Weighed down by history

Print edition : May 23, 2003

A P-3C Orion strike/reconnaissance aircraft. Discussions between U.S. and Indian naval officials are to take place in New Delhi for the sale of the aircraft to India. - REUTERS/US NAVY/MARK MEYER

An analysis of the fledgling defence relations between India and the U.S. points out that fundamental differences in approach, perspective and emphasis hamper the development of such relations.

CONFLICTING security and military interests seriously underpin the defence relations that the United States and India are attempting to forge, according to an analysis prepared for the U.S. government.

The 130-page report, "Indo-U.S. Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions", prepared for the Net Assessment Office of the U.S. Defence Secretary, notes that the two sides have viewed each other with "persistent, and in some cases deep-seated distrust".

The report says that weighed down by their respective historical, cultural, political, military and bureaucratic baggage, New Delhi and Washington are tentatively groping towards a compatible modus vivendi to narrow down and further common strategic goals.

The analysis, produced after interviewing 82 senior U.S. and Indian officials, mostly military personnel linked closely with furthering bilateral security ties, concludes that fundamental differences in approach, perspective and emphasis persist between the two countries despite joint Naval and Army manoeuvres, intelligence sharing on terrorism and narcotics, reciprocal visits by senior commanders and the sale to India of limited U.S. military equipment over the past 18 months.

Of the 26 Indian military officers interviewed - they were one-star officers or officers of higher ranks - 10 were serving and 16 were retired personnel. Of the 42 U.S. respondents were 23 military personnel on active duty and 15 senior civil servants.

Both sides felt that the U.S. engagement process lacked coordination and that few connections seemingly existed between the various components of military-to-military links, such as foreign military sales (FMS) and counter visits on one side and security cooperation initiatives on the other. "Each (department) develops and implements its (own) programme with little understanding of how its decisions and activities might affect those of other U.S. national security entities," the report says.

Discussions with U.S. officials also revealed that Washington's security perspectives regarding India were blurred, unfocussed and somewhat directionless. "No common vision or programmatic guidelines inform the way different U.S. military organisations identify priorities or build engagement plans with India, leading to confusion, inconsistency and, occasionally contradictions among those Department of Defence (DoD) elements entrusted with building a military-military relationship."

The consensus view is that no one in the senior U.S. military leadership had assumed "ownership" of engagement with India and no one in the Services had committed resources to it. "Although a strong interest in India is emerging at many levels, few or no resources to conduct programmes have been committed, which will require cutting other commitments," the report states. Although the U.S. has doubled to $1.05 million its funding for International Military Education and Training (IMET) for India, Indian officers view this as "low yield" interaction. Some are of the view that the IMET is merely a subtle ploy to "coopt" middle ranking officers earmarked for higher posts.

U.S. DoD officials are of the view that the State Department - unwilling to abandon its prejudices against India of the Cold War era when the latter was close to the Soviet Union - was an "obstacle" to the emerging bilateral military relationship, not sharing the defence establishment's long-term strategic view.

The report quotes an unnamed U.S. official as declaring that the U.S. Congress and the State Department "repeatedly deployed stalling tactics" against India by refusing to send it even the most benign items, such as spare parts for low-cost aircraft even after they had been paid for. The report says: "If the technology component of the Indo-U.S. relationship is to succeed, the DoD will need to enlist U.S. industry to use political clout in order to prevent the licence agreement from becoming bogged down in the U.S. State Department."

Consequently, the DoD quietly launched a fierce campaign to promote a range of military aircraft and varied U.S. defence equipment at the Aero India 2003 show in Bangalore in February in order to meet the modernisation needs of India's armed forces.

Addressing India's reticence in buying U.S. equipment for fear of sanctions, U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill conceded that Washington could not guarantee an uninterrupted supply of spare parts and customer support for U.S. defence equipment over 30 years, as that would require a constitutional amendment. But, Blackwill said, since October 2002 the Bush administration had secured a constitutional amendment that permitted the sale of U.S. military equipment worth $14 million to India without Congressional notification or approval. He said that FMS trade between India and the U.S. had jumped from "zero to over $190 million" after the sanctions imposed on India for its 1998 nuclear tests were lifted in September 2001.

