Saturday, March 17, 2018

From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on the visit of the French President, examining two facets that gained particular traction in India-France security relations. The essay titled, "From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation," examined why and how outer space and maritime security had come to feature prominently during the French president’s India visit this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron was on a four-day visit to India earlier this week, with both sides trying to elevate the India-France strategic relationship. The bilateral partnership covers an entire gamut of issues from defense, civil nuclear, and space to climate change, clean energy, and urbanization, and India and France signed 14 agreements. But what was of particular importance on the defense side were those on outer space and maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

For the full essay, click here.

On outer space, the two countries identified nine specific areas in the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation of which a few including high resolution earth observation, space domain and situational awareness, satellite navigation, space transportation, and human exploration, stand out. Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and high resolution earth observation are especially relevant in the context of the growing concerns around maritime security and the Indian Ocean.

The two countries have shared concerns on a number of issues, including, as they framed it, “maritime traffic security, especially in the Horn of Africa; respect of international law by all States, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight; fight against organized crime, trafficking, including in weapons of mass destruction, smuggling and illegal fishing.”

Recognizing the need to develop a joint action plan, the two sides signed a Joint Strategic Vision for Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. A practical joint action in the area of maritime surveillance around Indian Ocean waters would at the very least call for a clearer understanding of the maritime environment that they are operating in and this has pushed both India and France to increase sharing of information on the emerging maritime scenario in the Indian Ocean.

The MoU signed between the two space agencies foresees them joining hands to design and develop “products and techniques, including those involving Automatic Identification System, to monitor and protect assets in land and sea.” This, the two sides believe, will significantly boost maritime domain awareness in the region. Given the growing reliance and vulnerabilities that exist in the outer space domain, the two space agencies also agreed to develop a cooperative agenda that will protect their space assets, by also developing infrastructure that is necessary to create a broader engagement on SSA.

Underlying all these practical steps is the shared strategic vision, particularly driven by the strategic uncertainties around China’s rise and its growing assertiveness. The two share a common strategic objective of “establish[ing] an open, inclusive and transparent cooperation architecture, with the aim of delivering to all associated with the region, peace, security and prosperity.”

Modi, during his meeting with Macron said that both sides believed in the importance of the Indian Ocean for the global community, while Macron in his own remarks acknowledged the importance of the Indian Ocean for the stability of the entire region. Most significantly, India and France agreed to reciprocal access to each other’s naval facilities to military facilities. France has facilities in the island of La Réunion, Mayotte, and the French Southern and Atlantic Lands. Indian access to French military facilities will help India spread its reach and influence, especially in western Indian Ocean.

This is similar to the understanding that India had earlier reached with the United States with the signing of LEMOA. That agreement occasioned a lot of criticism in India, with commentators suggesting that India was bargaining away its precious “strategic autonomy.” Indeed, that agreement was delayed for years precisely because of the fear of such criticism.

But the agreement with France has largely received a positive reception in the Indian media. The difference between the treatment of these two agreements indicates a clear evidence of the continuing opposition among sections of the Indian elite to any closer ties with Washington. Indeed, precisely for this reason, France may be a good supplement to India’s strategic partnerships. It should also be remembered that France has generally been supportive of critical issues of concern to India, including India’s nuclear weapons program (before it acquired its current level of legitimacy).

On the other hand, the limitations of the partnership should also be kept in mind. If France has not received as much importance in New Delhi as some others such as the United States, despite France’s well-acknowledged sympathy for India’s strategic concerns, the reason has been mostly due to France’s relatively limited capacity. The current bonhomie overlooks this old and unchanged limitation: though France can help India, its own remaining weakness will likely not allow Paris to become a major source of strategic support to New Delhi. But in these troubled times, one more supporter is surely welcome.

China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, my article in The Diplomat

I am beginning to slow down in updating my blog but I am trying to keep up. I wrote on China's defence spending in my second essay in March for the Diplomat. The essay, "China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries," argued that Beijing’s growing might continues to stoke regional anxieties.

On Monday, China announced that its defense expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion). In a speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, “Faced with profound changes in the national security environment, we must … firmly uphold the guiding position of Xi Jinping’s thinking on strengthening the armed forces as we develop national defense and the armed forces.” He added that China will advance “all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

This year’s defense budget marks an increase of 8.1 percent from last year. This is slightly more than 7 percent hike seen in 2017, but possibly the largest spending in the last three years.

This appears to be part of a wider trend where China, after the decade-long double-digit increases in its defense spending, now seems to be settling down for high single-digit hikes. Earlier, China’s defense budget increase rate was 10.7 percent in 2013, 12.2 percent in 2014, 10.1 percent in 2015 and began to come down to single digit growth rate from 2016 onward with 7.6 percent in 2016.

China has justified its defense budget by arguing that its defense spending is less than 1.5 percent of its GDP, but that argument is not going to go down well with its neighbors. Given the size of China’s economy, its defense spending in absolute terms is quite high.

For the full essay, click here.

Chinese experts have suggested that what China does with its defense spending is quite normal and standard given its ambitions. Guo Xiaobing, the deputy director and research professor at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), outlines a range of threats that China’s military will have to counter including “protection of maritime tights,” counterterrorism, disaster relief operations, international peacekeeping, and “escorting in the Gulf of Aden.” Guo also argues that China is transparent about its military expenditure, referring to the report of the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China which identifies the military goals of China.

While this may all sound reasonable to Beijing, China’s neighbors, particularly Japan, Taiwan, India, and Vietnam, will have many concerns about the impact of such defense spending on the military balance in the region. They worry that China’s increasing military might may make it even more prone to aggressive moves in the region.

The recent signs are not comforting for some of these regional states, including countries such as South Korea that maintain friendlier ties with Beijing relative to some of China’s other neighbors. To take just one example, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff recently reported that a Chinese military spy plane, a Y-9, crossed into South Korea’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) without warning last week, one of several such crossings into the Korean ADIZ in recent months.

This is not an isolated incident. It comes on top of other developments including China’s actions in South China Sea over the last few years which suggest that Beijing is changing the status quo in a way that raises questions about its long term objectives. Similar strategies have played out in the East China Sea as well, though with less success.

Chinese state media, for its part, has unsurprisingly continued to rebut such concerns. For instance, China Daily has asserted that “accusations of China’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas… is a denial of the truth, as China is merely trying to stand up for itself and its rights.”

Among China’s neighbors Japan in particular, has raised the lack of transparency as a major problem in China’s military spending. Reacting to the increase in military spending, Yoichi Shimada, professor at Fukui Prefectural University, said that “it is an open secret that China’s military spending is far bigger than their government will ever admit.” He added that in addition to the quantum of funding, it is the increasing sophistication of the Chinese military that is alarming.

The United States has also raised similar concerns about the non-transparent nature of China’s military spending. Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, commander of the Asia-based U.S. Seventh Fleet, referred to the lack of transparency as an issue that causes angst in the region which “is potentially disruptive to security and stability and the free flow of commerce and trade.”

Though it is unlikely that there will be much of an arms race between China and its neighbors – for most, China is already too large to compete with anyway – anxieties around Beijing’s defense spending can exacerbate security dilemmas and generate behavior that could leave the region less peaceful and prosperous than it could otherwise be. Especially worrying in this respect is the fact that Beijing at times seems far too quick to dismiss the concerns of its neighbors rather than listening and attempting to allay them.

