Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gilani's Visit to China: Further Consolidation of Ties?

Here's the link to an article of mine on Pakistan President Gilani's visit to China published by ORF.

The Chinese objectives are in perfect congruence with those of Pakistan. Pakistan is also mindful of the fact that an enhanced Chinese presence will keep India away (at least Pakistan is hopeful of), thereby ensuring Pakistan the strategic depth that it has been seeking to achieve in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has just concluded his four-day visit to China - the "all weather friend" whose friendship he described as "taller than the Himalayas and deeper than oceans." Some have suggested that there are limits to China-Pakistan relationship and that Beijing may no more be willing to stick its head out for Islamabad. However, the statement from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) does not suggest so; neither does the statement by the Chinese Foreign Minister who spoke at last week's US-China strategic dialogue and economic talks. He is reported to have said that "any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China" though this has been reported only in the Pakistani press and not been confirmed by any Chinese sources. While there is understandable scepticism about such strong assurances, the New York Times reported a signed commentary in the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, that "urged Americans to critically examine the unilateral nature of its raid and infringement of Pakistan's territorial rights."

When the whole world was critical of Pakistan's role in sheltering Osama Bin Laden, China extended full backing to Pakistan, saying Islamabad was a victim of terror and that the sacrifices that it had made in the global war against terror should not go unnoticed. The MOFA spokesperson Jiang Yu also noted that Beijing looks forward to "further consolidating and developing friendship and cooperation" as it is in the interests of both the countries to have a "stable" Pakistan.

The Pakistan-China relations are based on a bedrock of mutually beneficial strategic requirements. Both Pakistan and China have strong reasons for continuing these ties. Thus, there is little likelihood that these ties will wither in the near future.

There are several strategic interests that keep China involved in the AfPak region. Whether China has acknowledged it or not, India has been a significant factor in its South Asia policy. Beijing's foreign and security policies in respect to South Asia have been shaped with an objective to balance New Delhi in its own backyard. Of all the countries in South Asia, the interests of China and Pakistan coincide the most and that has been the foundation for this strong partnership.

While China may have had its calculations, Gilani's visit to Beijing at this juncture is not without strategic reasons from Pakistan's point of view. The visit comes at a critical time when its relations with the US and even India are yet again on a downward spiral. Additionally, a post-Osama situation throws open several important questions for South Asia in general and Pakistan, Afghanistan in particular. In the face of the harsh and rampant criticism, particularly from the US, Pakistan is trying to reach out to and consolidate its ties with "friends" - Russia and China - countries that are wary of the US and its presence in Asia.

In fact, by playing the Beijing card, Pakistan is sending an important message for the United States. In one of the first statements in the floor of the Parliament after the Osama killing, Prime Minister Gilani appreciated China's gesture as Pakistan's all-weather friend, which commended the Pakistani sacrifices in the war against terror. The Pakistani government is also trying to shore updomestic support by suggesting that even if the US were to punish or discard them, they have a reliable friend in China. In a rebuff to the US, Gilani is reported to have stated in an interview to the Xinhua news agency that "we are proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend and China will always find Pakistan standing beside it at all times."1

In addition, now that Osama is dead, the US could possibly look out for an early exit option, which would mean that Afghanistan will go back to the dark ages with Pakistan controlling the Taliban and the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. Along with Pakistan, China will make a quick entry into Afghanistan.

China's interests in Afghanistan are both strategic and resource-based. China's increasing role and influence in Kabul will be a factor that India will have to consider. Chinese policy towards Kabul will be driven by three objectives - rich mineral resources, strategic gateway to Central Asia (a region rich in resources) and the Xinjiang Uighur problem. Managing all the three successfully (in the typical Chinese way) dictate closer relationship with Pakistan and Afghanistan (and even Saudi Arabia).

China is already the largest investor in resource-rich Afghanistan. It already has a $3.5 billion investment in the Aynak copper mine project and Beijing plans to make additional investments in tapping the oil, gas and iron mine sectors in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Chinese interests in Afghanistan are long-term and the role of Pakistan in aiding those interests is critical.