Discussions between a team of U.S. and Indian naval officials are to take place in New Delhi soon for the sale of P-3C Orion maritime strike/reconnaissance aircraft as part of Washington's strategy to boost military equipment sales to India by 2010-15.

"We have opened talks with the Indian Navy for the P-3C Orion and with the IAF for the C-130J transport," said Dennys Plessas, vice-president of business initiatives for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. He said that between eight and 12 P-3Cs could be part of an FMS agreement and added that there was a possibility that between 30 and 50 Hercules C-130Js could be sold directly to the IAF.

Another example of the resumption in military trade saw India acquiring 12 Thales-Raytheon Systems AN/TPQ-37(V)3 Firefinder artillery-locating radar systems for $142.4 million in 2002. The deal does not include a technology transfer for local manufacture. Two radars would be delivered by October 2004, after which an equal number would be handed over every three months until mid-2005, Raytheon officials said. India plans to deploy the radar system along the Pakistani border in northern Jammu and Kashmir, where enemy troops engage in almost daily exchange of artillery and small arms fire.

The U.S. administration has also cleared the sale of around 20 military items to India, including 40 General Electric (GE) F404-GE-F2J3 engines and advanced avionics for India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) - which made its maiden flight in January 2001 - and submarine rescue facilities. Details of ground sensors and electronic fencing for installation along Jammu and Kashmir's porous frontier are being worked out in consultation with the U.S. Department of Energy-controlled Cooperative Monitoring Centre of Sandia Laboratories in Los Angeles.

The DoD and the U.S. military-industrial complex plan to replace with American products 20 to 25 per cent of India's predominantly Soviet and Russian military hardware, which is reaching collective obsolescence. A U.S. Army colonel has been posted in New Delhi to pursue this goal premised on the notion that enhanced U.S. economic stakes in India will mitigate the "unpredictability" of Congressional policies aimed at New Delhi. This, in turn, could reduce the risk of future sanctions.

Informed sources in the armament industry indicate that U.S. military officials have hinted obliquely even at closer cooperation with India in the nuclear field, of the kind Washington had with France, but only "in time" and, more significantly, after New Delhi had acquired "sufficient" U.S. military hardware and had been "suitably" drawn into the U.S. security ambit.

The DoD report surmises that the two militaries are also concerned that non-proliferation issues would continue to plague the bilateral security equation as a "relatively small, but determined" - a euphemism for highly influential - U.S. nuclear constituency refuses to accept India's nuclear capability and looks upon it as a "proliferator". India asserts that the issue of non-proliferation will continue to be an obstacle to greater cooperation until Washington accepts New Delhi as a "nuclear friend".

Several U.S. officials believe that India's state structure and bureaucracy lack the capacity to "support broad-based military cooperation", something that could "dampen enthusiasm" for long-term engagement. The DoD report points out that India's "persistent unresponsiveness" shapes the perceptions of future U.S. military leaders, who then might be "less willing to work with the Indians". Moreover, U.S. officials interacting with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Services are of the view that their counterparts can handle only one initiative at a time and that their inability to meet foreigners except with prior clearance from the Directorate-General for Military Intelligence remains an impediment.

HOWEVER, Washington's fundamental motive in forging closer military ties with India is to have a "capable partner" who can take on "more responsibility for low-end operations" in Asia, provide new training opportunities and who will "ultimately provide basing and access for U.S. power projection". Although India has allowed the U.S. Army access to its Counter-Insurgency Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in northeastern India, it is still considering opening up the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Gulmarg and providing servicing facilities to the U.S. Navy at Mazgaon Dockyard in Mumbai.