All this suggests that even as we keep getting new numbers around what China spends on its military, the old concerns around what Beijing does with its rising capabilities are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why the Vietnam President’s India Visit Matters for Security Ties

Why the Vietnam President’s India Visit Matters for Security Ties - this was my second piece for the Diplomat this month published yesterday on the strategic imperative behind this energetic relationship between India and Vietnam, as highlighted in the Vietnamese President's visit to India. The weekend trip attests to the logic of increased security cooperation between the two major Asian players.

For the full essay, click here.

In addition to the manifold story lines that have emerged in recent days, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang’s India visit, which kicked off on March 2 and will last till March 4, is a testament to the growing closeness in the bilateral security ties between Hanoi and New Delhi.

Quang’s visit comes at a time when momentum for bilateral ties and India’s ties with Southeast Asia in general are at a high level. This is a trip that is coming just a few weeks of the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to India as chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in January, along with the leaders from all the other ASEAN countries.

Quang’s visit also marks 45 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and India and is centered on continuing efforts to deepen the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. According to the Vietnamese Ambassador in India, Ton Sinh Thanh, the President will deliver an address on March 4, which is set to be an “important policy statement.”

On the security side, India and Vietnam share concerns about the growing Chinese power and how it might impact on their national security. Nowhere is that clearer than in the South China Sea. Responding to China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, Vietnam has called on India to play a more proactive role in Southeast Asia.

India, for its part, has reiterated the importance of and adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in settling the South China Sea issue. Speaking about the Indo-Pacific waters in Indonesia in January this year, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said, “These waters must not only get better connected, but remain free from traditional and non-traditional threats, that impede free movement of people, goods and ideas. Respect for international law, notably UNCLOS, in ensuring this is, therefore imperative.” She added that ASEAN and India are maritime nations and that India will strive “to evolve a regional architecture based on the twin principles of shared security, and shared prosperity.”

Both India and Vietnam have unresolved disputes with China and have been subjected to aggressive Chinese tactics. Vietnam is one of the handful of countries in Southeast Asia that has stood up to Chinese pressure, even though how long Vietnam can hold up against China is open to question. In addition to the gross imbalance of power between the two countries, a recent RAND study concludes that Vietnam may not be able to engage in “an extended, large-scale, or high-intensity conventional conflict in the region” for a variety of reasons. Thus, it is no surprise that Vietnam is keen that states like India, Japan, and the United States help build up its capabilities, especially on the air and naval fronts.

India is clearly keen to help, and New Delhi has a comprehensive defense and security relationship with Vietnam. The growing number of high-level bilateral visits, annual security dialogues, and military-to-military cooperation are an indication of the growing convergence in security matters. The Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministers’ level and the Foreign Office Consultations, Strategic Dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level, and Security Dialogue at the Defense Secretary level are some of the useful institutional mechanisms that have propelled the relationship.

Beyond this, India has been training the Vietnamese military in operating its Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and SU-30 fighter jets. Supply of military spares, maintenance of hardware, and ship visits are also other important facets of the defense cooperation. The two sides have also signed an MoU for Coast Guard-to-Coast Guard collaboration. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Vietnam, New Delhi gave Hanoi a $500 million line of credit for defense cooperation. Sale of Brahmos missiles to Vietnam has also been reported from time to time, though it has yet to be confirmed.

While defense ties have somewhat dominated the headlines regarding the relationship because of China, there is an effort to continue to boost other aspects of the relationship as well, particularly in the economic realm. It is therefore no surprise that the visiting delegation includes the Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, ministers for trade and industry and planning and investment, as well as a large group of businessmen. During the visit, the two countries are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on nuclear energy, agriculture and trade and investment. An MoU for joint port development and a joint venture on a coal project are also likely to be signed during the visit.

To be sure, the India-Vietnam bilateral trade is a miniscule one compared to Vietnam-China bilateral trade, which is around $70 billion. But it is also true that given India’s market size and continued economic improvements and Vietnam’s rapidly rising economic profile
, trade and investment should pick up in the bilateral context with India. This could in turn also give fillip to the bilateral strategic engagement, making the relationship a more comprehensive one.

Shared concerns about China have brought India and Vietnam particularly close in the recent years. Unless China mends its ways, which seems quite unlikely, expect to see Hanoi and New Delhi continue deepening their strategic and defense ties in the future.

Are China-India Relations Really Improving?

"Are China-India Relations Really Improving?" - this is an opinion piece I wrote for the Diplomat a couple of days ago on the nature of bilateral relations between India and China. I argue that though both sides continue to try to stabilize relations, complications are expected to continue.

India-China relations have gone through a tumultuous phase in the last few years. There have been a series of disputes between the two countries, including China’s fervent opposition to India’s potential membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); Beijing’s shielding of Pakistan and blocking Indian efforts within the UN to designate the Pakistan-based terrorist, Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist; the Doklam crisis that went on for more than two months last summer; and India’s open opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Though these incidents have cast a long shadow on bilateral relations, it is also true that, following the Doklam conflict and the BRICS Summit thereafter, both New Delhi and Beijing took some steps to stabilize the relationship. Nonetheless, given the bitterness that preceded this recent uptick in ties and the continuing competition between the two, it seems unlikely that the bilateral relations will improve significantly in a way that is sustainable for the future.

For the full essay, click here.

There are a couple of indicators of the slight improvement in the relations. First, the recent visit of the new Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale to Beijing may be injecting some fresh momentum to the bilateral relations. Gokhale, fluent in Mandarin, is believed to be an expert on China and someone who will possibly bring some balance to the rocky relationship. Gokhale was notably credited with bringing the Doklam crisis to the finish line without firing a bullet.

The Global Times, in its coverage of the visit, highlighted the meeting between Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Gokhale and added that they agreed to “deepen strategic communication, beef up mutually beneficial cooperation and properly settle sensitive issues, based on the consensus reached by leaders of the two countries.” The official Indian view also appeared positive: the Indian Embassy in Beijing, in a statement, said the two sides “noted the need to build on the convergences between India and China and address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations. Both sides underlined that as two major countries, sound development of relations between India and China is a factor of stability in the world today.”

This positive turn, while welcome, is somewhat additionally surprising considering earlier concerns among some in China about Ghokale. When he was appointed, The Global Times in an opinion piece identified Gokhale as a “hardliner” on China. The author of that piece, Liu Zongyi, added that “his [Gokhale] hard-line stance toward China have won him the appreciation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which further contributed to his appointment as the foreign secretary.”

Second, there has been generally positive reaction in India – albeit still tinged with some suspicion – about China agreeing to place Pakistan on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) terror financing grey list. Subsequently, when China took over as the vice president of FATF, India promptly congratulated it, with the Indian MEA spokesperson tweeting his congratulations and hoping “that China would uphold & support the objectives & standards of FATF in a balanced, objective, impartial & holistic way.” There has been speculation in the Indian media, although the government has not divulged anything, that there may have been a deal between India and China on this: support for China’s vice presidency in return for China agreeing to put Pakistan on the grey list.

For China, gaining India’s vote for FATF was possibly sufficiently important enough for it to not object to placing Pakistan on the grey list. Moreover, it is worth noting the broader context at play here: the move within the FATF was sponsored by a number of other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, and China was also not the only one to withdraw its support to Pakistan: Turkey and Saudi Arabia also initially resisted the U.S. move, and reportedly withdrew their support for Pakistan only in the final phase. The limitations of the grey list are also worth keeping in mind: though this move will hurt Pakistan, making it difficult for Pakistan to raise money from overseas, including international monetary agencies, Pakistan is no stranger to the list, having been on it earlier from 2012 to 2015.

