Thursday, July 19, 2018

What Does the Trump-Putin Summit Mean for India’s US-Russia Worry? - 19 July 2018

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I wrote on the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki and what it means for New Delhi.

While some of America’s allies and partners were aghast at U.S. President Donald Trump’s performance during the recent Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reaction in India was somewhat different. There was actually greater hope than dread leading up to the summit, and in its aftermath somewhat greater disappointment at the reaction in the United States to the summit than in Trump’s performance.



The reasons are not that difficult to understand. India’s traditional and continuing security relationship with Russia and its growing partnership with the United States meant that there was a desire in India that Russia and the United States would patch up their deteriorating ties. This troubled relationship was clearly putting Russia on the defensive and pushing Moscow to seek closer ties with China and even Pakistan, leading to consternation in New Delhi.

Much of this was obviously the result of Russia’s tensions in its relations with the West in general and the United States in particular. But that tension also meant that India had to balance its relationships with two of its closest security partners. This is not a place that India wants to be in, especially as it faces growing pressure from China.

Ideally, India would like to have both Russia and the United States in its corner to deal with China. After all, both of these countries are worried about China. China’s rise is threatening to push the United States out of the Indo-Pacific, while creating a powerful potential adversary on Russia’s eastern front. They should be natural partners with each other and with India, except that they appear unwilling to recognize their clear common interest sufficiently to bury their differences. The hope was that Trump and Putin might begin to reverse course.

For the full essay, click here.



This consideration shaped much of the response of Indian commentators, although there has been no official comment from the government. Prior to the meeting, the expectation was that “any thaw in U.S.-Russia relations would come as a relief.” Analysts were also concerned about the impact CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) would have if the U.S.-Russia relations did not improve.

Some also believe that the Trump-Putin meeting provides a window of opportunity “to establish clear lines of understanding” and seek an exemption for the Indian government to procure the S-400 air defense system from Russia. Others fear a much larger dynamic could be at play and that this could set in motion the dismantling of the Eurasian geopolitical order that the United States had built and nurtured for decades. Arguments were also made highlighting the stabilizing effects of improved U.S.-Russia ties for not just the two countries but for the broader global order as well.

Indian commentators were thus both excited and nervous about the Trump-Putin meeting. An overall improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow could possibly ease the strain in Indian diplomacy. On the other hand, worsening of the U.S.-Russia ties post-Helsinki meeting could have multiple adverse reactions. For one, it will make India’s choices in the defense and security realm quite challenging. Indian interest in buying the S-400s is just one instance. Even as India has diversified its defense procurement, its defense inventory is still Russia-dominated. Additionally, there are technologies and platforms that no other country is willing to part with to India as yet, at least in the immediate time frame and therefore India will continue to be dependent on Russia for a number of important technologies, as well as spare parts and the upkeep of its existing defense infrastructure.

But more importantly, further deterioration of Russia’s ties with the West and isolationism will drive Moscow further into the China’s arms, which will exacerbate the strategic challenges for India and restrict the choices for India. A close Russia-China strategic partnership also creates real worries in the security sector. For instance, the Russian sale of advanced weapon platforms to China such as the Su-35 and the Kilo-class submarines only serve to widen the disparity in the military balance between India and China.

Furthermore, while Russia continues its diplomatic support for India in various forums for now, this could also potentially change in the future. The Russian keenness to build political and military relations with Pakistan has also raised concern in New Delhi not as much for the scale of the relations (at least for the time being) as an indicator of how far away Russia has moved away from India. The fact that the emerging Moscow-Islamabad ties could be an afterthought of the strategic ties between Russia and China offers little comfort.

Tensions between Russia and the United States might make Moscow uncomfortable with the growing ties between India and the United States, even if this is not directed at Russia. But New Delhi also sees little choice, considering the challenge it faces from China. The harsh bipartisan domestic reaction in the United States to President Trump’s performance, and his back-peddling on some of his comments with President Putin, means that there is little hope that there will be much improvement in U.S.-Russia ties in the immediate future. So, New Delhi will likely have to continue to worry about any fallout that might affect India.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What Did Moon's India Visit Achieve?, @Diplomat, July 13, 2018

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I wrote on South Korean President Moon Jae-In's visit to India.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was in India this week on a four-day state visit, after which he moved on to Singapore. The visits put a focus on South Korea’s foreign policy development under Moon and its efforts to strengthen ties with regional states.



The visits have been cast as part of Moon’s New Southern Policy, focused on India and ASEAN. Part of the rationale in this policy is that Moon is trying to diversify South Korea’s relations, particularly with significant countries in the region, beyond just China. In the backdrop of some strains in the bilateral relationship between Seoul and Beijing, there are some within South Korea who endorse this changed approach in its foreign and strategic engagements and consider it as “a timely, even necessary, development.”

For the full article, click here.



Considering the larger geopolitical developments underway in the Indo-Pacific, the expectation might have been that both Moon and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have tried to drive the bilateral relationship from an economic and trade to a security and strategic perspective.

But a look at the bilateral engagements and agreements signed by the two sides shows that economic and commercial ties still dominate this relationship. The two sides signed 11 agreements including on Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and anti-dumping.

To be sure, South Korea has long played a key role in India’s economic growth story since the early 1990s, when India liberalized its economy and opened its market. But at the same time, while trade and economic ties are important to give substance to the partnership, the two sides should not lose sight of the strategic imperative that are forcing critical shifts in their foreign policies and there are immense possibilities for the future.

During the visit, Moon and Modi announced a shared vision for building a new era of India-Korea Special Strategic Partnership, a reference to the tag that the relationship was elevated to during Modi’s visit to Seoul in 2015.

The vision spells out a number of initiatives in the foreign policy and strategic realm, reflecting the regional anxieties and tensions and a shared approach to addressing these. The two leaders have, for instance, emphasized freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce; resolving disputes on the basis of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international law; as well as contending with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which is a shared priority. They also pledged to strengthen various elements of military-to-military cooperation as well through areas like training, exchanges, and research and development.

To be sure, that shared vision does not mean South Korea and India are entirely aligned across the board on issues. South Korea so far has not been part of initiatives such as the so-called “Quad” or even other related minilaterals, in part because its own approach to China is a more complex and ambivalent one.

Nonetheless, there have been clear efforts by the Moon government to cultivate ties with other regional states such as India, whether as part of a diversification strategy or to make further inroads with respect to new strategic partners and markets. Recent incidents, including accusations of China flying military aircraft into the Korean air defense identification zone without providing prior notification and China’s combative reactions to the South Korean decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, have shaken Seoul’s confidence in Beijing. Even as relations between Seoul and Beijing have shown signs of warming up, South Korea’s quest for a broader foreign policy approach along with the need for newer markets are visible in Moon’s outreach.

Within this context, trade is still likely to be critical in the India-South Korea relationship. Especially after its business was hit hard last year following China’s reactions to South Korea’s THAAD decision, Seoul is looking to diversify its economic presence and India offers plentiful opportunities in this regard. The large export market, in addition to providing infrastructural development support, can push the India-South Korea economic relations to newer heights. In 2015, during Modi’s visit, the two sides had signed a Framework of Cooperation in the areas of road transportation and highways and another MoU in maritime transport and logistics. The two sides are also eyeing development and infrastructure projects in third countries such as in Afghanistan.

