCA competition meant that geo-strategic considerations ought to have outweighed purely technical determinants.  And while very valid concerns about U.S. fine-print have been raised, India has faced similar difficulties with less transparent suppliers, and that too, after signing substantial contracts (lest we forget the small matter about us having to pay $3 billion for an antiquated ship that we were initially supposed to receive for free).  The truth is that India’s severely shackled defense industry necessitates entering into contracts for arms and equipment with foreign suppliers under conditions not entirely ideal.  But deriving benefits from domestic defense industry liberalization — if and when this happens — will take several years.  How does India fulfill its defense requirements in the interim?

U.S. ambassador to India Timothy Roemer was quoted as saying that he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.   The downlisting of Boeing and Lockheed is but the latest evidence of ties between the world’s two largest democracies being somewhat adrift after Mr. Obama’s visit to India last year.

The civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. was meant to be the cornerstone of a new age of Indo-U.S. ties, leaving behind decades of mutual mistrust, lecturing and moral posturing.  The deal offered benefits to both India and the U.S. — for India, it meant international recognition as a de facto nuclear power, and for the U.S. it meant nuclear commerce with an emerging economy. It took the U.S. exercising its political clout to see that a waver based on Indian exceptionalism was granted at the NSG, which also required a last-minute call by George W. Bush to Hu Jintao to prevent China from stonewalling the vote.

However, today, U.S. firms are effectively non-participants in nuclear trade with India because of supplier liability imposed by India’s Nuclear Liability Bill.  Globally, suppliers are unable to obtain insurance coverage for nuclear trade.  Both Russian and French firms compete in India’ s nuclear market because they are essentially underwritten by their respective governments.  And even then, the Russians have apparently made it clear to New Delhi that nuclear commerce with India is unsustainable in the long run under such circumstances.

Today India aspires for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council; but reforming the UNSC remains a distant dream. Even so, during Mr. Obama’s visit last year, India joined a select group of nations whose candidature the U.S. endorses.  In its current stint as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, India must make its voice heard and break from a tradition that encourages prevarication and moral posturing.  As I pointed out in a previous blogpost, it’s no use saying India deserves a permanent seat at the UNSC because it represents 1/6th of humanity, if that 1/6th of humanity seldom expresses an opinion.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be differences in opinion between India and the U.S.  Indeed, it is easy to focus on contentious areas (and there are several) — David Headley, climate change, Pakistan, Iran,  Burma, to name a few.  We need not agree on every aspect of global affairs, but as two large and pluralistic democracies, we share common values and interests, and ought to build our relationship on these shared ideals.  And while it is important not to put undue focus on transactional aspects of our strategic partnership with the U.S., the MMRCA deal will have an impact on the trajectory of this relationship.  And this we knew well before a decision on the shortlist was made.  Indeed, Ambassador Roemer’s resignation hours after India’s announcement of the MMRCA shortlist is probably not a coincidence.

It is certainly conceivable that some of the momentum towards expanding this partnership will be tempered.  Worse, when considered alongside the Nuclear Liability Bill, U.S. companies might soon conclude that the attractiveness of the Indian market is significantly less than the bandwidth they dedicate to it.  After all, interest in India cannot be sustained merely by the “promise” of the Indian market, if none of those promises are materialized.  We have always been eager to deliver our litany of demands to the U.S. — from Afghanistan, to pressuring Pakistan on terror.  But how much are we willing to give in return?  We need to ask ourselves if India is doing its share of the heavy-lifting in  this bilateral relationship.

 

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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

What’s at stake and who should be worried.

Foreign Policy ran a piece by SWJ’s Robert Haddick on recent disclosures about Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal.  Pakistan’s single-minded pursuit of destabilizing the subcontinent should not come as a surprise to those that have followed Pakistan’s weapons program.  However, this article, like many others in the West, perpetuates the notion of an “arms race” in the subcontinent that Pakistan is swept helplessly into.  This blogger finds such narratives very disturbing, and hence the rebuttal.  Mr. Haddick’s first paragraph on Pakistan reads thus:

The most obvious and enduring explanation for the continuing buildup in Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is the inescapable demographic and economic superiority enjoyed by India. India’s economy is nearly nine times larger than Pakistan’s, it spends 7.6 times more per year on its military and can mobilize 6.8 times as many military-aged males. Absent the arrival of previously unknown trust between the two countries, nuclear weapons are the only way for Pakistan to reassure itself about this unfixable strategic imbalance.

No, the explanation is neither the most obvious, nor enduring.  Because it presupposes and rationalizes the argument that Pakistan must gain strategic parity with India under all circumstances.  This, of course, is misleading because there simply is no reason for a country one-ninth that of India to try and gain parity with it, especially when India has never provoked conflict with it.

Let us also be careful about throwing about numbers on defense spending.  Yes, India does spend considerably more than Pakistan does in absolute numbers.  However, India’s defense spending, firstly, isn’t Pakistan-centric.  And second, when considered as a percentage of GDP, Pakistan’s defense spending is at about 5%, while India’s is below 2.5%.  This does not even factor in the $2 billion the U.S. provided Pakistan in overt military aid, which in and of itself amounts to about 1.2% of Pakistan’s GDP.  That should put Pakistan’s defense “spending” at 6.2% of GDP for FYE11.  And let us not even get into discussions about the misappropriation of aid provided to Pakistan.

Next, the article attempts to draw parallels between Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal and the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement:

The completion of the civil nuclear agreement between Washington and New Dehli was no doubt highly disturbing to Pakistan. With India’s nuclear technology and expertise fungible, the civil nuclear agreement allowed India to divert resources to its military nuclear program. Pakistan likely concluded that it had to respond to a potentially much larger Indian nuclear program at some point in the future.