Second, the role of Pakistan and Afghanistan in keeping the Uighur problem under wraps is equally important an imperative that drives the Chinese AfPak policy. At one level, China has been careful not to openly criticise the Pakistan-based terror groups that may bring about wrath of these groups in Xinjiang. At another level, China does not want a weakened Islamic country taken over by terror groups that may fuel trouble among the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Province.

A third strategic imperative that dictates the Chinese AfPak policy is the potential for Pakistan and Afghanistan to become gateways into Iran and Central Asia besides providing alternate routes for energy transportation, in the event of being choked in the crucial Malacca Straits. China's large-scale investments in infrastructural projects - Gwadar Port and overland routes - have been undertaken keeping in mind this objective.

Given these three compulsions, it is unlikely that Pakistan's importance to China is going to be diminishing in the near future. On the contrary, the relationship will be consolidated even further and broad-based to include some of the non-traditional areas of cooperation such as outer space.2

The Chinese objectives are in perfect congruence with those of Pakistan. Pakistan is also mindful of the fact that an enhanced Chinese presence will keep India away (at least Pakistan is hopeful of), thereby ensuring Pakistan the strategic depth that it has been seeking to achieve in Afghanistan.

There are other imperatives too that drive the partnership. From its historical experience in dealing with the US, Pakistan has been rather circumspect, characterising the US as an unreliable partner, who will discard Pakistan "like a used Kleenex" once its purpose is over. On the other hand, China has always stood by Pakistan, extending support at critical times when the entire world turns its back on Pakistan. Even in the recent past, the manner in which China went out of the way to save Pakistan on its role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks is not forgotten. Pakistan, in return, will ascertain safety and security of the Chinese who may be involved in various mining projects in Afghanistan. From a resource point of view as well as keeping the Uighur problem under control, China will accept some sort of accommodation while dealing with Taliban and other terrorist groups.

The role of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in this issue cannot be minimised. A renewed relationship between China and Pakistan/Saudi Arabia may not be in the best interests of India. Will this become the new bloc of non-democracies under the Chinese leadership against the democratic world of US, India and other countries such as Japan and Australia?3 The possibility of China reaching out to these medium-sized countries, resulting in a reduced US role and influence in the coming decades, cannot be ruled out.

Given these factors, the US options such as cutting off aid to Pakistan or minimising its military presence in Afghanistan may not be quite feasible. Additionally, given that about 40 per cent of the US-ISAF logistics are transported through Pakistan makes it difficult for the US to cut off the aid. Meanwhile, Pakistan too has benefitted from the US operations in Afghanistan, and therefore while Pakistan will try different manoeuvres to get the best bargain out of Washington, it is unlikely that Islamabad will close its doors to the US.

1 "Pakistan PM Hails China Ties Amid Strains with US," AFP, Dawn, May 17, 2011, available at
2 China has agreed to strengthen their work on Pakistan's satellite, which is currently being built in China, to be launched into orbit on August 14, 2011. Other agreements in the military-security arena include: agreement to provide Pakistan 50 new JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter planes (the Block-58 planes would be produced in Pakistan under a co-production agreement; the production likely to start in June 2012); the supply of 50 JF-17 planes (agreement signed earlier); discussing the supply of J-20 Stealth and Xiaolong/FC-1 multi-purpose light fighter aircraft to Pakistan (the mode of payment and the number of planes to be provided to Pakistan are being discussed). See Mohammad SalehZaffir, "Respect Pak Sovereignty, China Tells US," The News, May 19, 2011, available at
3 Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, "India, US and the Afghanistan Quagmire," Analysis, Observer Research Foundation, November 09, 2009, available at

Friday, May 6, 2011

Establishing the Rules of the Road in Space: Issues & Challenges

Here's the link to an article of mine on the Code of Conduct on Space published by ORF.

Should India endorse the CoC? Does it advance India’s interests? An arrangement that focuses on a broad set of principles, without any concrete action plans, without any in-built verification mechanism and no legal obligations, helps India little. The EU Code remains a highly idealistic one with no practical utility in tackling three important concerns ? space debris, space overcrowding and avoidance of collision. For instance, it is highly ambitious to assume that the US or China are going to do prior notifications of an ASAT test. Similarly, States reporting on their national policies, including the intent for defensive uses of space assets, can be interpreted in an adverse manner. These are concerns that cannot be pushed under the carpet.