One other area where new cooperation could emerge is in defense technology. South Korea’s expertise in developing high-end defense electronics should be of particular interest to India. One of the agreements signed during the visit pertains to defense industry collaboration, and India last year signed an agreement for the development of artillery guns under the Make in India initiative. To be sure, there are obstacles: as an example, India’s plans to collaborate with South Korea for the co-production of the 12 minesweepers for the Indian Navy fell apart earlier this year due to cost and transfer of technology issues. But there definitely potential here for closer cooperation, as there is in the India-South Korea relationship more broadly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why India’s Nuclear Security Challenge Demands Attention - July 5, 2018

In last week's piece for the Diplomat, "Why India’s Nuclear Security Challenge Demands Attention," I looked at thee urgent need for India to tackle one area in nuclear security - its nuclear regulator. The government for close to a decade has been planning to get a Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill passed in the Parliament that would replace the current Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and also establish a Council of Nuclear Safety (CNS) under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The Bill was originally tabled in the Parliament in 2011 which lapsed in 2014 as the country went into general elections. It is four years since the Modi Government came into office but the Bill is yet to be introduced.

For the full essay, click here.



Nuclear security has been a key issue for India for several decades, well before the world started paying greater attention to the subject after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Given the kind of neighborhood that India is in, securing nuclear and radiological materials from a range of internal and external challenges has remained a major preoccupation.

Such concerns shaped the Indian approach, which took the form of a number of institutional and legal measures, some of which go back to the 1960s. These measures have been periodically revised to adapt to the changing threat environment. Though the likelihood of an attack on a nuclear facility may be remote, the impact of such an attack could potentially be horrendous. This has led to greater official Indian attention leading to better interface between policy, regulation, and technology to implement a more effective security practice.

Even so, India is lagging in one area: the regulation of India’s nuclear sector. For example, India’s nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is not entirely independent of the Department of Atomic Energy, calling into question the independence of the AERB.

One critical step to address this has been the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill that was initially tabled in the Indian Parliament in September 2011. The bill would have created a more independent nuclear regulator. However, with the country going into general elections, that bill lapsed and is yet to be reintroduced in the Parliament. The BJP government has not shown much inclination in attending to the NSRA bill, though it is critical of it for several reasons.

That is unfortunate. The passing of the bill and its consequences at home and abroad would be a major boost for India’s nuclear security. At home, setting up the NSRA would demonstrate the independence of its nuclear regulator, and that would certainly only improve the formulation of India’s nuclear security policies and practices. These additional steps are not difficult to establish either. India has already been practicing many additional measures, be it physical protection, nuclear transportation, or insider threats. However, India has yet to streamline these in a proper framework that is in line with international standards.

Abroad, India’s policies and the steps that it takes, especially on nuclear safety and security issues, are critical in strengthening India’s case for integration into the global non-proliferation architecture. As India once again makes its case for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the December plenary, there is an opportunity for New Delhi to showcase its efforts in this regard.

India’s officialdom needs to understand that no country has a fool-proof security regime but as in nuclear safety, nuclear security regime will continually evolve and improve. In that context, taking up and passing the NSRA bill indeed will have positive impact both internally and externally. Internally, it will only improve the security, safety and regulatory practices. Externally, it is critical to strengthen India’s nuclear security credentials among the larger global nuclear community.

The sad part is that India does have a good story to tell when it comes to nuclear security policies and practices. What India seems to lack is the self-confidence about its own achievements in nuclear safety and security and be willing to engage and learn from others as well. India has an opportunity to take the lead especially since the Nuclear Security Summit process has come to an end.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken some initiatives, such as announcing that that India will be hosting a WMD Terrorism Summit in 2018. Not much has been heard about the summit since the announcement but it is believed that India might be holding the Summit sometime early next year. With election around the corner, its prospects, along with that of the NSRA, remain in doubt.

This is why it is essential that before its term ends, the Modi government must go ahead and table the NSRA bill. In addition to replacing the AERB, the bill seeks to establish a Council of Nuclear Safety (CNS) under the leadership of the Prime Minister. This is a significant improvement over the existing AERB structure.

Of course, there are issues with how things will move forward. There are still many who question the independence and autonomy of the regulator even with a new NSRA. In response, the Modi Government undertook a series of inter-ministerial meetings to write a new draft of the NSRA bill back in 2015, but it is yet to see daylight.

But the fact remains that in whatever form an NSRA Bill is introduced, it will still be a big step forward in having a legally autonomous nuclear regulator, similar to ones that exist in countries like France, the United Kingdom and the United States. The key question now is whether this government will prioritize nuclear security and take up the Bill before the next general election.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Why Postponing the New US-India Dialogue Matters, my essay for The Diplomat on the postponement of the 2+2 Dialogue, June 29, 2018

This week, I published a second essay for The Diplomat on why postponing the New US-India 2+2 Dialogue matters. The postponement may have been entirely a scheduling issue but such developments only exacerbate the challenges of managing differences in an important, complex relationship.



Speaking in New Delhi recently, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, characterized the U.S.-India relationship as a high priority one saying, “Perhaps no other partnership has as much potential for global peace and prosperity over the next 10, 20, or 50 years.”

In reality, despite being a high priority, significant challenges remain for the relationship that require both sides to address, and recent developments have only compounded some of these. That was most recently demonstrated by the fact that even a supposedly regular mechanism such as the U.S.-India inaugural “2+2 dialogue” was postponed.

The U.S. Embassy in India issued a short statement saying that the dialogue postponement was “prompted by reasons entirely unrelated to the bilateral relationship.” As this article went to publication, reports indicate that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be travelling to North Korea next week, which suggests a possible reason for the postponement.

Irrespective of the details, the big picture is clear: even as Trump administration officials have reiterated that India is a priority country and high on the agenda, this is the second time that this new dialogue has been postponed within a year of its formulation.

For the full essay, click here.



This new dialogue initiative between India and the United States was agreed upon by the two sides during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States in June 2017. Before the postponement, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman were to travel to Washington, D.C. for this inaugural dialogue, where a number of tricky but significant issues were to be taken up.

The dialogue was meant to re-energize the relationship against the backdrop of a possible downward trend in trade and economic ties. It was also critical in the context of possible strains over the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) issue – a law passed by the United States in August 2017 and which came into effect in January this year. CAATSA penalizes entities that undertake significant transactions with Russia in the intelligence or defense sectors. New Delhi engages Moscow on both these fronts, with the defense sector being more critical.

While U.S.-India relations have broadly been on the right track, there are clearly some troubles ahead. The postponement will add one more issue to the mix, particularly with respect to the ever-lingering perception that the United States is not giving sufficient importance to India. It will also add to the existing issues that were already slated to be discussed. Rescheduling the dialogue is not an insignificant task because a number of bilateral issues need attention now and could exacerbate if they are not addressed soon.

As an example, on the economic front, India announced last week that it will impose retaliatory tariff on 29 U.S. products that will take effect on August 4, in response to unilateral U.S. imposition of higher import duties on steel and aluminum from India. India had earlier asked the U.S. government to make an exemption for India but Washington did not heed the request.