A strategic relationship with India is seen by the U.S. as a "hedge" against losing out more significant allies such as Japan or South Korea, besides an uncertain and possibly threatening future security environment in Asia.

U.S. officials considered strategically engaging India as a "future investment" as Asia could become hostile and dangerous to U.S. military presence. After 9/11, Washington has significantly extended its military presence across Asia through a complex web of alliances backed by economic sops. As a result, the U.S. currently has a strong military presence in the Central Asian Republics (CARs) such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Krgyzstan and exercises potent control over turbulent states such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar.

Further east, the U.S. military is combating Al Qaeda cadre in the Philippines and in Indonesia besides bolstering its presence in the South China Sea with the Indian Navy's help. The U.S. has acknowledged the Indian Navy as a "stabilising force" in the Indian Ocean region and wants a closer working relationship with it as it straddles the strongest area of strategic convergence - sea lane protection. According to the DoD report, naval cooperation is perhaps one of the more promising and "non-threatening areas of service-to-service cooperation for the U.S. and India".

Although Islamabad and Kabul remain crucial to U.S. security interests after 9/11, both Washington and New Delhi, despite their vociferous denials, are subtly forging long-term military and security alliances aimed at containing China. Such a partnership suits India; it has referred to China as its "number one enemy" despite the recent flurry of diplomatic overtures to Beijing for peace and tranquillity. The report says: "If China emerges as a major power, the U.S. needs to have friends - preferably friends who share the same values (like democracy). In the future India will have more clout and weight (in the region)."

The report reveals that Indian and U.S. views of China are "strikingly similar" with regard to keeping China out of the Indian Ocean region, where it has been making swift inroads over the past decade. Although several U.S. military officers admitted that China played a central role in their thinking about India, they emphasised, somewhat disingenuously, that Beijing was not Washington's only reason to engage New Delhi.

"As the U.S. military engages India, as much as we say we do, we cannot separate our thinking on India from our thinking on China," a U.S. official said. "We want a friend in 2020 that will be capable of assisting the U.S. militarily to deal with a Chinese threat. We cannot deny that India will create a countervailing force to China," the official added.

India is more than a willing U.S. ally in attempting to "surround" China, having forged military agreements with neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar and regularly conducting naval manoeuvres with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). An analysis by the Indian Navy points to China's nuclear capability and its modernised Navy as its primary concern in the 21st century. In the analysis, "The Strategic Review - The Maritime Dimension", the Indian Navy has declared that the power vacuum in the Indian Ocean region in the 21st century can only be filled by India, China or Japan either by "complete pre-eminence or by a mutual stand-off".

"As the U.S. and India develop a closer military relationship, China will respond. Where and how China will respond remains unclear, but India faces the reality that it lives in a neighbourhood where China supplies nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, weapons to Bangladesh and is building a 12,000- foot runway near Mandalay (Myanmar) and a deep-water port in Gwadar in Pakistan," notes the report, quoting an Indian Air Commodore.

Indian intelligence sources said China had also resumed, after a two-decade gap, supplying weapons to various insurgent groups fighting the Indian state in northeastern India, some for nearly half a century.

Meanwhile, a small cog in the U.S.-Indian military alliance aimed at containing China is already in place. For over a year, the Indian and U.S. Navies have been jointly patrolling the Malacca Straits, a region over which China's rapidly modernising Navy exercises considerable control. The U.S. is keen to police the Straits through which over 80 per cent of Japan's oil supplies from West Asia are transported and to establish its long-term presence in the region, given the brewing North Korean crisis and the potential long-term threat posed by China's claims over Taiwan.

India, on the other hand, points to the fickle nature of U.S. long-term strategic relationships. "The America that Indians see is quick to entice and then dismiss strategic partners when U.S. interests change. The Indians pointed repeatedly to America's on-again-off-again relationships with Pakistan and China as evidence," the report states. India distrusts the U.S. as a potential supplier of military equipment, besides worrying about the U.S.' strategic goals in the region that have not been spelt out clearly.