China’s change of mind with regard to Pakistan may have been prompted by a couple of other factors too that extend beyond India, in addition to a possible bargain with New Delhi itself. One, China is itself concerned about the growing threat of terrorism to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s talks with Baloch militants last week are an indicator of those growing concerns, which pours some cold water over some of the sensationalism around the sunny future for China-Pakistan relations.

Those broader considerations are worth keeping in mind. Though it is possible to see the Ghokale visit and the FATF as signs of improving bilateral relations, the reality may be more complicated. Furthermore, there is still no shortage of problems between the two sides old and new, including the recent spat over the Maldives and the continuing wariness about what might happen in Doklam. These realities suggest that we are likely to continue to see tensions ahead, even with this welcome uptick in ties.

Friday, February 23, 2018

India’s Maldives Headache, my OpEd for The Diplomat

In this weeks's OpEd for The Diplomat, I focused on India's options in dealing with the current situation in Maldives. New Delhi is finding it difficult to forge a path that will preserve its interests and credibility.

For the full essay, please click here.

The debate in New Delhi about how India should handle the Maldives has become increasingly critical of the government’s approach. Though this is by no means the universal opinion, the increasing perception is that New Delhi is finding it difficult to forge a path to a peaceful resolution that would preserve its interests and credibility.

The current crisis started when the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen decided to ignore the Maldivian Supreme Court’s ruling on February 1, which called the Yameen government imprisonment and prosecution of opposition leaders a “violation of the constitution and international law.” The Court also ruled that the government should release the nine opposition leaders including the former president, Mohamed Nasheed.

In addition to ignoring the Court order, Yameen also declared an emergency, which was extended for a month on February 20. India expressed its dissatisfaction at the extension of emergency as well as “the manner in which the extension of the State of Emergency was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Constitution of Maldives.” Prior to the extension of the emergency on February 20, India had expressed the hope following the end of the emergency, Maldives returned to democracy and all the democratic institutions including the judiciary would be “allowed to function independently.”

Though a domestic political crisis, the stakes have dramatically increased because it has drawn in both India and China. Earlier in the month, Yameen had sent emissaries to China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. China thereafter issued a warning that no country should intervene in Maldives’ internal matters and that “the international community shall play a constructive role on the basis of respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, instead of further complicating the situation.” On the other hand, Maldivian opposition leaders including Nasheed have sought Indian help, including military intervention “to free the judges and political detainees.” Nasheed also has asked the United States for its help, asking it “to stop all financial transactions of Maldivian regime leaders going through US banks.”

Amidst all these developments, Reuters reported, quoting a Chinese website, that Chinese naval warships were heading to Maldives. The Indian Navy clarified that the Chinese warships were transiting between the Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait. It must be noted that China deploying warships in the Indian Ocean is nothing new: China even has a military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Not surprisingly, the Indian Navy is keeping a close watch on Chinese activities in the region. Indian Navy spokesperson Captain DK Sharma is reported to have remarked that “India has a very robust surveillance system to ensure clear and transparent maritime domain awareness (MDA) in the entire IOR.”

Given the Maldives’ geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean, it is understandable that China has long-term strategic interests in it. The island nation sits atop of critical sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). Gaining a larger footprint in the Indian Ocean is now part of China’s stated strategy, as it noted in its Blue Book on Indian Ocean. In 2016, the Maldives leased an atoll to a Chinese company for 50 years at an estimated cost of just $4 million.

But India has critical interests in the Maldives too. First, the Maldives is in India’s backyard, making China’s inroads there a matter of deep concern for New Delhi. The Maldives is only about 700 km from India’s Lakshadweep Islands and about 1200 km from the Indian mainland, too close for Delhi’s comfort to let a potential adversary set up shop. Just two months ago, the Maldives concluded a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, much to India’s surprise. This reflects the distance that crept in between India and Maldives in recent years. In addition, the Maldives had endorsed Xi Jinping’s pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which also includes the Maritime Silk Road. New Delhi worries about where all this headed.

Second, there is the matter of how this will be perceived by other Indian neighbors as well as by others. India worries about its credibility in the eyes of its smaller neighbors; any Indian hesitation in the Maldives could make these neighbors look towards China more actively. Similarly, smaller nations in South and Southeast Asia will makes their own judgments about India’s reliability, about whether they should trust India to stand up to China, depending on how they perceive India is behaving in its own backyard. If India is unable to settle the Maldives issue in its favor, smaller Southeast Asian states could decide that their best bet is to make their own individual peace with China.

New Delhi would clearly prefer not to intervene militarily, if only because of how uncertain such ventures are. But India also faces increasing difficulties, especially given Yameen’s obduracy. How India navigates through this crisis will have significant impact on not only the neighborhood, but also broader geopolitics including Sino-Indian relations.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The global space race, 2.0, I wrote this OpEd in The Washington Post

I am happy to share an OpEd on global space race I published in The Washington Post last week.

The recent launch of the SpaceX rocket Falcon Heavy is a good illustration of the entry of efficient and innovative private players into an arena long considered the preserve of national governments. But this does not mean that national competition in outer space is disappearing. I argue that if anything, it is actually accelerating in Asia. China’s growing space prowess is leading to a space race with India and Japan, which are beginning to pool their resources to better match Beijing.

The India-Japan strategic partnership has grown enormously in the last decade. Last September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recognized the salience of outer space in their bilateral relations and “welcomed the deepening of cooperation between the space agencies of the two countries in the field of Earth observation, satellite-based navigation, space sciences and lunar exploration.” And as the president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) proclaimed two months later: “India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Then in December, JAXA and the Indian Space Research Organization agreed to study a joint “lunar polar exploration” mission, to be completed this March. This will lead to a joint expedition that is expected to land a remotely piloted vehicle on the surface of the moon to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

Both India and Japan have undertaken successful lunar missions before, but only to study the moon via satellites that orbited above; neither has sent a craft to land on the moon’s surface. And neither country has carried out a lunar mission in almost a decade. Both are acutely aware of what China has accomplished, with four moon missions between 2007 and 2014 alone. China’s technological dominance weighs on the Asian strategic balance, and both India and Japan are clearly feeling the pressure.

One attempt to catch up was a joint India-Japan moon mission that was a finalist for the Google Lunar XPrize competition. TeamIndus, an Indian private aerospace firm, planned to carry a Japanese rover developed by Japan’s Team Hakuto on its spacecraft. But the Google Lunar XPrize competition itself came to an end — none of the teams could meet the launch deadline of March 31, 2018.

The emergence of private space research entities in India represents an exciting development. Though the TeamIndus lunar mission was canceled, the team is working on a couple of different projects, including a satellite bus and a solar-powered drone, both of which it seeks to commercialize in the near future. As Rahul Narayan, the founder of TeamIndus, said: “From an investment standpoint, this will be a three-to-five-year journey until we can stabilize as a standalone company. We are looking at equity investors to come in and take the risk of helping us build the product. By year end, we can start to generate revenues from what we do.”

Asia’s growing space race is indicative of the larger geopolitical competition in the region. China’s rise and the strategic uncertainties it has created are particularly worrying to India and Japan, leading to surprisingly fast-growing India-Japan strategic cooperation.

Though India and Japan have had no history of direct conflict, the two were on opposite sides of the Cold War divide, with Japan formally allied with the United States and India tilting heavily to the Soviet side, leading to cordial but cool ties for decades. But China’s rise has affected both countries and led to an emerging India-Japan consensus on a whole host of global commons issues, such as maritime security and protection of the sea lanes of communication.