The U.S. duties will increase the cost of steel exports to the United States by $198.6 million and aluminum exports by $42.4 million. India in this regard is also reported to be taking the United States to the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement mechanism. This could galvanize support from other countries as well, including the European Union (EU) and China. After a month of verbal retaliation, the EU has also begun taking more concrete steps. Japan, Mexico, Canada, and other countries are also considering similar responses to the U.S. imposition of duties. China has already imposed a series of measures targeting the United States, to which President Donald Trump has already threatened to retaliate.

The overall impact of these measures is unpredictable but potentially quite dangerous. More worryingly, the trade war is also bringing China and U.S. allies and partners together, thus strengthening Beijing and weakening efforts to counter its other more aggressive political and military tendencies.

Another reason for a quick rescheduling of the 2+2 dialogue is because of the CAATSA headache. Though New Delhi has diversified its defense trade partners, Moscow continues to dominate the Indian defense inventory to the tune of about 70 percent. Further, India’s plans to acquire important platforms including the S-400 air defense systems could run into serious problems.

Even as the CAATSA sanctions are not aimed at India, its security implications for India will be significant given the continuing Indian dependence on Russia for defense equipment. Congressman Joe Crowley, the House Democratic Caucus chairman recently ousted in a primary, while speaking at a U.S.-India Friendship event stated that CAATSA “is a serious issue that needs to be dealt [with]. There needs to be a dialogue between the U.S. and India. Our goal is not to sanction India.” He added that “understanding the needs that India has as a nation for self-defense as well … has to be taken into consideration.”

Given that the S-400 deal with Russia is an important one for New Delhi from a national security perspective, this is likely to be an issue at the 2+2 dialogue. Acknowledging this, Nisha Desai Biswal, the former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia and the current president of the U.S.-India Business Council said, “It is something that we are all mindful of and looking at very very carefully. But I do think that we need to acknowledge and address the continuing importance for India of its relationship with Russia and how we how we manage the way forward on that issue.”

If the United States wants a strong India as its partner, Washington cannot come up with such blanket sanctions that might hamper its defense capacity-building. This could also increase some of the fears that the United States is not a credible and secure defense partner.

A third issue that needs attention is the Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA), an agreement that will offer a legal framework for India to obtain more secure, encrypted, and advanced communication equipment from the United States. This would in turn create better interoperability between the two militaries as also with other militaries that use U.S.-origin platforms with similar communication links.

The framework agreement, originally called the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) was changed to COMCASA to suit India-specific requirements. This is part of the three foundational agreements that the United States has sought with India in order to further the India-U.S. defense partnership. India in August 2016 signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which was earlier called the Logistics Services Agreement (LSA).

Looking at the slow pace with which India approached the LEMOA and the negotiations underway for signing the COMCASA, the third agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) will be a long off. Reports indicate that India and the United States are closer to signing the COMCASA, and officials familiar with the negotiations say that it only needs the political will to sign. A lot of ground was believed to be covered during the visit of Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Defense Secretary Sanjay Mitra to the United States earlier in April.

These agreements are significant because they are critical for aspects of cooperation to go forward. As an example, India’s plans to buy Guardian Avenger armed drones from the United States cannot be expected to progress if COMCASA is not signed.

It is unclear if there are technical glitches to India signing the agreement. Some reports indicate that India is concerned about possible “intrusive American access to Indian military communication systems, and about the violation of Indian sovereignty due to visits by U.S. inspectors to Indian bases to inspect the COMCASA-safeguarded equipment.” It is also argued that India’s Russian dominant defense inventory “may not be compatible” with COMCASA. But like LEMOA, the Indian opposition is almost entirely political in nature.

While each of these issues can be problematic, both New Delhi and Washington need to be mindful of the larger Asian strategic issues that have brought the two closer in the first place. If the United States wants to see a capable India that is able to balance China in an effective manner, Washington has to become more understanding of some of India’s choices. Equally, New Delhi needs to be more pragmatic about which fights it wants to pick with the United States on what issue and what it stands to lose.

Whether the two sides can accomplish this is the question. Postponing the dialogue may have been unavoidable, but it does not help either India or the United States in working out a path forward.

The Trouble with India’s Indian Ocean Diplomacy - June 26, 2018

Earlier in the week, I published a short essay on India's Indian Ocean diplomacy, where New Delhi’s record is more mixed than some of the headlines seem to suggest. I looked at three recent Indian maritime outreach: to Indonesia, Seychelles and Maldives.



For the full essay, click here.



India has for a long time had a “continental outlook,” with insufficient attention paid to maritime aspects of security. But this has begun to change over the last two decades, a reflection of India’s growing economy and the resultant need for secure trade routes and the growing security competition in the maritime space as a consequence of China’s naval expansion.

One aspect of this shift has been India’s efforts to build security partnerships in the Indian Ocean region. On this score, the record of India’s strategic shift is at best mixed. Indeed, while there are often headlines about India’s successes, with an example being India’s outreach to Indonesia with India gaining access to a strategically vital Sabang port earlier this month, in fact, India’s efforts to partner with other states have actually been less than successful, be it an agreement with Seychelles or the Maldives.

The India-Indonesia agreement to jointly develop a strategic Indian Ocean port, Sabang, which lies at the tip of the Sumatra Island and close to the Malacca Strait, has been a clear success. During the recent visit of Modi to Indonesia in May, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the press, “India is a strategic defence partner… and we will continue to advance our cooperation in developing infrastructure, including at Sabang Island and the Andaman Islands.” Earlier, Indonesia’s maritime coordinating minister, Luhut Pandjaitan is reported to have told the media that the Sabang port can be developed to handle commercial vessels as well as warships including submarines. Clearly, Modi’s Indonesia maritime gambit worked out in India’s favor, though it is important to emphasize as well that Indonesia’s own concerns with China’s expansion has been an important factor here.

Less successful has been India’s venture in Seychelles, where India had signed an agreement for developing a naval base on Assumption Island focusing on “development, management, operation and maintenance of facilities.” This was to be a joint initiative that India was to execute per the request from the Seychelles government. India was to upgrade the jetty, renovate the airstrip, and construct housing for the National Coast Guard of Seychelles. The goal was to help Seychelles step up its capacity to patrol the vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (1.3 million square kilometers) including near the Mozambique Channel, from poaching, illegal fishing, and drug and human trafficking.

However, the agreement, which was signed originally in March 2015, was renegotiated at the request of the Seychelles government because of concerns expressed by the Opposition in the National Assembly. The current government does not enjoy a majority in the National Assembly and the opposition was not entirely convinced of the agreement with India. In an Indian Parliament question and answer session, Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. (Dr.) VK Singh stated, “As per the terms of the agreement, the facilities on Assumption Island will be funded by India, owned by Seychelles and jointly managed by both sides.”

The revised agreement signed on January 27, 2018 attempted to clarify many aspects relating to ownership and conditions for Indian use. The revised agreement says that the sovereignty over the Assumption Island will still be with the Seychelles and that New Delhi cannot use the facility during war times or let vessels with nuclear materials use these facilities.