Establishing the rules of the road on space seems to be gaining a "top-down" push and momentum as though acceptance of these rules will amount to solving all the concerns about outer space activities. Currently, there are two Code of Conduct (CoC) that are doing the rounds for universalisation of certain norms that might strengthen the legitimacy and credibility of the Code. The two codes are the EU Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (hereafter EU Code) and the Model Code of Conduct, prepared by the Stimson Center. Here, I look only at the EU Code: can it become a universal space code of conduct?

Some of the salient provisions of the EU Code are:

• The Code will codify new best practices while contributing to transparency and confidence-building measures and will be complimentary to the existing arrangements on outer space activities.

• The Code is a voluntary measure open to all States.

• The "inherent right or collective self-defense in accordance with the United Nations Charter" will be observed.

• States becoming parties to the Code will also be guided by the existing legal framework while "making programme towards adherence to, and implementation of:" among other treaties, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1967); the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1968), the Constitution and Convention of the International Telecommunications Union and its Radio Regulations (2002).

• States that become party to the Code "will establish and implement national policies and procedures to minimise the possibility of accidents in space, collisions between space objects or any form of harmful interference with other States’ right to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space."

• States that become parties are also obliged to provide "information on national space policies and strategies, including basic objectives for security and defence related activities."

• State parties engaged "in the consultations shall seek solutions based on an equitable balance of interests."

Safety and security of space assets have so far been ensured through bilateral and regional agreements. But three incidents in the recent past ? the Chinese ASAT test of January 2007, the US shooting down of a satellite in February 2008 and the collision of a US Iridium satellite with a defunct Russian satellite in 2009 ? have triggered concerns of new dangers in space that is becoming crowded, raising the potentials for accidents. These concerns have fuelled the developments of these CoC.

On the surface of it, the EU Code appears to be an innocuous document. But not many non-EU States have accepted the EU code. Why?

For States to be party to global mechanisms, few questions need to be answered. What does the Code seek to do that is not achievable through other bilateral or regional means? Does the Code enhance a state’s security significantly or will it be an obstacle to carrying out some of its legitimate activities in space? Lastly, is the Code an inclusive framework?

The EU Code has already generated official reservations around the world, particularly in Asia. Europe has to make genuine efforts to reach across to Asia and facilitate a consensus with Asian powers if the Code has to be endorsed and universalised.

To start with, some of the simpler objections: the fact that the European governments have formulated the Code without consulting any of the Asian space powers is an issue. It is in Asia that one is going to witness heightened space activities and potentially the challenges are also going to come from Asia. Therefore this was not a smart move on the part of the EU.

However, fresh efforts can be made to limit the damage if the EU is open to understanding what the Indian and broader Asian concerns are, how they can be accommodated. Alternatively, more problematically, the Asian countries might insist on developing a space CoC on their own. Europe has to consider the impact of changing geopolitics and the increasing importance of Asia, particularly in the space domain.

Clearly, space is once again becoming the sphere of rivalry and potential conflicts and the EU has admirably taken the lead in establishing the rules of the road to avoid intended or unintended consequences of any action in space. However, the CoC does not move towards a legally binding mechanism that has been the demand from the Asian countries at various multilateral forums. In the absence of the fact that it does not meet this basic demand, it is unclear if Asian powers will become party to it. India has consistently pointed out the need for a legally binding mechanism to be put in place to prevent weaponization of outer space. India as part of the Group of 21 (Non-Aligned Nations in the Conference on Disarmament)has argued that global and inclusive transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs), which are supported by the West, could be important complementary measures but there is need for legally binding measures.

Though the EU CoC is voluntary, it expects States to "establish and implement national policies and procedures" to tackle issues such as the increasing traffic in space and thereafter the potential for accidents up in the orbit. This may be seen as binding the States and "intrusive" although in an indirect manner. On the other hand, the CoC being voluntary means it defeats its purpose as it would imply that there is no penalty on States / entities violating certain norms that might get institutionalised with the adoption of the CoC.