The growing intensity of competition in outer space is partially due to the growing number of commercial players and partially due to underlying geopolitical tensions. As during the Cold War, outer space has become one more area of the strategic competition on Earth. This means that the race to return to the moon, as well as to explore the moon and asteroids for mining and resource extraction, are likely to intensify in the coming years.

Even as the U.S. maintains a technological edge in this domain, China is fast catching up. The energized strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing — another new strategic entente — will only accelerate it. Private players are adding a new dimension to this space race, but national programs are driven by much older and more potent imperatives. As geopolitical competitions sharpen around the globe, those government-led efforts could turn out to be more important than private expeditions.

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Space crises in a multipolar world: Lessons from a simulation exercise - an ORF Special Report I co-authored...

Recently, Abhijnan Rej, a colleague of mine at ORF, and I published a Special Report on the basis of a simulation exercise conducted in February 2017. The Simulation Exercise (SIMEX) involved a space security crisis scenario in which states had already attempted to interfere with outer-space assets. The SIMEX involved one scenario and three moves.

We were interested in this exercise to understand the interaction between contemporary terrestrial geopolitics and the ongoing securitisation of outer space. The exercise examined five key questions: In a hybrid conflict that draws in multiple powers with stakes in outer space, how do states meet national objectives in a conflict? Can escalation in such conflicts be controlled? What do the decision-making dynamics within states face in such a crisis, and what role does intelligence play in it? What roles do multilateral institutions play in controlling escalation? And what role does disinformation and information play in determining the tempo and outcome of such a conflict?

This report answers these questions based on the results of the ORF SIMEX. The next section of this report provides a brief background of the scenario played in the SIMEX. The third section presents an analysis of the results of the SIMEX, answering the questions raised above. The paper concludes in the fourth section, with a few brief policy-relevant observations. An appendix collates details about how each of the three moves of the SIMEX played out. Readers interested in other details of the SIMEX—standard operating procedure, briefing background, a map
of the universe of the SIMEX, country and force capability inventory, details of the scenario, team objectives and options—may consult the companion page.

Find the report here.

The full report is quite long and it is not uploaded here. I am pasting the four major conclusion of the SIMEX.

Four key lessons emerged from the SIMEX, all of which merit further study through other similar exercises.

First, a crisis that starts relatively high up in the escalation ladder can be deescalated. The exercise started with the premise that Yellow had destroyed, albeit accidentally, an Orange military communication satellite using an ASAT weapon. Thus, there was a strong possibility of a kinetic conflict during and after the first move. However, this was not the case. Instead, Orange multilateralised the dispute by approaching the Permanent Court of Arbitration and took only modest military punitive steps against Yellow.

Second, possession of significant kinetic and non-kinetic military means does not always translate to meeting the national objectives of a state. Blue in the SIMEX served as an example. Despite significant military capabilities, it failed to meet both its national objectives. Lack of military heft, on the other hand, can be compensated for by using smart diplomatic tactics. This was the case with Red, which is the weakest military power of the four.

Third, in a significant crisis involving three or more powers, a state will prioritise meeting those objectives that concern it directly, as opposed to those related to its alliance commitments. That does not mean, however, that states will not meet their alliance commitments at all. Yellow’s behaviour vis-à-vis Red is a case in point.

Fourth (and this pertains to the increasingly hybrid nature of warfare), in moments of intense crises, social and other media remain powerful tools. This is evident in how Blue moulded international and domestic opinion using social media in tandem with public statements containing the same message.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

What Does India’s New Australia Group Admission Mean for its Old NSG Bid?

What Does India’s New Australia Group Admission Mean for its Old NSG Bid? - in this short essay,
I explore India's recent inclusion into the Australia Group and what that means for its membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The development is significant because it brings New Delhi one step closer to integrating with the global nonproliferation system. India has been pursuing membership in the four key technology control arrangements that are part of the non-proliferation regime – the fourth being the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – for several years. But membership to the NSG still eludes India, and it is unlikely that it is any closer today, despite Indian membership in the other three arrangements.

In a unanimous decision, India was admitted as the 43rd member to the Australia Group (AG) this month. This comes on the heels of India attaining membership to two other global technology control arrangements, the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) in December 2017 and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in May 2016.

The development is significant because it brings New Delhi one step closer to integrating with the global nonproliferation system. India has been pursuing membership in the four key technology control arrangements that are part of the non-proliferation regime – the fourth being the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – for several years. But membership to the NSG still eludes India, and it is unlikely that it is any closer today, despite Indian membership in the other three arrangements.

These aforementioned arrangements that India has been pursuing memberships in are essentially informal groupings where members or participating governments, as they are called, work together to harmonize national export controls in order to ensure that export of certain sensitive items do not contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

But while this has remained the primary objective of these mechanisms, they have also inevitably became tools in the hands of the more powerful states to deny technologies to some countries who were seen as proliferation threats. India had traditionally been a target of these arrangements and, in turn, been fiercely critical of such groups. But the U.S.-India nuclear deal in 2008, which included a waiver from the NSG that permitted India to resume nuclear commerce, transformed India’s relationship with the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The support to India’s membership within each of these regimes reflects India’s clean track record with regard to non-proliferation. India asserts that its accession to these global technology clubs is “mutually beneficial and further contribute to international security and non-proliferation objectives.” This represents a significant change in Indian attitudes: India had for decades criticized these arrangements.

But it should be noted that there has been a significant change in the attitude of the non-proliferation order towards India too, from seeing India as a country of proliferation concern to a partner. Members of these regimes accept now that bringing India within the tent is in their own interests both because of India’s growing profile in the technology exports and the overall changing political equations between India and the major powers.

The Australia Group was set up in 1985 specifically “to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical and biological weapons.” The initial focus of the group was on chemical agents, but by the 1990s, the mandate was expanded to include biological agents as well. The export control lists of the Australia Group are considered fairly comprehensive and go beyond even the scope of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and BTWC.

India has established a comprehensive export control regime for chemical and biological agents, and this has remained significant given that these materials form a large segment of the dual use items in Indian exports. Harmonizing India’s national export control list, called the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) List, and that of each of the four export control regimes, has been an important technical step that brought India into three of these regimes. While each of the regimes differ in its overall scope and mandate, the export controls and guidelines to be adhered to have similar objectives. Establishing a legally-based and rigorously-enforced national export control system is one of the prerequisites of these regimes.

If India is not celebrating too much, it is because India has not been able to get membership in the group that New Delhi covets most – the NSG. India pushed hard in 2016 for membership when the NSG members met in Seoul, but its application was scuttled by China. India tried again last year, but China did not relent. China’s objections appear to be political: it is unwilling to let India get membership while its ally, Pakistan, is left out. But Pakistan, with its poor proliferation record, is unlikely to be acceptable to the other members of the NSG, which means that India is unlikely to get in either.

Indeed, given the worsening trajectory of the Sino-Indian relationship more broadly, it is likely that China’s opposition to India’s NSG application will only increase. Sino-Indian ties have dramatically worsened since 2016 – partly because of the NSG’s rejection of India’s membership application itself (because both the Indian government and public opinion blamed it on China), but also because of other factors. China also repeatedly opposed Indian efforts to include a Pakistan-based terrorist chief in the UN terrorist sanctions list. And last summer, the two countries almost came to blows over a section of their border, which saw unusually harsh anti-India rhetoric from Chinese officials.

Though both sides have tried to revive their relations, irritants do keep popping up. China, on its side, has been critical of India’s increasingly closer ties with the United States and its allies such as Japan and Australia. All of which means that for the time being at least, India may have little hope of seeing its NSG membership actually achieve success.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Re-starting my blog with a couple of short essays I wrote this month

I have been inactive with my blog for more than three years but I have decided to start again and hopefully will keep it active. I thought I will share with you a few short pieces that I wrote this month for The Outlook and The Diplomat. I have now become a regular author with The Diplomat the Asia Defense page at The Diplomat, and so I will be doing a regular column for them.