The opposition leader, Wavel Ramkalawan of Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) party, has raised several objections to the agreement including that stationing of Indian military and presence of Indian technical workers in the small island could lead to an Indian dominance of the local economy. Among other things, he was also concerned that an Indian facility could spark a regional competition between India and China because a deal with India for a base could force Seychelles to take sides.

This is a setback for India. Seychelles and India have traditionally been close defense partners. round 70 percent of the Seychelles’ military is trained by India, and in 2017, 11 Indian naval ships visited Seychelles, and eight so far this year. India established a coastal radar surveillance radar system in Seychelles in 2016 and India has also given Mahe three patrol ships and a Dornier aircraft.

In a possible effort to soften up and win over the opposition, India is reported to be donating another Dornier to the Seychelles this month. New Delhi is also exploring a trilateral cooperation involving France which could go a long way in protecting India’s maritime security interests while restricting China’s larger footprint in the region. France, for its part, has also been seeking to improve bilateral maritime ties with the island nation.

Gaining access to a facility in the Indian Ocean island nation would have been significant for India in the backdrop of China’s recently developed naval base in Djibouti. But India failed in reaching out to the Seychelles’ opposition parties, especially considering the fact that the Seychelles President Danny Faure had briefed Modi on the difficulties in implementing the agreement when the two met at the Commonwealth meeting in April this year. The visit of the Seychelles President to India this week offers New Delhi some additional opportunities to make up for lost ground in this regard.

By comparison, India’s efforts in the Maldives has turned ugly. The recent crisis in Maldives began with the imposition of Emergency by President Abdulla Yameen, openly disregarding calls from India to respect rule of law and democratic institutions. But for India, more pertinently, the bigger concern has been Maldives’ growing strategic proximity to China. Male’s endorsement of the Belt and Road Initiative and its maritime component, the Maritime Silk Road and the signing of the free trade agreement with China have infuriated the Indian leadership.

The relationship had already been spiraling downward for several months. But recent reports, such as those about job advertisements which categorically state “Indians need not apply” and reports of visa denial to Indians, will likely only further exacerbate tensions. Further, it is believed that India voted against and even campaigned against Maldives in its recent bid to secure a non-permanent seat to the UN Security Council for a period of two years.

India’s successes and failures are at least partly the consequence of the proximity of the threat. Both Seychelles and Maldives may see India as a bigger problem than China simply because of proximity, with the situation reversed to some extent in the Indonesian case. But this cannot become an excuse either. India’s diplomacy needs to get more nimble-footed to influence other countries if it wants to compete effectively with China.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What’s Next for the India-Russia Strategic Partnership? - June 16, 2018

I wrote a second piece this week for The Diplomat on what’s next for the India-Russia strategic partnership.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an “informal” meeting in Sochi in late May, the two leaders discussed a number of bilateral issues such as military and defense cooperation and international issues relevant to both India and Russia. The meeting once again put the attention on the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Moscow, which continues to be significant, but also faces a number of challenges.

For the full essay, click here.



Many of the areas of convergence were unsurprisingly on display during the meeting at Sochi. In terms of outlook, the two leaders endorsed and emphasized the importance of their Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership for global peace and stability and the role of the two in shaping “an open and equitable world order.” Both Modi and Putin underlined the need to develop “a multipolar world order” while increasing consultations and coordination including on the Indo-Pacific, even though the two sides differ in their characterization. Foreign Minister Lavrov, while speaking to the media on the informal summit, talked about it as the Asia-Pacific region, a formulation preferred by China, whereas the Indian Ministry of External Affairs referred to it as the Indo-Pacific region. Putin and Modi also reiterated the importance of continuing their work together in platforms such as the United Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS), and G-20.

Issue-wise, cooperation in the energy and economic sectors dominated the two leaders’ discussions. The progress seen in the bilateral trade – about 20 percent in 2017 and about 40 percent in the first few months of 2018 – was highlighted by both sides. In an effort to keep up the momentum, the NITI AAYOG and the Russian Ministry of Economic Development will be engaged in an annual strategic economic dialogue.

Nevertheless, it is the civil nuclear energy and defense cooperation that will dominate the relationship. The technical aspects for the construction of the fifth and sixth units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (NPP) have been finalized by Rosatom. During a recent visit to the NPP manufacturing site in Rostov sponsored by Rosatom, I was able to witness the progress of these including the units that will be transported to Kudankulam.

More fundamentally, while the two leaders highlighted the tried and tested nature of their partnership, in truth India-Russia ties have been lately going through a rough patch. For more than a decade now, the bilateral relationship has been characterized by increasing strains.

Several factors have contributed to it. For one, in the wake of the Ukraine crisis in 2013, it is clear that Russia wanted China’s support because China’s opinion carries greater weight globally than India’s. This is evident in the continued strategic outreach efforts made by Russia towards China, further reflected in a number of strategic agreements between Moscow and Beijing. The manner in which Putin in 2013 rapidly wrapped up an agreement on natural gas sale to China for 30 years – negotiations that had been dragging on for a decade – was a reflection of Moscow’s eagerness to work with China. This was over and above the earlier deals in 2009 and 2013 for the sale of oil on a long-term basis.

But far more consequential is the Russian sale of weapons systems to China that have direct security implications for India. Moscow’s sale of Su-30 30MKK/MK2 fighters and especially the Su-35 are likely to have an immediate and tangible impact on the Sino-Indian military balance and India’s security. Then there is the sale of S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles, which China is reportedly already deploying, though it seems like India may get the same system too.

Second, India’s efforts at diversifying its defense procurement and thus bringing in other partners such as the United States, Israel, and France has also impacted the relations. In the absence of a strong bilateral economic and trade relationship, India-Russia relations must have a robust defense ties and any downgrading of those ties could have adverse impact on the overall state of India-Russia ties. Till a few years ago, India’s largest defense trade partner was Russia, but Israel and the United States have overtaken Russia in the last few years.

Even so, India’s defense inventory continues to be dominated by Soviet/Russian systems, to the tune of close to 70 percent. Also, when it comes to certain critical platforms such as nuclear submarines, Russia’s importance cannot be understated. Therefore, as India engages in the process of diversifying its defense trade partners, perception management and explaining the rationale and imperative to Russia will go a long way in assuaging Moscow’s concerns about India’s leanings.

Third and possibly the most significant has been India’s growing proximity to the United States. Driven by fear of China, India has grown strategically closer to Washington in recent years, though lately New Delhi’s foreign policy leaning may appear a lot more confused. Prime Minister Modi’s Shangri-La Dialogue speech earlier this month in Singapore was a good reflection of this.

These three developments have dampened bilateral relations between India and Russia. For India, the critical question is whether Russia will stand by India in any dispute with China. Moscow’s stand during last year’s Doklam crisis did not inspire much confidence in New Delhi. On the other hand, New Delhi understands that it cannot afford to drive Moscow into Beijing’s hands. Any strategic partnership between Russia and China does not augur well for India. Whether India can do much about this is unclear, but New Delhi is definitely trying.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Can India Make Headway in the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2018? - June 14, 2018

My third essay in June for The Diplomat - Can India Make Headway in the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2018? - focused on the NSG plenary that is underway this week and examining India's NSG membership issue. How likely is the NSG to discuss and make progress on the issue? Despite New Delhi’s continued hopes and some encouraging signs, significant challenges remain.