Therefore, why should States adopt, institutionalise and internationalise a CoC? The general set of principles enumerated in the EU CoC already exist in different forms in various countries ? in the national space policies of countries like the US or policy statements by various leaders in the Parliament and at multilateral fora the case of countries like India which does not articulate policies in one single policy document.

Similarly, the loose and vague manner in which the CoC is worded could lead to misinterpretations. Operationalising the CoC will become that much more difficult. Phrases like "to promoting the common and precise understandings" and "shall seek solutions based on an equitable balance of interests" are cases in point. These objectives are idealistic but vague and can be quite subjective. And then there’s ’equitable balance of interests’ ? whose interests are we talking about? Therefore the more difficult issue will be that different countries will interpret this differently, affecting the Asian interests adversely. This has fuelled more suspicion than confidence.

Next, who will enforce the CoC? The CoC is enforceable when the enforcing power has significant amount of hard power and clout. The credibility of the EU in this regard is questionable. Take for instance the Hague Code of Conduct on Ballistic Missile Proliferation (H-COC). While 128 countries have accepted H-COC, the Code is yet to have many of the Asian countries ? China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea ? as endorsed parties, which makes it an unsuccessful attempt at tackling missile proliferation.

Should India endorse the CoC? Does it advance India’s interests? An arrangement that focuses on a broad set of principles, without any concrete action plans, without any in-built verification mechanism and no legal obligations, helps India little. The EU Code remains a highly idealistic one with no practical utility in tackling three important concerns ? space debris, space overcrowding and avoidance of collision. For instance, it is highly ambitious to assume that the US or China are going to do prior notifications of an ASAT test. Similarly, States reporting on their national policies, including the intent for defensive uses of space assets, can be interpreted in an adverse manner. These are concerns that cannot be pushed under the carpet.

Lastly, codes cannot establish responsible conduct. In fact, geopolitics will facilitate or block the implementation of the CoC. The more powerful will dictate the terms. Even if the US as the most powerful country on earth decides to become a party to the CoC, the numerical superiority of Asian countries could push the wind in the other direction. The fact that the code does not provide an inclusive framework makes it even harder to implement. European States have established a set of ideals without consultation of Asian countries, without the understanding the Asian ground realities and such a mechanism is not going to be accepted that easily in Asia. For Europe to unilaterally decide what is good for the world does not augur well. It appears like they are making yet another mistake like the H-COC.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dhruv choppers to be equipped with HELINA missiles

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief Dr. VK Saraswat in an interview to the PTI stated, "For the first time, we are developing indigenously a missile called HELINA for being deployed on the weaponised version of the ALH Dhruv helicopter."

HELINA, a guided air-to-ground missile, is reported to be an upgraded version of Nag anti-tank missile. This is being developed indigenously by the DRDO and will be ready for trials by 2013. The propulsion systems of the NAG missile, reportedly, have been strengthened and can take out enemy tanks from a range of seven to eight kms.

For the original Times of India report, click here.

Type rest of the post here

GoI's Decision on MMRCA: A Strategic Blunder?

Here's a link to an article of mine published yesterday on the GoI decision on MMRCA.

A strategic blunder of sorts, this is how India's selection on medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) will be characterised as. The MMRCA deal worth Rs. 42,000 crores (about $ 11 bn) was not a deal that India could have made such errors on. India had to be naïve if it based its decision purely on the technical parameters. Even on technical parameters, the decision is questionable. However, the underlying factor is that through this deal, India was buying a strategic partnership.2 This was a deal with huge political message to its friends and foes, alike.

This article lists out some of the issues that India clearly ignored in making its decision which are going to hurt India in politico-strategic terms than any significant gains that India may have had by going for the European option. This paper argues that not just numerical superiority and costs but more importantly the strategic benefits should have been the guiding factors in making the decision on MMRCA.