I wrote the first piece this year for The Outlook on dealing with China - Beijing’s Diplomatic Crumbs Shouldn’t Con Delhi; Talk, But With Hands On The Holster. I argued that India must take a couple of steps if it has to be able to effectively balance the China factor in the Indo-Pacific.
One, recognizing China as an adversary is important. Without this clarity, India may fumble along than deepen its Asian strategic engagements. Going to war is not the only indication that China is an adversary. India must recognize that even as there may be areas that India and China cooperate occasionally, Beijing will take every opportunity to deny India any strategic advancement. A second argument was the Russia factor while dealing with China. Hence, while Russia continues to be an important partner for a number of security-related goals, India must recognize that Russia will never stand with New Delhi against China. This is so because Moscow needs Beijing more than ever in and therefore, Russia will not support India at the cost of its relationship with China. This is a central principle that India needs to get right to avoid critical errors in our strategic calculations. Russia will work with us when they can and when it does not go against China, but not otherwise.

As I mentioned, I have more like a column for The Diplomat and my first essay for them looked at India’s space programme and policy. India’s space programme is one that has done India proud but there are continuing challenges that need to be addressed if we have to be maximise our gains and minimise the vulnerabilities in the mid to long term. One, India needs to augment its policy and program in line with contemporary regional and global developments in the space domain. The fact that India does not a comprehensive space policy is a major lacunae. As of now, there are sector-specific policies for remote sensing and Satcom. While these are essential to catering to the needs of specific customers, the need for a holistic approach to space is gaining greater momentum. India’s leaders must think about developing a comprehensive, overarching space policy, issued by a central agency such as the Prime Minister’s Office or the Ministry of External Affairs. The second challenge is finding a strategy to enhance India’s space capacity. While the ISRO has begun acknowledging the new reality that there are growing demands from a variety of sectors for space services, the problem lies in the capacity to deliver in a timely manner. ISRO has begun co-opting private players to meet these growing demands. While a few companies other than the traditional players such as Larsen & Tubro and Godrej are entering the domain, the Department of Space could make the outreach to commercial entities in a more coherent fashion through a comprehensive policy framework. The third challenge India faces is how to deal with the growing demands for an international space regime. India must be mindful of the efforts at developing an effective outer space regime as it frames its own national space policy. The growing number of problems, including space debris, the potential weaponization of space, as well as deployment of anti-satellite weapons, require concerted multilateral action. India has yet to decide how to frame its national interests in outer space in a way that both promotes its own national requirements but also global needs. India has an opportunity to take the lead on this, lest it face the alternative of having others determine these rules.

I wrote a second short essay
for The Diplomat on the just-concluded India-ASEAN Summit. Leaders of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are in India for the 69th Republic Day celebrations. This is the first time that India has hosted more than one head of state or government as guest of honor for its Republic Day events. The fact that the ten leaders are in India together reflect India’s growing strategic profile and also the increasing strategic convergence between India and Southeast Asia. India and ASEAN are celebrating 25 years of their partnership and 15 years of their summit engagements. The two sides have grown a lot closer in the last decade, primarily driven by the China factor, but questions still remain as to whether India has the will and capacity to make a strategic difference in Southeast Asia.

Creating physical regional connectivity has been of specific interest to India and the ASEAN countries, especially Thailand and Myanmar. The trilateral highway involving the three countries as well as the Kaladan multi-modal transit and transport project are examples. However, they are also a reminder that projects that began with good intentions have not gone very far. While the Modi government has given them a fresh impetus, the lack of progress on infrastructure projects has created negative perceptions about India’s overall wherewithal to undertake and deliver on large projects. Trade and economic interactions between India and ASEAN have grown in the last two decades, from $2 billion in 1992 to $12 billion in 2002 and around $76 billion today. While this is fairly impressive, ASEAN-China trade is many times larger than trade with India. Also, the more pressing interest between the two sides has to do with the emerging Asian strategic order and the respective roles for India and Southeast Asia in it. India and Southeast Asia have an interest in developing a free and inclusive regional architecture. The idea of an open and free Indo-Pacific has been articulated by India several times. For this, ASEAN’s role as a regional institution and that of individual member states such as Singapore and Indonesia are significant. The absence of an overarching comprehensive regional architecture remains a possible agenda for both sides to work on.
Given these uncertainties and new dynamics, there are some opportunities for India to shape Asian geostrategy. Indian political leaders as well as those from the foreign affairs bureaucracy have articulated the need to see the emergence of an Asian strategic order that is not dominated by one single power but this still needs to be affected beyond the rhetoric. As of now, the gap between Indian declarations and its capacity is likely to limit how influential India will be, the symbolism of the Republic Day parade aside.

I will be doing the full essay from the next one.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

India’s Border Infrastructure: Beyond the BRO

Here's my short essay on the Sino-Indian border infrastructure, published by the Diplomat..It is time that we look beyond the BRO if we need to get somewhere in the next decade... Even as there is a beefing up of capabilities on the border with new combat units, the biggest challenge is going to come from the poor state of border infrastructure. For instance, it takes 20 hours to drive a distance of 500 km (300 miles) from Guwahati to Tawang – a reflection of the severe condition of the road network in the region. the BRO served a useful purpose in the initial decades after India’s independence, but infrastructure delays over the years call for a debate on the utility of this organization. The BRO’s acute staff shortage is a big impediment. It is losing people faster than it is able to recruit, which is a reflection of low morale. There has to be a new commanding authority under the Prime Minister’s Office that will address India’s infrastructure problems. Even as there are different ministries involved in the construction of the road and rail networks, there has to be a single authority to enable the quick completion of these projects...

The new Indian Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag is visiting the Eastern Command after undertaking a trip to the Ladakh area in the western part of the Sino-Indian border, where there have been repeated Chinese incursions. Suhag was also expected to make a trip to the forward bases in Arunachal Pradesh, depending on the weather conditions.

During the visit, Suhag is also expected to take stock of the progress in the establishment of the Army’s recently sanctioned Mountain Strike Corps (17 Corps), which is likely to be ready by 2018-19. Suhag, who was the Eastern Commander for two years prior to shifting to Army headquarters, played a major role in the formation of the new corps. Undertaken at a cost of 64,678 crore[t1] rupees ($10.7 billion), the corps will have 90,274 troops, of which 22 major and minor units were made ready in December 2013. According to an army official, the new corps will have “two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Division at Panagarh and 72 Division at Pathankot) with their integral units, two independent infantry brigades, two armoured brigades and the like. It will include 30 new infantry battalions and two Para-Special Forces battalions.” While the new corps will be based in Panagarh, West Bengal, the force will be deployed from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, covering all the important trouble spots along the border. During his long tenure, Suhag is also reported to have served in a China-centric unit, the Special Frontier Force, which came up in the wake of the 1962 border war with China. Suhag is reported to have been the inspector general of the SFF before taking over as the Army vice chief.