Becoming an NSG member would be a major foreign policy achievement for the Modi government but given China’s opposition, it is unlikely that this week’s plenary will see any forward movement. Nevertheless, given India’s technological advancements and its potential to engage in nuclear commerce in the future, it should be an imperative for the participating governments to bring India into the NSG tent rather than leave it outside.

For the full essay, click here.



The next plenary of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is taking place this week, and a second plenary for the year later in December. India is making some serious but quiet efforts to garner support for its membership into the group, an exclusive club of 48 nuclear supplier countries.

The NSG strives to uphold and strengthen the nonproliferation architecture by implementing its own guidelines to regulate nuclear commerce. India has now become a member of three of the four export control mechanisms that deal with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other strategic technologies – the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016, the Wassenaar Arrangement in December 2017, and the Australia Group in January 2018.

Upon admission into the Australia Group, the group announced, “With its admission into the AG, India has demonstrated the will to implement rigorous controls of high standards in international trade, and its capacity to adapt its national regulatory system to meet the necessities of its expanding economy.” With accession to the three export control regimes, India has attempted to prove its nonproliferation credentials, particularly important because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Becoming an NSG member would be a major foreign policy achievement for the Modi government but given China’s opposition, it is unlikely that this week’s plenary will see any forward movement. Nevertheless, given India’s technological advancements and its potential to engage in nuclear commerce in the future, it should be an imperative for the participating governments to bring India into the NSG tent rather than leave it outside.

India’s membership bid was first taken up for discussion at the Seoul plenary in June 2016 but Beijing at first even refused to entertain India’s case for discussion, using as an excuse India’s refusal to join the NPT. Though they were some other countries that were also unenthusiastic about India’s membership, it was China’s opposition that scuttled India’s entry into the NSG. The question is whether the recent bonhomie between India and China following the informal summit in Wuhan changed ground realities in India’s favor.

Indian security analysts believe that things are looking up for India. Many believe that there is a considerable shift in India-China relations after Modi’s meeting with Xi in Wuhan on April 27 and 28. While there is a general mood of optimism in the air and the optics of the relationship have improved, it is too early to suggest concrete positive changes in the bilateral relations between the two. Since the NSG makes decisions on the basis of consensus, there is little chance of India being able to join the NSG unless China drops its opposition.

Currently, India is believed to have undertaken some quiet diplomacy in reaching out to strategic partners and friends to push India’s membership at the upcoming NSG plenary. India has been in touch with countries such as the United States, Russia, and the Netherlands to make a concerted push at this week’s plenary.

The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, during his recent visit to India reaffirmed the Dutch support to India’s NSG aspirations. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit noted, “In order to further strengthen global non-proliferation, the Netherlands reaffirmed its strong support to building consensus among regimes’ members on the issue of India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group; recognizing that India’s accession will add value to the aims and objectives of these regimes.”

It is not clear as to what extent these countries have been successful in effecting a change of mind in Beijing. India has also been articulating the need to have a merit-based approach while considering new applicants. India’s clean nonproliferation track record along with the NSG waiver in 2008 should strengthen the case for India. But there is also some understandable fear that member-states will get stuck at first establishing criteria to consider new membership cases.

Meanwhile, India is also trying to work with other countries such as Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, to head-off any procedural issue – which usually is an excuse — with examining the Indian application. South Africa has more than on one occasion extended support to India’s NSG membership bid.

India’s heightened diplomatic outreach to many of the NSG member countries is testament to the importance of this to the Modi Government. In May this year, the two ministers from the Ministry of External Affairs, MJ Akbar and VK Singh, were in Austria and Argentina respectively pushing the NSG agenda. India also hosted the foreign minister of Serbia in May.

But clearly, the big puzzle is China. If China were to behave as a more magnanimous power, it could change not only Sino-Indian relations for the better, but potentially wider Asian power dynamics as well. But this is far from certain.

My contribution to the ChinaFile Conversation this week - One Year After They Almost Went to War, Can China and India Get Along?

This week's ChinaFile Conversation @AsiaSociety focused on India-China relations, specifically looking at the likelihood of another border stand-off that might erupt in the near future - One Year After They Almost Went to War, Can China and India Get Along?. This is a pertinent question to ask, a year after the Doklam conflict. The ChinaFile Conversation carried short write-ups from other experts as well, including: Jeff Smith, Oriana Skylar Mastro, Sameer Lalwani.


I argue that even as Sino-Indian relations have stabilized since the serious military confrontation last year at Doklam, the fundamental problems between the two sides continue to persist. The “informal” Wuhan summit between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi was touted as the “reset” in the bilateral relations. The two leaders have met again at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, and there are more meetings planned. The talks are believed to have improved understanding between the two sides even as substantive issues between India and China remain.
Though there is optimism, there appears to have been no significant progress made on issues that are crucial to both sides.

For the full article, click here.



Though there is optimism, there appears to have been no significant progress made on issues that are crucial to both sides. Beijing has yet to accept India’s concerns on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) branch of the BRI, or support India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or India’s efforts to use multilateral tools to contain Pakistan’s support for terrorism. India remains concerned also about China’s greater role and presence in the maritime space in India’s neighborhood, and China has not taken steps to reassure India that its intentions are benign.

For China, India’s lack of endorsement of the BRI may still irritate. India has supported regional connectivity proposals, but New Delhi has articulated that “connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality, and must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Accordingly, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has stated that the “so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereign.”

While these are important parameters for both India and China to judge the state of the relations, a more critical and a deep-rooted problem is the competition for the Asian strategic space. Beijing believes its rise is a natural phenomenon and it approaches the world in a hierarchical manner, which is increasingly problematic for a number of countries in the Indo-Pacific, including India. The speech delivered by China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the sixth Xiangshan Forum, held in October 2015, reveals China’s view: he spoke about the responsibility of “big countries” in not creating spheres of influence while small and medium countries should not take sides between big countries. The Chinese division of the international system into big, medium, and small countries itself reflects China’s hierarchical view of the international system and the differentiated role that it has assigned to itself as a big country and to its neighbors as small countries that ought to know their place. This line of thinking repeated itself when President Xi discussed with President Obama the format for developing a new pattern of major country relations. Such an approach is hardly the way to reassure its neighbors or win friends. The Asian strategic order that China seems to want is one where it sees itself as the hegemon. Therefore, even as relations have become warmer, it is unlikely that Sino-Indian relations have stabilized for good. Border stand-offs like Doklam are just the beginning of a troubling phase in Asian security.

Time for Global Action Against Radiological Threats

In my second essay for The Diplomat, I focused on the radiological security threats and argued the need to streamline global efforts to confront this challenge. Despite the serious security, environmental and health risks from radiological sources, global mechanisms to regulate this sector has been far and few.

As a general proposition, the security of nuclear and radiological materials has been a global concern since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when there were fears that these materials and expertise from Soviet Union would fall into the wrong hands.

But the issue only really gained serious attention only after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. In its aftermath of the incident, there were genuine worries that terrorists may get hold of these materials.

