Saturday, August 8, 2009

Military Diplomacy: India needs to use it more effectively in its conduct of diplomcy

Attached is an essay published almost two years ago on the subject. One of the issues looked at closely was the Brahmos jointly developed by India and Russia, presisely for export purposes. Today's newspapers say that both countries are close to final development and testing of the air-launched version of the BrahMos. supersonic cruise missile. Can the two countries look at the prospects of selling these missile to countries of mutual interests to both India and Russia? For instance, Brahmos has generated interest in South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. Commercial considerations coupled with strategic interests in all of these three countries would be significantly beneficial to India and Russia.

Military diplomacy is generally seen as one of the tools in the conduct of a country’s diplomacy. It should however be noted India has not made much use of it. It is not clear whether this was deliberate or simply a result of bureaucratic and political inertia. Nonetheless, the time has come for India to push the use of military diplomacy aggressively in furthering its own national interests.

Elements of Military Diplomacy
While diplomacy may be broadly defined as the art and practice of conducting a nation’s foreign relations, military diplomacy may be categorised as the conduct of foreign relations by the men in uniform or even the civilian defence ministries. Military diplomacy is also categorised under such heads as defence exchanges to include joint training with the militaries of foreign countries. However, China, which effectively uses military diplomacy, defines it in a narrower sense as “foreign affairs work performed by defence institutions and armed forces.” Yasuhiro, writing on the Chinese military diplomacy, quotes Chinese authors who have differentiated military diplomacy from political or regular diplomacy by stating that military diplomacy is “all diplomatic activities relating to national security and military diplomatic activities.”

Military diplomacy does not differ very much from the regular diplomacy in its content in the sense that it includes visits, meetings, exchanges, negotiations, participating in international conferences, treaty signings and exchanges of diplomatic documents. The difference is that all these would essentially be conducted by men in uniform or otherwise civilians in the defence ministries and that the content would be military-oriented. It should however be noted that these activities would be undertaken in tune with the general foreign and security policy guidelines set by the political leadership, but one that would have strategic and military significance. Broadly, military diplomacy aims at the following: training of one’s own military for any emergency situation, strengthening of ties with other countries, sales of weapons and military technologies, and more importantly establishment of a sphere of influence as also learn a lot about foreign militaries, their way of working, their equipments through direct interaction with such organizations. The exercises would also help in conveying a nation’s security interests/threats to the foreign countries. If one were to look at the recent SCO-China military exercises in August 2007, China announced that it intends to fight the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Despite the Russian wariness of a rising China, it participated in the exercise. The exercises were also indicative of the Chinese efforts in restraining the US influence in these countries, as also to counter any ‘China threat theory’ that might exist in any of these countries. These exercises would also provide an opportunity to understand other militaries’ organizational ethos, culture, philosophies, strengths and weaknesses and most importantly get a sense of the other military’s modernisation processes.

Facets of Military Diplomacy
The main facets of military diplomacy include strategic level activities that include defence consultations and strategic dialogues, arms transfers, regional activities, including state to state military protocols, opening of military bases, participation in bilateral and multilateral military exercises, professional military education exchanges, including Track 1.5 and Track II dialogues besides cooperation in non-traditional security areas, like sending armed forces to counter-terrorism exercises, UN Peacekeeping operations. Some of the items in military diplomacy include: exchange of military attaches, visits by military delegations, military study abroad, participation in international arms control and disarmament programmes, arms import and export, and military assistance to friendly countries. Military diplomacy also addresses the need to co-opt surrounding countries and certain advanced countries that could become potential threats in the future, and lastly a category of military diplomacy aimed at avoiding conflict.

Military Diplomacy – India
India has been lagging behind in using military diplomacy as an effective tool in its diplomacy. But this has been gradually changing over the last few years. It is important to augment this beyond the traditional level of bilateral joint exercises to include multilateral exercises in our neighbourhood and beyond as well as to engage in arms sales instead of leaving this to our neighbours like Pakistan and China, who are already engaged in such businesses and creating influence in other parts of the world.

