Saturday, August 30, 2014

India’s Border Infrastructure: Beyond the BRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modi's Japan Visit: Security, the Key Driver

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

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

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

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

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

Security, the key driver

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

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

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

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

India: Diversifying Arms Purchases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India-US Strategic Dialogue: Focus on the Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Border infrastructure: Time to put rail tracks on track... my take on the Indian government's approach to border rail infrastructure projects...

Here's my short essay on the Indian government's approach to border rail infrastructure projects...

The inauguration of the Udhampur-Katra railway link by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week marked a big boost to India's infrastructure. Even though the completion of this 30 km stretch might appear to be no big deal, there are significant economic and security implications, and equally, what it might imply for the importance of border infrastructure in the Modi administration.

Border infrastructure, especially railways, has not been taken seriously enough in decades. The list of pending projects is long. Unfortunately India does not have the luxury to wait for another decade before many of these projects are completed.

Improved border infrastructure brings several benefits across multiple domains - economic, security and military. But because of the unsettled nature of India's borders, the security implications are clearly the most important.

For the full essay, click here.

The Indian Army's request to construct 14 "strategic" rail links did not particularly figure in the railway budget, presented on July 8. However, the general budget, presented on July 10, has made an allocation of Rs 1,000 crore for improving rail connectivity in the northeast, although this is a tiny fraction of the expenditure involved. While 12 projects (11 in the northeast and 1 in Jammu and Kashmir) are being accorded "national projects" status, which will improve the general connectivity in the northeast, these projects have no particular bearing on the lines identified by the Army. The 14 strategic lines identified by the Army include new railway links in all sectors. The critical ones are in the eastern and northern sectors, specifically the Murkongselek-Pasighat-Tezu-Parasuramkund-Rupai (256 km) line, the Misamari-Tawang (378 km) line, and the North Lakhimpur-Along-Silapathar (248 km) in the northeast and the Pathankot-Leh (400 km), Jammu-Akhnoor-Poonch (223 km), and the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh (430 km) in the northern sector. These would cover a distance of 3,016 km and cost around Rs. 55,831 crore.1

Money is part of the problem, with different departments fighting over who would pay the cost. Inter-departmental committees could not sort it out. There are other reasons also for the slow progress, including the terrain, which has hampered track expansion to the extent that several networks in these regions are still metre gauge. Many of these rail networks have also remained so antiquated with speeds limited to 30 km/h in certain sections.

One of the major challenges in railway construction in India is establishing connectivity across wide rivers. Huge variations in climatic conditions as well as the flow of the rivers in addition to the lack of solid stones and rocks have been a curse on the engineers who have to plan and devise bridges across huge rivers such as the Brahmaputra in Assam. Building a rail link between the south and the north bank of the Brahmaputra has been a herculean task and has consumed several decades. The Bogibeel bridge over the Brahmaputra has taken almost 20 years and is still nowhere near completion, despite being classified a "national project."

In addition to the difficult terrain, construction companies have often had to deal with local terrorists and insurgent groups, who have kidnapped men and burnt down machinery and equipment. These security considerations have dampened the interests among the private sector to go to these regions. Land acquisition and clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests have also compounded the challenge. Finding and retention of quality labour have also been challenging.

The slow pace of rail track construction in India is a total contrast to the development across the border. China has already built a 1142 km-long electrified railway line from Golmud (Gormo in Tibetan language) to Lhasa and has plans to extend the line to Shigatze and Yatung, reaching almost the strategic Nathu La pass. They have plans to extend the Golmud-Lhasa (Qinghai Tibet) railway line to Nyingchi, close to its border with India on the Arunachal Pradesh side and further extend it to Dali in Yunnan Province.2

This line, running parallel to Arunachal Pradesh, will help quick mobilisation of the PLA from Kunming, Dali and Kaiyuanand to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). These lines would also help the PLA troops, the 13 Group Army (Unit 56005), to relocate from Sichuan Province to TAR. This railway line has a capacity to run up to eight trains (one way) per day. This is a significant achievement as it cuts travelling time from Mainland China to Lhasa to two days with a total tonnage capacity of 3,200 tonnes per train.

China is now in the process of building a rail network linking it to Pakistan. From the Chinese perspective, these networks are significant as they become the shortest trading route as well as provide alternate energy supply routes from the Persian Gulf to Xinjiang. While these linkages have a huge economic relevance, their significance in the military and defence areas cannot be overlooked.