The fears are not unfounded – according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), there were a total of 2,889 confirmed incidents involving nuclear and radiological materials between 1993 and 2015. Though only around 25 countries around the world have nuclear materials in their possession, radiological sources are far more widely available because of their dual-use nature and their use for medicinal, industrial, and agricultural purposes.

While there are a number of radioactive materials, not all pose serious risks. Some of the high-risk category materials include cobalt-60, cesium-137, iridium-192, strontium-90, americium-241, californium-258, plutonium-238, and radium-226. The risks of each of these sources depends on the amount of radioisotope present in the source, the kind of exposure, and the kind of radiation it emits, among other things. Cesium-137 is one of the materials which raises concerns as it is easily available because of its large-scale use in the medical and other commercial sectors. There have been a number of incidents of theft and illicit trafficking of cesium-137.

Radiological material in the hands of terrorists could pose serious risks because it could be used it to develop a dirty bomb, what is called a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD). Their widespread use makes it impractical to control them. While these materials cannot be used to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD), they could create massive disruption.

For the full essay, click here.



An RDD weapon will not result in mass casualties. But they could cause mass panic, especially in places that are densely populated. In addition, these weapons could have economic, psychological, and social impacts. Anne Harrington, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation outlined these in 2014: “An RDD detonated in a major metropolitan area could result in economic costs in the billions of dollars as a result of evacuations, relocations, cleanup, and lost wages.”

In addition to RDDs, radiological materials can also be used to make a Radiation Emission Device (RED), which can spread radiation to a large number of people if kept in an enclosed location such as a train compartment.

While national level measures need to be introduced and streamlined, equally important is the need to strengthen global measures to prevent and mitigate the threats from radiological weapons. Given its wide applications in the civilian sectors, maintaining a global inventory of radiological sources through national channels is an important requirement. A national registry of such materials can be made mandatory only if there is collective effort at the global level.

Additionally, monitoring “orphan” materials that have been discarded by hospitals and industries, military and laboratories also need to be brought under a global framework. A serious incident took place in Brazil in 1987 when a hospital that was using cesium-137 shifted to a new campus but carelessly discarded a teletherapy unit in its old premises. The locals who dismantled the unit had no clue of the dangerous material that they were being exposed to, resulting in four deaths.

Asia, too, is not immune from this radiological threat. There has been an incident in Bangkok when an individual was arrested with 66 pounds of cesium-137. There was also an incident in India in 2010 that involved Cobalt-60. Each of these incidents happened due to oversight, improper handling and disposal of radiological sources. All of these are indicative of the flaws in the current systems and regulations and therefore suggestive of the urgent need to write or strengthen global measures for radiological security.

Despite the high-risks from radiological sources, there are no legally-binding mechanisms regulating the spread and use of these sources. The IAEA has, for instance, a non-legally binding “Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources,” published in January 2004 but these, as the name suggests, are merely suggestions for states to voluntarily adopt. There is an additional document called the “Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources,” approved and issued originally in September 2004, which is also not mandatory.

Therefore, one of the first steps that the IAEA members and others must consider are ways to review and strengthen the existing international radiological security measures. Developing a binding agreement for securing radiological materials and expanding the support base for the IAEA Code of Conduct will be the first baby step to developing more holistic measures.

It is a shame that all the IAEA member states are not yet parties to the Code of Conduct. While many countries have argued that there must be a binding Convention developed for radiological security, it is more important to get sufficient endorsements to the existing Code before moving towards a formal, mandatory Convention. Also, given the current state of relations among the great powers, the likelihood of developing consensus, especially for mandatory, legal instruments appears bleak.

Therefore, states must consider simpler and pragmatic steps to control pilferage of radioactive sources especially those used in medical facilities, as they are least protected physically. Better licensing procedures and accounting of materials used in industries and medical sectors also need to be instituted to avoid theft and illegal possession.

Meanwhile, as a long-term solution, states need to work on alternate technologies to reduce dependency on such high-risk sources. The IAEA has, for instance, begun exploring alternate sources to cobalt-60 and cesium-137, which are two of the most widely used radiological materials used in hospitals and industries. But states also need to be given incentives to make the shift from cobalt-60 and cesium-137 to less riskier options.

Last but not the least, there should be a global effort to convening forums such as the Nuclear Security Summit for radiological security that can bring focused attention to an otherwise neglected area of security. Such an initiative could bring multiple stakeholders including industry who could also share their best practices which may help in shaping future instruments.

my Shangri-La Dialogue Remarks

This was my second time at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue which is Asia's premier defence summit, a unique meeting of ministers and delegates from over 50 countries. 2017 was my first appearance at this premier Dialogue and I had contributed an essay on India's evolving strategic response to China which appeared in the IISS' Regional Security Assessment 2017.

This year, the keynote address was delivered by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was a much-awaited one, particularly because of the general low-key and irregular participation from the Indian establishment.

This time around, the IISS organised an inaugural female leaders panel to talk about the strategic implications of new technology on the security dynamics in the Indo-Pacific. It was a terrific panel featuring Australian Minister of Defence Ms. Marise Payne, Canadian Deputy Minister of Defence Ms. Jody Thomas and CEO of Boeing Defence, Space and Security Ms. Leanne Caret and ably chaired by the IISS’ Deputy Director General Dr. Kori Schake. My brief was to look at the nuclear and space advancements and competition in the Asia Pacific, and also the strategic competition between India and China in the Asia Pacific as it relates to these two domains.

Here is the synopsis of my remarks.

Asia is already rife with mistrust, rivalry, competition and both nuclear and space domains are beginning to see a fresh phase of competition. This is a reflection of the larger geopolitical competition in the Asia Pacific and beyond. While there are several factors that have driven this competition, China’s rise has been most consequential. The rise of China and the strategic uncertainties it has created has necessitated countries like India, US, Japan, Australia and other like-minded countries to come together, though this is still at a nascent stage. The augmentation of nuclear and space capabilities will only accentuate the already existing tensions.

I outlined two sets of concerns each with regard to nuclear and space technologies. On the nuclear front, the key concern is potentially the inability of the nuclear non-proliferation regime to deal with the many challenges which present with serious problems for strategic stability. One is the development of hypersonic weapons. A key problem here is that such weapons can increase the potential for surprise attacks, because of the difficulty of detecting and countering them. This could lead to a destabilizing arms race spiral between key great powers in the region, all of whom are working on developing these weapons. An additional problem is that hypersonic weapons potentially erode the line between conventional and nuclear weapons, which will also increase instability. Another evolving technology is BMD, which also has similar problems.

Coming to outer space issues, two issues stand out. There is a growing intensity of competition which is partially due to the increasing number of commercial players and partially due to underlying geopolitical tensions. Outer space has become one more area of the strategic competition on Earth, as seen during the Cold War. 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. Two, the number of countries using space assets to step up their military capabilities and national security functions has gone up. Also, the fact that states are looking at space utilization for conventional military operations as against the use for strategic operations in the earlier decades, has added a new dimension.

Over and above, automation, machine learning and AI bring in new dynamics to security in the Asia-Pacific.