All this suggests that the new army leadership is more focused on the urgent needs of the border areas. Even as there is a beefing up of capabilities on the border with new combat units, the biggest challenge is going to come from the poor state of border infrastructure. For instance, it reportedly takes 20 hours to drive a distance of 500 km (300 miles) from Guwahati to Tawang – a reflection of the severe condition of the road network in the region. The road density of Arunachal Pradesh is at a significantly low level of 18.65 km per 100 sq km., compared to the national average of 84 km per 100 sq km. Some of the major road projects in the region include making the trans-Arunachal highway from Nechipu to Hoj and Potin to Pangin two lanes, an upgrade of the Stillwell road in Arunachal Pradesh, and four more projects to widen roads including national highway 154 in Assam. The road network in Sikkim, another Indian state on the Sino-Indian border, is no different. The current road density is just 28.45 km per 100 sq km. There is only one road linking the capital Gangtok with the strategically significant Nathu La pass on the border, and one landslide-prone road with a width of 5 meters connecting the state with the rest of India.

While much has been written on the western and eastern sectors of the Sino-Indian border, the middle sector is no different. A recent visit by the author to some of the border areas in the middle sector illustrated the huge gaps in India’s infrastructure plans. It takes three hours to cover a short distance of 30-40 km in Himachal Pradesh, approaching the border areas of Kaurik, Shipkila and Sumdo. Along a stretch of 1200 km in the hills, there were roughly seven or eight places where the Border Roads Organization (BRO) appeared active – the few people working on the road appeared to be unskilled local workers. As long as the BRO has its hands tied by the state government and its local construction associates, including local contractors who have a vested interest in not meeting these deadlines on a timely basis, it is unlikely that the road conditions would improve. However, the net result of this is disastrous from a security perspective.

The railways too have faced a similar fate. The list of pending critical projects is striking. Pending lines in the eastern and northern sectors include the Murkongselek-Pasighat-Tezu-Parasuramkund-Rupai line (256 km), the Misamari-Tawang line (378 km), and the North Lakhimpur-Along-Silapathar line (248 km) in the northeast; and the Pathankot-Leh line (400 km), the Jammu-Akhnoor-Poonch line (223 km), and the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh line (430 km) in the northern sector. These would cover a distance of 3,016 km and cost around $9.2 billion.

So even as India is implementing some of the pending acquisition issues by clearing them on a priority basis and thus strengthening India’s security along the Sino-Indian border, the infrastructure problems could hinder India’s efforts. The reality may be that India cannot afford to wait for the railways or the BRO to complete these projects. Analyze the military order of battle for the region, and a huge discrepancy in favor of China becomes clear. The contrast between India and China is not only in terms of weapons and equipment, but also and more importantly in the physical infrastructure along the border. Today, the Chinese roads nearly reach the line of actual control (LAC) or in some cases go beyond, while on the other hand most Indian roads stop well before the Indian side of the LAC. China has also ensured connectivity in Aksai Chin by air. Thus, India is at least two decades behind China in terms of infrastructure and connectivity in the border region, putting India at a significant disadvantage. Should there be a scenario that calls for a deployment of forces to the border India could be handicapped, resulting in unfavorable outcomes, at least in the initial stages of conflict.

In conclusion, the driving point is that the BRO served a useful purpose in the initial decades after India’s independence, but infrastructure delays over the years call for a debate on the utility of this organization. The BRO’s acute staff shortage is a big impediment. It is losing people faster than it is able to recruit, which is a reflection of low morale. There has to be a new commanding authority under the Prime Minister’s Office that will address India’s infrastructure problems. Even as there are different ministries involved in the construction of the road and rail networks, there has to be a single authority to enable the quick completion of these projects.

Modi's Japan Visit: Security, the Key Driver

Here's my short essay on Modi's Japan visit... While economic and trade aspects are vital for a relationship to flourish, it should not be forgotten that there are strong security imperatives that are becoming the drivers of this relationship. These include a mutual desire for a stable Asian strategic framework, security of the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) in the region, and concern about the fickleness of US policy when it comes to balancing China. These core interests along with shared ideals of democracy, rule of law and free and independent media call for a close partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo. Japan has taken the extra step in assigning special importance to India, reflected in its offer of the U-2 amphibious aircraft to India. It is time for India to reciprocate and show that Japan matters to India....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be on his way to Japan this weekend, making this the second major summit level visit he is undertaking since he took over in May. The visit, which was postponed on account of the budget session of the Indian parliament, is being watched with a lot of eagerness and anxiety, depending on which of the world capitals one is watching it from.

Both in India and Japan, there is wide spread expectation from this visit in terms of economic and trade relations as well as defence and strategic engagement. The personal rapport between Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to be a catalyst in deepening and broadbasing this relationship.

Several commentaries on the Modi visit have focused on the economic aspects of India-Japan relationship or how they may be developed without a China factor. While economic and trade aspects are vital for a relationship to flourish, it should not be forgotten that there are also strong security imperatives that are becoming the drivers of this relationship. These include a mutual desire for a stable Asian strategic framework, security of the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) in the region, and concern about the fickleness of US policy when it comes to balancing China. These core interests along with shared ideals of democracy, rule of law and free and independent media call for a close partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo.

It is true that the India-Japan relationship should not be based on an external factor such as China and that there should be independent driving factors that take forward this relationship. However, enabling a stable Asian strategic framework to the mutual benefit of both New Delhi and Tokyo should be a compelling factor for both Modi and Abe. The emerging Asian strategic framework is being held hostage by China and its aggressive posturing in the recent years. The long-held regional view that China may come to assume a more accommodating and benign posture has been put to rest by Beijing's own actions in its neighbourhood. Thus, there is a concerted effort by countries in the region - both big and small - to form new friendships and partnerships that may provide them with some cushion and a shield in the face of a belligerent China.

Security, the key driver

Asia is going through an unprecedented churning, characterising in many ways the 19th century European theatre. It is after several centuries that we are witnessing the simultaneous rise of three Asian powers - China, Japan and India. This itself is a perfect recipe for competition, rivalry and conflict. But compounding this is the yet unresolved boundary and territorial issues and the baggage of history that weighs down these Asian great power relations. While the territorial issues have been around for decades, Chinese behaviour in recent years in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Sino-Indian border have led to fresh anxieties about the Chinese intentions and capabilities.

Given this backdrop, there are uncomfortable questions as to what kind of power China would become as it grows stronger in both economic and military terms. Thus, much of the Asian uncertainty that one witnesses today is a direct result of China's rise. Many argue that this is nothing different or unique about China and that China's rise needs to be understood within the larger processes of power transitions and changing balance of power equations. While there is merit to such arguments, the reality is that Asian countries in particular are faced with a tough and unsettling neighbourhood. This will set in motion both diplomatic maneuvering and acquisition of hard power, which are inherently destabilizing but have become inevitable.

A strengthened India-Japan relationship needs to be placed in this context if we have to understand and appreciate the changing dynamics in their bilateral ties. It is a fact that India-Japan relations have enjoyed a strong economic relationship, with Japanese ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) forming an important component of that. Japanese share in India's infrastructure story is also phenomenal and set to grow. Even as this is the case, the growing partnership between the two is the outcome of new regional security dynamics. Commitment to the annual summits and periodic dialogue between the foreign and defence ministries is a reflection of the increasingly synergetic approach towards Asian security in general.

Therefore, while there are several outstanding issues between the two countries including on trade and FDI and on a bilateral nuclear deal that needs to be improved or fixed, it will be unfortunate if New Delhi let these become the determining factor in the bilateral relationship. Some Indian analysts have argued that India should bargain hard with Tokyo and conclude the nuclear deal at the earliest. But India should learn to do hard bargaining with those that are hostile to India, not potential partners such as Japan. Early conclusion of the nuclear deal is important but India should not lose sight of the bigger strategic picture that drives this relationship. Japan has taken the extra step in assigning special importance to India, reflected in its offer of the U-2 amphibious aircraft to India. It is time for India to reciprocate and show that Japan matters to India.