Though New Delhi faces many problems in improving its border infrastructure, the biggest problem is the lack of political direction at the highest level. The Modi government should keep in mind the tremendous advantages in establishing railway connectivity in the border areas and not repeat the mistakes of the past. While previous governments also claimed to recognize the importance of border infrastructure, their actions did not match their words and most of these projects remained unimplemented.

1. RajatPandit, "Key Railway Lines Along Borders Still Off Track," Times of India, February 24, 2014,

2. For details of new lines, see "Qinghai-Tibet railway to Get Six New Lines," China Daily, August 17, 2008,

Iraq's deepening crisis and India's interests, my analysis on the Iraqi crisis following the abduction of 490 Indian nurses in Mosul...

I had published another essay on the Iraq crisis following the abduction of 40 nurses and how it impacted directly India's security in Iraq and beyond. The original Indian reaction was that "the violence there is not targeted at Indian nationals. We are just caught in the cross-fire." Whatever be the rationale, whether we were purposely targeted or caught in between, this new development has changed the dynamics for India.

Thereafter, even as India was concerned about the worsening situation in Iraq, New Delhi could afford to ignore it as an internal Iraqi issue between the Sunnis and Shiites, despite the glaring fact that the atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an off-shoot of Al Qaeda, amounted to "war crimes," as the UN human rights head noted two days ago. But for several reasons, this is no longer the case.
For the full article, click here.

India's interests in Iraq and the region should be seen in the larger context of the seven million Indians working in West Asia, of which nearly 18,000 are in Iraq. Safety and security of this population should dominate the Indian policy. The foreign exchange earned by India through this population is also a significant factor. Therefore, any unrest in the region will have an impact on India.

Two, the fallout of any crisis in West Asia on India's energy security needs to be kept in mind. The current crisis could lead to spiralling global oil prices, but in addition, safe access to energy resources also becomes an important consideration.

Three, even though the current crisis in Iraq is often seen through a Sunni-Shia prism in the local context, the issue has a wider regional consonance. The issue needs to be seen in the context of the Shia-dominated Iran and the Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and how they see the current crisis as a reflection of the larger regional dynamics.

Four, the takeover by the ISIS of several Iraqi towns reflects a lack of capacity on the part of the Iraqi government and its security forces to handle the situation. In such a scenario, it is meaningless to assume that India and Iraq have excellent relations and therefore India is not a target. It may well have been that the 40 Indians were caught in between and not necessarily targeted by the ISIS, but the reality is that there is a monster in the country, who is notorious for their extreme brutality. India should consider cooperating with other States to undertake capacity building of the Iraqi security forces in order for these forces to fight terrorists more effectively in the future.

India should also consider coordinating with other major regional or extra-regional powers in determining the next course of action. To arrest the current pace of ISIS advance, there is clearly a need for military action. There has to be a simultaneous pursuit of two approaches: military strikes in the areas captured by the ISIS, and a political approach from the Iraqi government side to bring about some sort of rapprochement between the Sunni, Shia and the Kurd population. After an initial agreement among these communities, these have to be followed by a larger political accommodation wherein the other groups are brought in as part of the mainstream. This is critical because the ISIS gains, to a large extent, have been driven by Sunni bitterness at the current Iraqi political leadership.

Five, India needs to see the ISIS advance as part of the phenomena of global terrorism. India should pursue the fight against terror in a more focused manner to effect impact on the ISIS funding and terror activities.

To tackle India's current hostage crisis, India has to obviously work with the Maliki leadership but New Delhi also has to engage other regional players in bringing out a favourable outcome.

Dangers of the ISIS Push in Iraq... my take on the Iraq situation and what it means for the region and the US...

Last month, I wrote a short essay on the dangers of the ISIS push into Iraq and what could India and others do to bring the situation under control. ISIS' capture of most of the western and northern cities of Iraq was quick and the Iraqi armed forces abandoned their weapons and ran, leaving the ISIS to gain in military terms as well.

There have been debates whether the US should get involved and the debate is wide open. There are arguments on both sides, bringing out the pros and cons. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement said that the President has every option including airstrikes on the table. It has also been reported that diplomats from both Iran and the US have had discussions regarding possible options in order to arrest the ISIS’ advance. Sections of the US Congress and the retired military officials have underlined the importance for the US to get involved in Iraq in order to bring about a semblance of stability in Iraq. General Paul Eaton, who was responsible for training Iraqi security forces, went to the extent of saying that Iran would be a "natural ally" in the campaign against the ISIS. Characterising the current crisis in Iraq as possibly the worst national security that the US has faced since the 9/11 attacks, Senator Lindsey Graham argued that the US must engage Iran in developing coordinated options in dealing with the situation. However, he made a distinction to say, "I don’t want Iran to dominate Iraq. And that’s where they’re headed. ... Don’t have the Iranians save Baghdad. Let us save Baghdad, so there will be a chance at a second government."