Again, a very convenient excuse.  No doubt, the civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. does disturb Pakistan.  But not because it “allows India to divert resources to its military nuclear program” but really because it negates the parity that Pakistan imagines it has with India.

If India really wanted to produce more nuclear weapons than it already has, it can, since it has sufficient fissile material reserves (as opposed to Pakistan).  The fact that India hasn’t weaponized its reserves amply demonstrates that it is committed to maintaining minimum credible deterrence (something that Pakistan has never been committed to).

But here’s the kicker in the article:

The latest round of nuclear news out of Pakistan demonstrates that South Asia has not found a way out of the security dilemma it has long been in.

Excuse me, “South Asia?”  Let us not equate the actions of a rogue state with one that has been a constructive participant of several nonproliferation and disarmament discussions, including the FMCT talks.  Let us not also assume that Pakistan has no option but to add more weapons to its stockpile because of India.  If Pakistan was concerned about deterrence, it should revisit the unfolding of events subsequent to the December 13, 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament and 26/11.

The question that the West must ask is why Pakistan continues to add weapons to its stockpile, especially when their payloads are unlikely to give India any more of a headache than they already do. Mr. Haddick alludes to one aspect of this in his discussions about Iran — but the key here isn’t Iran per se, it is Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Rawalpindi sees value in portraying Pakistan to be an unstable and irrational state.  An Islamic state teetering on the precipice while adding nuclear weapons to its stockpile quicker than any other nation is bound to attract Washington’s attention — and benevolence.

Pakistan’s most successful industry today is selling its irrationality to the rest of the world.  Rawalpindi is the snake-oil salesman and Washington, the wide-eyed wonder.  The U.S. has doled out billions of dollars to Pakistan since 2001.  How does it know how the money was spent, and if it ever made it to its intended recipients? What has the U.S. received from Pakistan after 10 years of appeasement?  The answer to these questions should worry D.C. more than it should New Delhi.

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Contemplations of Independence on Independence Day

As India turns 62, pivotal changes are occurring in our nation and in our immediate neighborhood that force us to look inward and contemplate who we are as a nation, who we want to be, and where our elected leaders are taking us.  Since 1947, India has seen its share of turbulent, traumatic times.  We may not have always had geo-political prominence or economic clout to influence decisions made on the world stage, but we have almost always maintained a level of unwavering independence on foreign policy which we were able to sustain (quite incredibly, given the pressures and compulsions of third world nations) for decades.  We had nothing, but we had independence.  However, even as India stands a very different nation from itself 50 years ago in terms of geo-political and economic prominence, the virtue of upholding independence on matters relating to foreign policy has been surrendered.

The troika of the PM, NSA and Foreign Secretary has bartered away India’s independence on foreign policy for a quixotic alliance with another power.  They have since acted not on national interest but on a desire to satisfy the wavering compulsions of that “ally”, and in the process, have bequeathed long standing regional alliances and further bruised already ailing relationships.

On this Independence Day, Indians must demand that their leaders pursue foreign policies that are reflective of the national interests of the country and of the aspirations of its citizens.  In the gradual but certain rearrangement of global order, does India want to see itself as a stagnant, underachieving regional player, or as one of the poles in a multi-polar world? Aspiring for the voices of one-sixth of humanity to be heard on the global stage requires both a re-evaluation of the existing vision deficit and trend of outsourcing Indian policy, and a dogged pursuit of independence in decision making.

Subhash Kapila articulates the need for independence in foreign policy decision making and a realignment of foreign policy with national interests:

India cannot afford to emerge as a global player despite the United States or in opposition to it. The opposite is also true that no global power has ever helped another aspiring power to emerge as a global power.

It is high time, that with no end- gains having accrued from such foreign policy fixations, India’s foreign policy is re-calibrated and strong connectivities re-established with India’s proven friends. An aspiring global power like India needs to have multiple foreign policy connectivities to provide flexibility of options.

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Non-proliferation Doubletalk

The recent statement at the G-8 summit in L’aquila calling all non-signatories to “immediately” sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and banning the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies to non-NPT signatories, was perhaps unexpected, but not altogether shocking.  The statement comes prior to the visit of Secretary Clinton to India in August, who, like her husband before her, is a strong proponent of the regime, and of the necessity of bringing the pariahs — India, Israel and Pakistan — into the fold of the mainstream.

The symbolism should not be lost on India.  The country is quite self-sufficient in ENR technology, and for every member that refuses to play ball, there are others that are more than willing.  The statement doesn’t affect India’s quest for cost effective no-ENR-strings-attached nuclear deals with suppliers much — as Indrani Bagchi points out in her blog — but it does point to the unraveling of the non-proliferation agenda being prepared by the Obama Administration to be thrust down our throats.

India, therefore, should fully expect mounting international and US pressure to sign the NPT prior to the 2010 NPT RevCon.  Secretary Clinton will no doubt take the opportunity to raise the issue during bilateral discussions next month.  The Japanese, as notorious on the issue as they always were, have made repeated calls this year for India to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Rajiv Gandhi in a speech at the Third Special Session of the UN in 1988 elucidated India’s stance on the issue:

We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of mankind…nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production.

This UPA administration has shown a remarkable ability to undo relationships and depart from the country’s long held positions with stealth and great haste.  This blogger hopes that the NPT issue will not fall prey to uninformed meddling.  India needs to make it very clear to Secretary Clinton and others like her championing the NPT cause, that the nation continues to harbor significant reservations on the structure and spirit of the regime that effectively prevent it from being a signatory.

It has long been India’s official position that India cannot and will not participate in a discriminatory regime that would seek to legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by some nations, while denying similar rights to others. It has also been India’s stated commitment to universal global nuclear disarmament.  Signining the NPT would give credence to nuclear aparthied and provide currency to the notion that some countries have a greater right to self defence than others.

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