India: Diversifying Arms Purchases

Here's an essay that I co-authored with Siddharth Sivaraman on India's exercise at diversifying arms purchases and how India might maximize its strategic gains and opportunities by making the right choices... The essay published in the Diplomat on August 13, 2014, additionally makes an argument on India should increase its military imports from the U.S., particularly drones.

India needs to diversify its arms imports. Although it is one of the world’s largest arms importers, most of India’s weapons come from Russia. Over the last five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia accounted for about $15 billion of the $20 billion in arms that India imported, or about three-quarters. That level of dependence is unhealthy: One of the reasons why India bought the Jaguar Bomber from a European consortium in the 1970s was the concern that India was becoming dependent on Soviet weapons.

India began diversifying when it awarded a contract for advanced air force fighters to France, though negotiations for the Rafale have dragged on interminably and have yet to be completed. India also buys some significant quantities of Israeli weapons.

But New Delhi has not sufficiently tapped the U.S., without question the country with the most advanced military technology in the world. Although the U.S. is India’s second largest source of weapons, it accounted for less than seven percent of India’s arms imports in value terms over the last five years. It is time that India diversified its arms sources by getting more of its weapons from the U.S., especially when cutting-edge technology is involved, as in advanced drones.

There are multiple advantages for India in making better use of U.S. weapons options. First, New Delhi could negotiate the development of state-of-the-art drone technologies, in which the U.S. has the most experience, with drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – such as the MQ-8 Fire Scout and/or long-range drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper or even the older Predator B. This would add a new dimension to UAVs with persistent capabilities for India, and it would also help kick start investments in this sector.

A U.S. senator recently proposed the joint manufacturing of weapons system, including drones. As the Indian military moves towards network-centric warfare, the importance of UAV technology will increase as it forms an important nodal center for intelligence gathering and dissemination. Currently the fleet of Searcher and long-range Heron drones is a good one, but there are operational limitations because of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines, which restrict the sale of unmanned systems that fly more than 300 km and can carry payloads more than or equal to 500 kg.

The drone’s sensor intelligence gathering also requires capabilities in analysis and advanced software for interpreting data. The addition of this capability will also be important for the overall drone and imagery analysis architecture. Indeed, full-fledged UAV systems would give a tremendous boost to India’s surveillance capabilities. This will require bold thinking by policymakers to launch India into the select group of countries that can field long-range UAVs at short notice. However, such cutting edge technologies are shared, they are not given away.

For advanced technologies such as the MQ-9 Reaper, India will have to give ground, as such technologies cannot be readily obtained, even with a 100 percent FDI policy in the defense manufacturing sector.

Low observable technologies, under which the most modern UAVs fall, are heavily restricted for export by the U.S. government. Long-range drone operations in international waters require interoperability and information sharing, which can be a complicated endeavor involving a Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) with the U.S., but the advantages of learning long-range drone operations could be enormous. International search and rescue operations have increasingly involved the use of drones. Drones, along with air assets such as maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), would be help fill the large surveillance gaps in India’s vast ocean territories, which it must safeguard. Surveillance and around-the-clock monitoring of activities in the Indian Ocean, where traffic has seen a manifold increase, is significant. This fits well with the 2006 U.S.-India Framework for Maritime Security Cooperation that emphasizes cooperation in areas including piracy, smuggling, and WMD proliferation through maritime routes. The procurement of drones on a strategic level is paramount, so why should India not do all it can to acquire this surveillance capability?

Could the sale of such systems mean that the two countries can finally bury antique agreements such as the CISMOA and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA)? Much remains to be said about how the U.S. government would view such an interest by India. U.S. aircraft have already given an edge to the strategic airlift capability; can they do the same with respect to India’s strategic surveillance capability?

Technology is important, but who you get it from is even more important. U.S. drones in the Indian inventory would have a huge value in terms of messaging, to friends and foes alike. Strategic partnerships are among the best force multiplier options in an uncertain Asia, and India should leave no stone unturned.

India-US Strategic Dialogue: Focus on the Big Picture

Here's an essay of mine on the US-India Strategic Dialogue... I argue that while there have been any number of suggestions on how bilateral relations between India and the US can be re-energized, both countries need to focus on the big picture. Both India and the US need to place these relations in the larger context of the Asian strategic framework...

There were expectations that the new Modi Government will set out new policies on many fronts, including foreign policy and security arena. But starting from his swearing-in ceremony to the recently released budget, we have only had glimpses of the priorities of this new government. We are yet to see significant pronouncements on India's relations with major powers. One such opportunity was at the BRICS Summit in Brazil, where Modi had meetings with Russian and Chinese leaders on the sidelines. About relations with the US, Modi has already accepted President Obama's invitation to visit Washington DC -- an indication that the Prime Minister is willing to put behind him the visa ban issue and take India-US relations forward. Most recently, during US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns' visit, Modi is reported to have said, "Reenergising the partnership between India and the US would send an important message to the region and beyond." The upcoming US-India strategic dialogue presents another opportunity for the new government to set out its strategic vision.

While there have been a number of suggestions in how bilateral relations between India and the US can be re-energized, both countries need to place these relations in the larger context of the Asian strategic framework. China's rise as an economic and military power house has created its own dynamics, undermining the US influence in Asia, particularly given Beijing's economic engagement in the region. Though China's engagement with Asia has an economic angle, this engagement has been pursued with another more important but unstated objective of reducing US role and influence in the region. It is a fact that trade is a compelling factor for India, the US and much of the rest of the world. This does not mean that the political and strategic difficulties have vanished or that these can be put on the back burner in the drive to boost trade.

India should engage China in the trade and commercial spheres, which may go to create prosperity on both sides. But neither side should be under the misplaced hope that these will diminish the salience of other tricky and more difficult issues including the border and territorial issues. While India and China are plagued with any number of issues, these are only symptoms of the larger problem that exists between the two: is China willing to see India emerging as a major power in Asia and beyond? The competition for the same strategic sphere is at the root of the problem between India and China. If India is interested in creating an Asian strategic framework that is not hijacked by one single power, it needs to strengthen several of its other bilateral relationships in Asia, especially India-US relations, to a point where it will become difficult for China to impose its hegemonistic tendencies.

China's muscular foreign and security policy evidenced over the last few years has also changed the situation. The US, which was uncertain about its commitment to Asia after a decade-long engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq, is back in Asia to stay. The US rebalancing strategy is a direct consequence of China's aggressive posturing in East China and South China Seas in the last five years. The wariness and uncertainty around the Chinese power and how this may play out in the territorial disputes with Japan and the ASEAN countries gave the US a fresh incentive to remain in Asia.

India too is uncertain of China. While there have been repeated rhetoric from the Chinese side on how important this bilateral relationship is, its actions raise questions, be it the Chinese map displaying the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory or the stapled visa issue. However, unlike other Asian countries that have supported the US rebalancing, India is still shy of openly embracing the US. Thus, New Delhi is finding its own ways of sending the message that US-India relations are important, particularly in the context of Asian stability. India's new formulations and platforms such as acceptance of the US-Japan-India trilateral is a case in point. Expansion of this network to include Australia or Singapore and emergence of a new quadrilateral cannot be ruled out. Similarly, the track II engagements among the US, Australia and India could gain traction and become a more formal initiative in the coming years.