These are clearly no easy options for the US. However, the US should not look at staying in Iraq for a long haul. The US must go in with a limited military mission to arrest the spread of ISIS, thus aiding the process of bringing stability in Iraq and the region at large.

For the full article, click here.

Even though Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS, was killed in a US airstrike in 2006, the movement appears to have gained a great deal recently after establishing control over much of eastern Syria and now moving at a frightening pace into Iraq. Latest reports talked about the ISIS advancing to the outskirts of Baghdad, barely 45 minutes away from the capital. The UN human rights head Navi Pillay characterized the ISIS’ "apparently systematic series of cold-blooded executions" as near "war crimes."

ISIS is primarily a Sunni radical group that took its birth in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time of the invasion, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of the ISIS, an Arab from Jordan, had landed on the outskirts of Baghdad with some weapons, bags full of money and a bold idea of uniting Sunni Muslims of the region through war.1 In a limited span of time, he was able to build a support base among Iraqis and then started a spate of suicide bombings and brutal execution of anyone (predominantly Shiites and Americans) he saw as a hindrance in his pursuit of establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Driven by Zarqawi’s dream of an extremist Sunni commune across the region, the ISIS believes in establishing an Islamic Caliphate across Syria, Iraq and much of the region.

Though it managed to build some local support within Iraq, the level of ISIS brutality caused backlash within the Sunni community, which led to what was called the Anbar Awakening in 2006-2007. With Anbar Awakening in motion, the Sunni tribal leaders stopped their support for Zarqawi and instead gave full backing to the US forces in an effort to wipe out the Zarqawi operatives. ISIS puts al Qaeda to shame when it comes to their extreme way of interpreting Quran and propounding a far more brutal manner of implementing Islamic law. However, the sense of alienation that exists among the Sunnis today is driving the community into the hands of the ISIS yet again. Even the veterans who were part of the Awakening movement are now extending support to the ISIS with the hope that the regime in Baghdad that is "corrupt" and "repressive" is defeated.

A major chunk of ISIS funding appears to have come from wealthy private donors in Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who are supposedly US allies. It is reported that the ISIS has been able to take advantage of loopholes that exist in the anti-money laundering policies in these countries.2 In the recent years, Kuwait appears to have become the financing hub for many anti-Shiite groups. Despite the US Treasury Department being in the know-how of such developments, there has been very little that has been done to deal with this situation. The US has not been particularly successful in impressing upon the Gulf leaders on this point. Meanwhile, the US has lost its credibility to some extent with President Obama not able to carry through the red line that he had set on the issue of Syrian use of chemical weapons.

Many regional experts and officials claim that the ISIS has been able to take full advantage of the worsening Sunni-Shia relations, having been able to win the support of Sunni tribal leaders. The anger and bitterness among the Sunni population towards the Shiite government in Baghdad is something that has worked in favour of the ISIS. Whether and how long this tactical deal between the ISIS and the Sunni tribes will last is a question, though. The brutality and the future plans of the ISIS may not be palatable to the Sunni tribes in the long term.

There are doubts amongst American analysts about the US role in the current crisis. Daniel Pipes, a prominent US scholar and analyst, was categorical (back in 2006) in saying that the West, including the US "cannot be tasked with resolving Sunni-Shiite differences, an abiding Iraqi problem that only Iraqis themselves can address." While this makes sense as a general sentiment, the situation is significantly different today. However, Pipes’ advice against any intervention by the West may not hold today. He had argued that "This is basically a Middle Eastern problem, and outside powers should aim to protect their own interests, not solve the Middle East’s crises. Tehran, not we, should fight ISIS." While Iran may have a more direct interest in the affairs of Iraq, particularly in the current crisis, the West cannot shun the thousands of foreigners fighting alongside the ISIS. More than 2000 Europeans are reportedly fighting in Syria and at least some are returning to Europe to take up fight against the West. The instance of a Frenchman involved in the shooting at the Brussels Jewish museum in May 2014 is a case in point. The suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, is believed to have been trained in Syria for over a year and had joined many jihadist terrorist groups there. There are also several Americans fighting alongside the ISIS. A Forbes report highlighting this aspect said, "At least 15 Somali-American men from Minnesota have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group not only fights in Syria, but also recently captured the Iraqi cities of Mosul (115 km from the border between Iraq and Syria) and Tikrit (323 km from the border). The group does not recognize international borders and has a presence ranging from Syria’s Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

my take on the Chinese foreign minister's visit to India...