Finally, I took a couple of minutes to speak about the strategic competition primarily between India and China in the nuclear and space arenas. India’s nuclear weapons programme has been evolving at a slow but steady pace, and it can be expected to continue expanding in both quantity and quality. Like in space and other areas, much of this expansion is driven by the need to build adequate deterrent capacity against China. It is estimated that India currently has around 100 nuclear warheads, of which only half are strategic missiles. But most of India’s long-range missiles are not sufficiently long enough to cover all of China unless they are deployed in northern India. This is true of both the land-based and submarine-based missiles. This means that India will continue developing its capabilities for the near- to long-term but this could trigger negative reactions from China on the one side, and from Pakistan from the other.

However, it must be noted that India is at least a couple of generations behind China and India is not in competition with China in numerical terms but the need to develop certain capabilities and capacities as a deterrent against China will continue. In the space sector, demonstration of China’s military space capabilities, including ASATs, is driving the militarization of India’s space program. This will propel further competition between these two powers.


Type rest of the post here

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Strategic Logic of Modi’s Indonesia Visit - my OpEd in The Diplomat, June 6, 2018

It has been a busy month and I am once again lagging behind in writing my posts but let me try and get up-to-date.

In the first week of June, I wrote a piece for The Diplomat looking at the strategic logic of Modi's Indonesia visit. Modi undertook a three-nation Southeast tour before heading to make his maiden speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue. His short visit to Malaysia was importance because of the change in leadership in Kuala Lumpur but I thought his Indonesia visit was a really substantial one. This visit has been planned for a while and the trip reinforced both the growing strategic alignment between New Delhi and Jakarta as well as its limits.

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a three-nation visit to Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore – in an effort to give a fillip to India’s ‘Act East’ Policy. India’s Act East Policy acquired fresh momentum when Modi re-launched the original Look East Policy at the East Asia Summit in 2014. Most recently, the leaders of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries were in India for the 69th Republic Day celebrations in January 2018, a reflection of the growing strategic convergence between India and Southeast Asia in ensuring a free, open, and transparent Indo-Pacific.

Driven by the China factor, Modi’s visit to the three key states in Southeast Asia has the potential to propel greater strategic engagement especially in the maritime domain, but India’s capacity and strategic interest in playing a proactive role in the region is key. The most interesting of the three stops was Modi’s visit to Indonesia.

For the full essay, click here.



Indonesia remains a key player within Southeast Asia for several reasons. Most clearly, Indonesia will be essential in extending India’s maritime outreach. Indonesia is the largest archipelagic state, and has a coastline of 108,000 kilometers, 17,504 islands, and a total of maritime areas of 6,400,000 square kilometers, including its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The distance from India’s Andaman Islands to Indonesia’s Aceh province is barely 80 nautical miles, underscoring the importance to both India and Indonesia of the importance of enhanced maritime cooperation for the continuing peace, stability and economic prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.

These make India and Indonesia two key maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific, and the two navies have partnered in naval exercises for several years now with naval ships patrolling between the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits. But it has also become clear that is is time to deepen these engagements in the light of the changing strategic dynamics in the broader Indo-Pacific front.

Modi’s visit to Jakarta from May 29-30 witnessed extensive strategic discussions with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on everything from maritime issues to outer space and broader defense cooperation. According to the joint statement signed by the two leaders, the big underlying emphasis was the “importance of achieving a free, open, transparent, rules-based, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty and territorial integrity, international law, in particular UNCLOS, freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and an open, free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are respected.”

Modi and Jokowi emphasized also the importance of rule of law, in particular the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), clearly with China’s recent behavior in mind. Elevating the importance of Andaman Islands and increasing maritime connectivity were also emphasized during the visit.

Indonesia has also shown some interest in joining the Bay of Bengal initiative, which appears sensible both from an economic and security perspective. Given the geographical proximity of the Andaman Island with Sumatra Island to the south, Indonesia should be part of this initiative. The Lombok Strait also provides “an easy access to the Indian Ocean and Australia.”

India has also shown interest in joining the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), a four-nation arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand for exchange of intelligence, and coordinated air and sea patrol through the Malacca Straits. But India may have to wait a bit on this. For one, New Delhi does not appear to have paid much attention to the mechanics of how the MSP operations actually work. For instance, a meeting among technical experts on May 10 explored the issue but it is reported that “both sides quickly realised that the Indian side had not fully come to grips with the nuts and bolts of the MSP.” India expected that its navy could undertake patrols in the Malacca Straits, whereas under the MSP, each of the four countries do “coordinated patrols” within their own territorial waters and do not cross into each other’s waters.

Similarly, New Delhi also appears not to have understood how MSP aerial patrols work, assuming that Indian aircraft could patrol on their own in the region, which is not the MSP practice. New Delhi will have to prepare much more professionally in future engagements. As a political face-saver, the joint statement issued by the Modi and Jokowi simply noted that the technical experts meeting on May 10 was “to explore ways in enhancing strategic technical cooperation on maritime security.”

For another, Indonesia and others in the MSP also appear to worry about setting a precedent that China can exploit if they allow an extra-regional power such as India join the MSP. These are understandable concerns, and New Delhi and the MSP countries will have to figure out carefully how they can cooperate but at a pace and manner that is comfortable for all.

India appears to have assumed that China’s aggressive push in South China Sea would make Southeast Asian states welcome India with open arms, but New Delhi must realize they have their own concerns about antagonizing China. Nonetheless, there is an underlying commonality of strategic concerns that can be the foundation for deepening ties, even if both sides have to be careful in how they proceed. But proceed they must.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

A new space race in Asia, my article in East Asian Forum

The East Asian Forum of the Australian National University published an article of mine, titled, A new space race in Asia, which examines the new and evolving geopolitical context that has pushed India to become more active in strengthening space cooperative engagements with countries such as Japan, France and the US. Indeed, rise of China and the strategic consequences of its rise have been important contextualising factors for these countries to coordinate their space programmes and policies.




Asia houses three established space powers — Japan, China and India — with space exploration goals ranging from social and economic development to improving telecommunications and national security. But it is the national security drivers of Asian space exploration that are becoming more prominent, partly driven by the changing balance of power equations both within Asia and beyond.

China’s growing space capabilities are driving much of the space competition in Asia. For one, it has led to greater cooperation in space exploration between India and Japan. In September 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to put outer space at the centre of their bilateral relationship. They 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’. Later in November 2017, the president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum announced that ‘India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia Pacific region’.

The Indian space program is more than six decades old, and until recently, New Delhi’s primary focus was in using space technology to improve social and economic conditions for its population. Before China’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January 2007, India appeared to think that security competition in outer space was confined to the big powers. The Chinese ASAT test awakened India to the kind of challenges it needs to confront in its own backyard and demonstrated that even areas of the global commons such as outer space are not spared from terrestrial geopolitical competition. The ASAT test gave way to new debates in India on the kind of counter-space capabilities that it must develop to protect its own space assets.

India says that it has the technological blocks for a successful demonstration of an ASAT capability, should the need arise. An Indian ASAT test would go against the grain of India’s decades-long stance that space must be used for peaceful purposes alone and must not be weaponised. This shift in rhetoric reflects India’s recognition that if it does not keep up with emerging trends in space, it stands to lose in a critical area of technology.

Similar deliberations are taking place in Japan and the new Japanese space policy highlights space security as a key focus area.