India's engagement with Southeast Asia is also likely to get more substantive in the coming years. Two decades after launching the Look East Policy, India's interactions with the region are slowly beginning to gain some strategic traction, mainly in the context of China's behaviour and Asian stability. However, ASEAN has not remained a cohesive unit in the face of an increasingly muscular China. On the other hand, a more fractured ASEAN is on display now after being a model for other regional groupings for a couple of decades. The dilemma facing ASEAN countries - economic benefits vs strategic balancing as they engage China - is nothing unique.

This provides the context for India and the US to channel their efforts in establishing a firm partnership for enabling a stable Asian order. India and the US share a common perception of an Asia that is not dominated by one single power. India, the US and Japan to a great extent have an inclusive approach towards the Asian strategic framework, willing to take along other rising powers in shaping the new order. On the other hand, China has adopted an exclusive approach to the emerging Asian order thus leading to repeated conflict of interests among the major Asian powers. India and the US are also concerned about China's growing military might and how that might create new dynamics in Asia. Both New Delhi and Washington should also encourage greater respect for international law and norms, especially freedom of the seas and open navigation.

If the leadership in both India and the US can get this larger strategic scene right, the rest will follow. One needs to obviously build meat into this strategic idea eventually. India also has to get realistic about playing power politics to its advantage. Despite the perception of a relative decline of and uncertainty about the US power, Washington will continue to be the dominant power centre for the foreseeable future. If India has to be able to rise and sit at the high-table, it has to recognise that the US can do a great deal in getting New Delhi there. The India-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver for India are cases in point. India must acknowledge here that despite the desire on the part of France and Russia to engage in nuclear commerce with India, they did not have the political capital or influence to alter the global rules of the game to accommodate India. China for all the rhetoric of Chindia, among other formulations, has used every opportunity to pull India down in the last decade.

Against such a backdrop, India has to be able to appreciate who its friends and partners are in ensuring a conducive environment for it to rise. India has to learn the art of managing multiple great power relationships. So whether India looks east or west, its aim has to be to consolidate and maximise its power quotient.

Seeking Nuclear Legitimacy, my article on India's nuclear security policy...

Here's my short essay on India's nuclear security policy, particularly in the backdrop of India's NSG membership talks... I make two points here: one, even as India has instituted rigorous measures to secure its nuclear installations, it had done poorly in advertising what it has done. two, for many of the NSG members, it is India not signing the NPT, which is at the heart of their lack of support for India's NSG membership, for instance. The sanctity of "NPT-signatory" is laughable because that is a crude way of assessing a country's nuclear non-proliferation record. China has signed the NPT but has flouted every single idea behind the treaty. On the other hand, while India is not a signatory to the NPT, it has upheld all the principles that are enshrined in the global non-proliferation regime.

The annual meeting of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was recently concluded in Buenos Aires, where India's membership issue was discussed with no clear answer. Several countries, including the US, UK, France have remained supportive of India's membership although countries such as China, among a few others, have remained opposed to the Indian membership issue. It is in the interests of India to be part of the NSG if it has to be able to shape the new non-proliferation architecture and exercise a greater say in how the global rules are played. For the international community as well, it is beneficial to have India inside the tent than outside.

Nuclear security has become an important concern for the global community. The threat of nuclear terrorism, including the so-called 'dirty bomb', has continued to increase over the last decade. The need for strengthening the current international mechanisms and establishing new rules if necessary is growing. Recognising the importance of the problem, the global community has held three 'nuclear security summits' which focused just on this problem. India has a lot to contribute to this effort, but we are being stymied by misperception about our own efforts in the nuclear security arena.

For India too, this is an important issue. The fact that the Indian Prime Minister participated in the first two nuclear security summits indicates the importance of this issue to India. New Delhi worries that one of the various terrorists groups in the region, especially those in Pakistan, might acquire some type of nuclear capacity.

While acquisition of nuclear materials and capabilities is not easy given the tight security around facilities and installations, the potential for such should not be ruled out. Accordingly, India has instituted strong measures around nuclear safety and security, which is at par with some of the other major nuclear powers. Analysts have been critical of India's policies and practices, but the reality is that India put in place both its institutional and legal architecture way back in the 1960s and 1970s. Obviously, there have been structural changes as well as amendments brought to these instruments in recognition of new threats and risks. In the backdrop of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the potential to carry out commando style attack or a sabotage by Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba is very real and India has to gear up its response mechanisms in a focused manner. Therefore, while terrorism is not a new phenomenon to India given its geographical proximity to global terrorism, it has to plan its response and contingency measures well. The ability to respond quickly and effectively, bringing together all the different agencies involved, will be a major challenge. While various agencies do periodic scenario building and exercises to test their response capabilities, mock drills involving all agencies are done very rarely.

International cooperation is particularly important given the nature of new challenges facing India in this regard. Even as India has instituted rigorous measures to secure its nuclear installations, it had done poorly in advertising what it has done. To a great extent, the consensus has been that we need not be so open in the area of nuclear safety and security. This may have served India's interests to a limited extent so far.

However, as India's interests grow and it makes efforts to integrate with the international nuclear community, its ability to shape the new non-proliferation architecture will depend to a large extent how open it is about its policies and postures. No one is arguing for total transparency wherein our security may be put to risk, but a more pro-active engagement and outlining of our broad approach might do India some good. Having said that, it should also be acknowledged that there has been some effort recently to outline India's nuclear security approach and what different measures India has taken to secure its nuclear facilities and installations. For instance, a report authored by the Ministry of External Affairs lays out in detail the structures and practices that India has adopted in the area of nuclear security.

Despite India having an elaborate system in place, the Nuclear Threat Initiative's (NTI) Nuclear Security Index 2014 has clubbed India along with countries that have extremely poor track record in nuclear security. How seriously should this be taken up? Should an attempt by a think tank to quantify this issue be accorded any importance? This question pops up in the backdrop of India trying to garner support for membership into major technology export control regimes including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It should be important that other countries know what we do, in terms of our internal practices but also what we do in the international realm, particularly with bodies such the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

There is little that one could do if groups such as the NTI come with a pre-judged position on India's nuclear security policies and practices. To counter such perceptions, not only must India put in place a lot of institutions and practices but also advertise to the world what it is doing. This is important when we are seeking membership of various nuclear clubs and because we need others' cooperation on a number of nuclear-related issues. Having said that, for many, it is India not signing the NPT, which is at the heart of their lack of support for India's NSG membership, for instance. The sanctity of "NPT-signatory" is laughable because that is a crude way of assessing a country's nuclear non-proliferation record. China has signed the NPT but has flouted every single idea behind the treaty. On the other hand, while India is not a signatory to the NPT, it has upheld all the principles that are enshrined in the global non-proliferation regime.

India can consider a few steps that might strengthen its image on this issue among the larger nuclear community. One, India's nuclear doctrine could be elucidated further and updated as a means of bringing about more clarity. This may be something that the Modi government could contemplate upon. Such measures could also be used as important tools of international messaging. Two, India could issue detailed position papers and statement at important forums like the Nuclear Security Summit and such other platforms. Three, India should communicate to the international community by using different platforms to share its perspectives and concerns. For instance, participation in international conferences, which are many a time effectively Track 1.5 platforms, are a way to garner greater support while pro-actively shaping the global discourse. India on many occasions does not appreciate the significance of such platforms and whether intended or not, it has lost out on several opportunities to effect impact. India must take corrective steps in this regard sooner than later. India's establishment of the GCNEP has gone a long way to strengthen its credibility in the area of nuclear security. India could consider additional steps, including possibly establishing a CTBT Monitoring Station, which would be seen as a positive contribution to monitoring non-proliferation challenges in the region and beyond. All this could go a long way in correcting international misperception of India in the nuclear non-proliferation and security arena.