Saturday, March 19, 2011
Libya NFZ: An Opportunity for India
Here's the link to an article of mine on the Libyan NFZ and analyzing whether there is an opportunity for India.
While India's abstention at the UN vote on Libya is debatable, is there an opportunity for India and the Indian Air Force in particular in the Libyan crisis?
Now that there is a UN resolution, India could really raise its political capital in the US, France, and UK if it participated in implementing the No Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya. A legal UN way to showcase out of area ops and relevance seems like a perfect opportunity for the Indian Air Force (IAF). India may not be required to send fighters instead may get to 'practice compatible operations' on the new AWACS. India has been cooperating with several air forces from around the world on a bilateral basis but a multinational operation under the UN umbrella has far reaching consequences. IAF establishing connections with US Air Force, Royal Air Force, French Air Force, AFRICOM, EUCOM, TRANSCOM and TACC (Tanker Airlift Control Center), particularly important for future humanitarian ops, would widen India's number of points of influence and broadcast.
Even if the Air Force is looking for an opportunity to cooperate, the lead has to come from the political side. Indian forces have not traditionally got itself involved in conflict situations; it has been active only in situations such as disaster management like during the post-Tsunami humanitarian and recovery operations in 2005. India in fact has stretched itself to undertake Peace Keeping Operations (PKOs). Shouldn't India put on the gear to take on more responsibility as it assumes more clout and power in the international arena?
More specifically on the Libyan issue, the question is why not. It is to be noted that the NFZ was asked for by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference. India could look responsive and attentive to the larger Muslim community and human rights. These are by no means risk-free options for India or even for other countries. If it were such easy, risk-free options, the world would not have pondered over and watched the Libyan regime threatening "rivers of blood." But India cannot afford to sit back and relax and expect to become a major power, without assuming any responsibility.
What can India offer to the coalition under the UN umbrella? At an operational tactical level, Indian tankers or airlift or CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) might be valuable. More importantly, it is a perfect chance to gain operational experience. Additionally, India could consider offering satellite imagery support. Getting an Indian planner into the CAOC (Combined Air and Space Operations Center) would be major and would go a long way; they would learn so much and form valuable connections for the future.
Meanwhile, it appears that Qadafi has already called a ceasefire, so nobody may need to actually do anything.
However, even the public and enthusiastic offer to provide support by India's political leadership would be transformational, and yet another way to increase perceptions that India belongs in the club of UN Security Council, and nations to be courted for global governance and action and to differentiate us from strategic competitors that 'would not be invited to the party.'
The abstention is not a problem, although the political message was loud and clear. France abstained in the UN from various operations it later sent aircraft to. Looks like the same is happening with Germany now. If the Indian leadership now actually decides to extend support for enforcing NFZ, India gets the benefit of not calling for action, but responding to the legitimacy of the passed resolution.
Finally, for India it is not about Libya. This is an opportunity to buy influence at a very low cost that makes it a major shareholder in any similar operation closer to home. Because of years of close operations people are talking about being comfortable with a non-US general in charge of the operation. There could be several spin-off indirect benefits to India. Shouldn't India be laying the groundwork now to have the option in a similar future situation? Opportunities like this do not happen every day. An Indian entry onto the world stage now might really cause people to 'wake up.' This is an opportunity not just for the Air Force but it will be an important posturing by the new assertive India – an unusual opportunity for India, the IAF and India-US partnership.