Yet space competition in Asia began well before the Chinese ASAT test. China’s first manned space mission in October 2003 — making China the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to achieve this feat — provided the initial spark. This achievement is part of China’s larger plan to carry out a human exploration program, which has as its final goal the development and operation of a Chinese space station in low earth orbit. At a time when the International Space Station will be winding down its operation, China plans to get its own station up and running by 2024.

China’s growing counter-space capabilities, including developing technologies such as the robotic arm, and the increasing number of close rendezvous operations of Chinese satellites are also raising concerns about the possible security implications of China’s military space program.

In response to China’s accomplishments in space, India and Japan initially looked at pursuing their own independent lunar missions. But so far they have not been able to successfully compete with China’s robotic exploration program. For instance, China’s Chang’e robotic lunar exploration program is considered technologically far superior to anything India or Japan could develop. The Chang’e 4 mission plans to land and explore the surface on the far side of the Moon, which no other country has done so far. Neither India’s ad hoc lunar and Mars robotic missions nor Japan’s exploration of the Moon and near-Earth objects come close to challenging China in this regard. India and Japan have instead decided to combine their efforts, outlined in the Modi–Abe statement.

India is also undertaking meaningful conversations with other space players, such as France and the United States. With China’s aggressive posturing in the South China and East China seas and its growing profile in the Indian Ocean, the use of space assets to achieve maritime domain awareness (an understanding of issues related to the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of a country) has the potential to emerge as a shared area of cooperation among India, the United States, Japan and France.

All of this suggests that a new space race is heating up in Asia that is compounded by the region’s changing balance of power alignments. Space is becoming yet another domain of competition among Asia’s great powers. It can no longer be seen as an innocent and cooperative arena of policymaking, and one cannot remain sanguine about outer space stability.

It is unlikely that the balance of power equation in Asia will stabilise anytime soon, which would suggest that the budding space race is only going to continue to intensify into the future.

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on drone regulations in India and why that Policy needs a rethink. New Delhi needs to think more about drone technology and its domestic, regional, and global implications.

Though India is beginning to deal with the impact of drone technology, unsurprisingly, the Indian government has been slow to understand the implications, both at the domestic and at the international level.



For the full essay, click here.



India has had military drones – or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – for many years and is also developing combat versions (UCAVs or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles). But the use of drones for civilian purposes remain underdeveloped, because regulations regarding the technology are not yet fully established. At the same time, India has not been as active as it could be in the international debate about global governance aspects of drone technology, which represents a lost opportunity for New Delhi.

The development of drones has had a significant impact in a number of ways. The obvious one is its application in warfare. A number of countries around the world use drones for military operations, for applications such as reconnaissance and surveillance, search and rescue operations, and border patrols, as well as combat. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden famously said that “Targeted killing using drones has become part of the American way of war.”

Of course, drone use now goes beyond military applications. Use of UAVs in the commercial and social sectors has increased. Many large corporations are looking at using drones for a number of different functions. For instance, Amazon stated in 2013 that it will use drones for delivery of packages and has been exploring its feasibility since then. It even did its first drone delivery in the university town of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in July 2016. Monitoring critical infrastructure such as ports, power plants, and infrastructure construction with drones are other important civilian functions that are being explored.

Given the multiplicity of functions both in the civilian and sectors, the use of drones and the market for drones is expected to pick up – a recent Goldman Sachs report said the global spending on UAVs over the next five years will be approximately $100 billion. A large chunk of this spending is likely to be on the commercial and civil sector. However, there are still several questions about the legal, regulatory, and policy aspects, both at the global governance and the national levels, that need to be addressed.

In India, the first true notification regarding drones came as a Public Notice issued by the Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s civil aviation regulator, on October 7, 2014. The document listed out the need for potential operators to take “approval from the Air Navigation Service provider [Airport Authority of India], defense, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other concerned security agencies, besides the DGCA,” onerous conditions that in reality means a near complete ban on drones. It also stated that the “DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonize those) for certification & operation for use of UAS in the Indian Civil Airspace.”

Two years later, in April 2016, the DGCA prepared another set of draft guidelines on the use of drones for civilian or recreational purposes and sought comments from different stakeholders for a period of 21 days. In October 2017, the DGCA produced another set of guidelines seeking once again comments from the stakeholders by December 31, 2017. However, the government is yet to formalize these draft guidelines into policy measures or manuals.

It appears clear that the Indian government is yet to comprehend the rapid changes taking place within the industry, and that the repeated draft guidelines are a reflection of the pressure they are facing from multiple stakeholders to develop an effective regime. It should worry New Delhi that despite a near complete ban on drones, there have been large number of drone sightings in Indian skies. Indian policymakers need to recognize that blanket bans do not work.

A new policy framework is needed, which must effectively address issues such as liability in case of drone-to-drone collisions and interference, regulatory, legal, and quality control and licensing requirements. For instance, a conspicuous lacuna is that the DGCA circulators do not mention anything about import standards, even though the majority of the drones in India are imported. The lack of a policy outline on quality control for indigenously manufactured- and built-drones is equally troubling.

At the international level, policy regulations for drones are still in the making. But New Delhi will be well advised to take an active part in the discussions because new global rules will surely affect its interests. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been the primary platform leading the global governance efforts. Though these efforts began in 2007, an outcome is expected only later this year. The ICAO has issued several rules in the form of circulars and manuals but for obvious reasons, these are stop-gap measures. Meanwhile, a few countries have established certain ground rules with regard to the use of drones. It may be useful for ICAO to consult these as well before coming out with its own guidelines.

For New Delhi, there are both domestic and international imperatives for paying greater attention to this critical issue. But whether Indian bureaucracy’s glacial pace and coordination problems will permit this is anybody’s guess. Thus far, the record does not seem encouraging in this respect.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Quad Reborn, my article The Diplomat Magazine

The May issue of The Diplomat magazine was a special issue on the quad. A decade after it was first proposed, the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia are getting the squad back together. I wrote the Indian perspective for this essay.



For the full essay by five authors, click here.

The idea itself is rather simple: the Indo-Pacific’s four most prominent and powerful democracies engaging directly on the basis of shared security interests and mutual geopolitical concerns. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the Quad – is an idea whose time came and passed quickly a decade ago and seemingly has arrived again. In this month’s cover story, we aim to present the perspectives of the Quad countries on the concept, its rebirth, and its future. As the following four perspectives show, the United States, Japan, India, and Australia share as much as they differ and the reborn Quad continues to face challenges in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

Jeff M. Smith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, charts the re-emergence of the Quad concept, a decade after it was first proposed, and why it has come back to life at this particular moment in history.

Yuki Tatsumi, co-director of the East Asia Program and Director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, then takes up the case of Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the originator of the Quad in his first term as prime minister back in early 2007, has a unique stake in its success this time around.

I laid out India’s perspective in the essay. In the years since the first Quad failed to take wing, India’s relationship with China has deteriorated. This informs New Delhi’s revived interest in the concept, which would link India to a wider security network in Asia.

Rory Medcalf and David Brewster, head of college and senior research fellow, respectively, at Australian National University’s National Security College, present the view from Australia. For Australia, they write, the revived Quad is “a natural reflection of an evolving Indo-Pacific strategy of creative balancing and adaptive diplomacy.”



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