First of all, let's look at the number issue. India's dwindling Air Force strength along with the cost factor should have been an important consideration. Air power strategists argue that in ensuring air superiority, quality, including range, payload and precision are important parameters. But even more important is the numerical superiority which should have guided India towards an American or a Russian option, which are better value for money options. India's current strength of approximately 630 fighter aircraft is fast depleting. Therefore, the need to beef up the fighter force numbers is significant given the security environment in India's neighbourhood.

Acquisition, lifecycle and maintenance costs are another set of considerations. Once again, when the acquisition costs and costs of spare parts are considered, the European options are going to be very expensive to the Indian exchequer. The cost per unit and the spare parts costs are said to be high in the case of the European ones. An American option – the F-18 – that came fourth in the technical evaluation3 would have proved to be far better an option. An F-16 with AESA radar would have been a good platform except that India will be using the F-16s against Pakistan whose Air Force has been using this platform for decades.4 However, both the F-16s and the F-18s do come with second generation AESA radars and they provide far greater gains in terms of reliability.

While the costs are important considerations, more critical is the strategic benefit an American option would have accrued for India. As argued earlier, the MMRCA decision is a strategic decision – a decision that would reflect India's strategic priorities and commitments. In this regard, analysts have argued that American ambiguity on India's geopolitical concerns having had a major role. Whether the US comes to Indian aid or not, one can be certain that the Europeans are not going to burn their fingers. With India having gone with the European option, it can only be hoped that this was not a strategic decision and that it does not reflect a particular (anti-US) sentiment within the Indian establishment. If India had assumed that Europe was going to come to India's aid in the case of an India-Pakistan or India-China conflict, it is far from being realistic. A deal with the Russians may have been somewhat more understandable, but the geopolitical clout of Europe, particularly in Asia, is almost nil.

Additionally, strategic messaging should have been a vital imperative. US fighter aircraft in the Indian inventory would have a huge strategic message. Therefore, the argument that India has done several deals with the US through the FMS (Foreign Military Sales) does not hold much weight. An American option would make India's adversary think twice before venturing into a conflict with India, be it Pakistan or China. The deal would have had a huge deterrence value.

Lastly, India opting for one of the most expensive single engines with no proven operational AESA radar is imprudent, to say the least.5 Dassault Rafalealmost with no customers (except for Brazil that plans for major procurement), India may provide the largest order to the day. Whether this huge deal will have corresponding positive spin-offs for India need to be seen. India might experience a long hard summer with the European Union beginning to put pressure on India, through various channels, to endorse and accept the EU Code of Conduct on space. India should also prepare itself for EU dictat on space vs. growth debates in the coming years.
1 As a strategic decision, it was not good enough that India looked at the technical specifications and the best in the technical evaluation. As some analyses have pointed out, the technical superiority argument is not valid as all of these are of the same class and are marginally up or down depending on certain parameters. But this decision should have been based on technical, operational / tactical and most important strategic considerations. India had to look at beefing up the overall security assurance that it would be gaining instead of merely looking at the technical specifications. Technology alone does not guarantee security for any nation. Four factors should have prevailed upon the decision-maker: security through partnerships; freedom of action; national competitiveness; and regional influence. For an excellent perspective on strategic decision-making, see Peter A Garretson, "MMRCA Selection: A Strategist's Point of View," Unpublished Paper, available with the author.

2 Admiral Raja Menon, commenting on NDTV on April 28, argued that India had taken a bad decision, questioning whether India was investing in a strategic partnership with a European consortium. Additionally, he argued that any of the six companies would have provided the 126 aircrafts that India was looking for but the decision-makers should have looked for what more could we get out of the deal.

3 The gradation following the technical evaluation is not clear yet. Different reports have provided contradictory assessments.

4 F-16 is a platform that has remained in the Indian neighbourhood for a considerable time and the operational superiority of the PAF on F-16 platforms may have been an important enough consideration for India, although the version on offer to India was far superior. The longer standoff range of AESA radars also provide the pilots with more time for persistent target observation, information sharing, tactical analysis and commander assessment before taking critical decisions. In addition, these radars can also be used for non-traditional ISR and electronic attacks. They have been battle-proven and they provide the best bet in any tactical operation that India may be engaged on its eastern or western borders.

5 Neither Rafale nor Eurofighter has proven AESA radar.