"This uncertainty engenders anxiety about what the Indian military might have to give up in any relation with the U.S.," the analysis says. For Indian military planners, New Delhi's key strategic interests extend across the Indian Ocean Basin from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca and from Central Asia to Antarctica.

INDIA is currently expanding its security profile in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran. It is training officers of the Afghan Army and police at its academies, has opened its first military base outside the country in Tajikistan near the Afghanistan border and is scheduled to hold its first military manoeuvres with Tajikistan later this year.

The Indian and Iranian Navies conducted joint exercises in the Arabian Sea in early April. Iranian President Syed Mohammed Khatami was the chief guest at this year's Republic Day parade in New Delhi. A fortnight before that, India's Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh paid an extended visit to Teheran, during which he offered assistance in maintaining Iran's four Russian `Kilo'-class boats acquired in the mid-1990s and in training Iranian naval personnel. India has also agreed to service and maintain a range of Soviet and Russian military equipment in service with Iran, such as tanks, BMPs and an assorted range of fighter aircraft that were `confiscated' after Iraq parked them in Iran for `safekeeping' during the first U.S.-led Gulf war in the early 1990s.

In the New Delhi Declaration, signed by Khatami and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the two sides pledged to underpin their "growing strategic convergence" with a "strong economic relationship". In a move that Indian security officials said could alter the regional geopolitics, New Delhi and Teheran agreed to accelerate three transport projects linking the Indian subcontinent with the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.

"For India, Iran is emerging as the highway to strategic regions in inner Asia. And for Iran, the joint development of the transport corridors and naval relations with India will allow it to underscore its claim of being the natural gateway between Eurasia and the Indian Ocean littoral states," a naval officer said.

However, U.S. perceptions differ. For Washington, the Indian Ocean Basin as defined by the Indians does not exist as a discrete region; for it the region is divided into different theatres such as West Asia (Middle East), Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Near East South Asia and Asia-Pacific. These differentiations necessitate "multiple and overlapping analytical policy filters" that include India in some contexts and not in others. Few U.S. officials, for instance, cited Central Asia and Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf as important areas of Indo-U.S. military cooperation.

India also strongly resents being "placed under" the U.S. Pacific Command's (PACOM) area of responsibility as it evenly straddles the regions under PACOM and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM); it clams that the former fails to serve its interests functionally and geographically. Pakistan, on the other hand, is CENTCOM's area of responsibility.

"Both Americans and Indians understand that India is lost in a kind of strategic ether between two powerful unified commands," the DoD report states. Indian officials remonstrate that several of their pressing strategic concerns and issues most conducive to closer military cooperation with the U.S. lie outside PACOM's area of responsibility - cross-border terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, stability in Central Asia and protecting energy flows from the Persian Gulf region. Consequently, India is more inclined to bypass the PACOM headquarters at Honolulu and press its strategic advocacy on Washington instead.

Divergences of approach existed within the U.S. administration too. PACOM officials described India as a "potentially capable partner" in the Asia-Pacific region and a possible counter-weight to China. But a policy-maker at the Office of the Secretary of Defence viewed New Delhi primarily as an "anchor in an arch of crisis, stretching from the Balkans to South Asia". The DoD analysis points out that nowhere does one overarching strategic vision emerge to guide the policies and initiatives of the various offices involved in developing a military relationship. India strongly objects to the U.S. supporting Pakistan financially and diplomatically after 9/11 and loses no opportunity to try and drive a wedge between Islamabad and Washington - so far in vain.

CENTCOM views India as "obstructionist" in aiding the U.S. achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan, after it moved its Army to the Pakistan frontier in December 2001 following the terrorist attack on Parliament House in New Delhi. "India would receive a rude awakening if it interacted regularly with CENTCOM," a foreign area officer in Washington's South Asia desk said. As a large power, India also resents being confined to a regional U.S. command. It seeks to establish a direct and more meaningful relationship with Washington, which is yet to blossom.

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