Some of the recent actions of India including the participation in the quadrilateral exercises are steps in the right direction. India has also strengthened its bilateral defence ties with some of the Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Signing of a defence cooperation pact with Singapore in 2004 has drastically changed the fabric of New Delhi’s defence ties in the region. Similarly post-Tsunami 2004, the Indian Navy was quick to respond, first on its own, sending 35 ships, and later was joined by the US, Japan and Australia for rescue and relief operations in the region. Some of the other steps that India has initiated, which have been critical components of India’s military diplomacy in Southeast Asia, include regular discussions on the safety of sea lanes of communication (SLOC), coordinated patrols, port calls by ships, training of naval officers in Indian military institutions, and intelligence sharing particularly on maritime affairs. At the multilateral level, India joined the first trilateral naval exercises with the US and Japan off Guam, followed by the recent quadrilateral exercises with the US, Japan and Australia.

So far as joint military exercises are concerned, India has not fared too poorly. For example, the Indian Navy has conducted exercises with navies of several friendly countries, including with the French Navy (the Varuna Exercise(s)), the British Navy (the Konkan Exercise(s)), the Russian Navy (the Indra Exercise(s)), the MALABAR series with the US Navy, SIMBEX with the Singapore Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces and the Chinese PLA Navy among others. A trilateral naval exercise among the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa) is proposed to be held in May 2008. Indian ships also made port calls in Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Greece, Oman, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, South Africa, Kenya, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait during 2005-07.

While New Delhi has made significant progress with joint military exercises, it has to do more in other areas of military diplomacy. Recently, India along with China came in for criticism for its proposed arms sales to Myanmar. India has reiterated that these arms are defensive in nature. Despite the abhorrent nature of the Burmese regime, New Delhi has to go ahead with the deal not so much to increase India’s sphere of influence but to curtail that of Beijing.

Potential for Arms Sales
There are many reasons, including technological and economic, why India should consider foreign arms sales but an important one is to prevent China or Pakistan from gaining an advantage in areas of India’s concern. India should consider selling items such as the Brahmos cruise missile, and the INSAS small arms systems. Regarding Brahmos, since it was jointly developed with Russia, there might be objections from Russia. However, such issues could be sorted out. For instance, Brahmos has generated interest in South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. Commercial considerations coupled with strategic interests in all of these three countries would be significantly beneficial to India. Similarly, the INSAS small arms systems have evinced interest in some of the smaller western African countries.

Other weapon systems that India could potentially do business with include Dhruv – the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH). A multi-role new generation helicopter, produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., it has a variety of capabilities, including heliborne assault, logistic support, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and training, besides its utility as air observation post. Dhruv was featured at the Paris Air Show in June 2007, where it did see some potential buyers. HAL plans to sell six to Chile and two to Bolivia, and is making a pitch to supply some to Turkey. India also has good ship-building capabilities. Until now, India has been building destroyers though it is also building its own aircraft carrier. India builds whole range of smaller boats, ships, frigates, missile boats, patrol boats, and OPVs. India should identify potential buyers in Southeast Asia and create a niche for itself in this area too.

Among non-lethal weapons, India could possibly sell trucks, other military vehicles and radars. India is already selling trucks to the Malaysian Army; other military vehicles to some African countries and air defence radars – Indra - have been supplied to Sri Lanka. The effectiveness of the Indra radars may be questionable but it could still serve some limited purpose.

Problem Areas
India’s plans to export arms and equipments will be faced with huge problems unless the current export policy is revamped. Between the DGFT and the MOD, India has to finalise on a policy that is attractive enough to sell these weapons systems without much delay and red tapism. Revamping the export policy would also involve updating the Munitions List and the list of the Waasenaar Arrangement.

Military diplomacy, conducted as part of India’s overall diplomacy, will act as a significant catalyst in strengthening its ties with friendly countries. Successive joint military exercises with a range of nations would further deepen the content and form of bilateral ties. India needs to pursue military diplomacy much more aggressively in order to create a strategic space for itself in India’s own neighbourhood, before losing out to Beijing and Islamabad that have been cashing on India’s lethargic approach in this arena. Keeping in mind larger strategic interests and not just commercial ones, India needs to step up arms transfer relations with important countries.

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