A lot has been said and written on the Chinese foreign minister's visit to India. Most of the writings focused on the huge economic opportunities waiting to be unleashed and a few talked about the Chinese rigidity as far as the border and territorial issues are concerned.

I wanted to add to this debate making a qualification to the India-China economic engagement. While I am all for trade and economic engagement, lets not be under the illusion that the basic nature of India-China relations is being altered through such interactions. Economics is important but it has a limited utility. Two, lets not get carried away by the Chinese rhetoric. It should be kept in mind that there is a huge gap between the Chinese rhetoric and actions. Here's my analysis, substantiating these arguments.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Delhi to meet the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his foreign policy team in order to gauge the new leadership's mood towards China and the major powers. Sticking to the usual rhetoric, Wang Yi said India and China are "natural" partners while remaining rigid on stapled visas and border issues.

Going by the MEA statement, the Chinese foreign minister and the Indian officials discussed all issues of significance.

For the rest of the article, click here.

It is likely that it must have been all economic, trade and investment from the Chinese side. From the Indian side too, trade is an important area, particularly the trade imbalance which should have been a point of emphasis. Current estimates suggest that the trade imbalance is heavily in favour of China to the tune of $35-45 bn. Wang Yi responded to this issue by saying that China will be happy to import more from India though this is not the first time that Beijing has assured India in this regard.

Wang Yi focused attention on the infrastructure sector which the Chinese are keen on. India has to diversify its export items to China in order to create some leverage. Trade imbalance is bad on its own but more importantly it creates certain dependencies on China which need to be countered. India has to be able to create counter-dependencies and in the absence of which Beijing could hold India to ransom during conflicts. Beijing banning the export of rare material to Japan following a naval incident in September 2010 should serve as an eye opener to India. The fact that India is a huge market for China should give India some leverage too.

Detailing the Chinese interest in investment in India, the minister proposed a larger share of the Indian pie in key sectors such as power, telecom and infrastructure. Infrastructure demand within China having peaked, Beijing is clearly on a look out for new destinations, particularly in Asia. China wants a share in all - expressways and highways, railways and high speed trains. Infrastructure is one area in which the Indian government is likely to make massive investment in the coming years given the huge shortage not just on the border, but inland and maritime as well. Talking on this aspect, the Chinese foreign minister is reported to have told the Indian side China's willingness to share its expertise in high speed trains and bullet trains, an expertise he claimed as their own , as well as help India in upgrading its railways and highways.

If India has to build high speed and bullet trains, why not approach the masters of the technology from whom China copied and developed such as Japan. Japan is already prominent in India's infrastructure projects, including the golden quadrilateral highway linking Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai; Delhi metro and the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC).

Another area that figured prominently in the discussions is the issue of access to Chinese markets, at least in two critical sectors of IT and pharmaceutical products. Of China's $25 bn IT market, 80% is controlled by the Chinese state owned enterprises, which do not encourage any outsiders' entry. On the other hand, the Chinese are interested in forming joint research working groups wherein they stand to gain in understanding the Indian advantages. Similarly on the pharmaceutical sector, China has been slow in responding to Indian requests. The lengthy process of four to five years that Indian pharmas have faced in entering the Chinese market has had a dampening effect on India gaining access to the Chinese market. Here again, China is interested in setting bilateral working groups through which China may come to learn from the Indian experience and expertise.

Border issues are reported to have figured prominently during the talks. On the question of border incursions, the visiting official noted that such incidents are inevitable when the border is not demarcated. However, it is strange for a Chinese leader to state that issuing stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh was a sign of "goodwill" and "flexibility." His precise response was: "In the eastern sector of China-India border, relatively big area is in dispute. This is an objective fact. However, people living in those areas need to interact with each other. So, as a special arrangement, we have resorted to stapled visa to address the need of the local people to travel. This is a gesture out of goodwill and out of our own flexibility. If we do not do that, we will not be able to address the question concerning the outbound and overseas travel of these people. This practice has been going on for relatively a long period of time, and if it is acceptable to the Indian side, it could be continued in the future because it does not undermine or compromise our respective positions on the boundary question…will also be able to help us address the issues concerning travel of people living in those areas." The Modi Government needs to respond appropriately to such comments before China oversteps dangerously.

It does not appear that China is in any hurry to find a mutually acceptable solution to the border issue. As the Chinese premier said a few years ago, they want the border issue to be left to the future generations to sort it out. Their lack of interest comes from the thinking that the possibly strenuous talks on the border and territorial issues will stall the ongoing and future cooperation in the economic arena. The Chinese have been clear on this aspect, evident from the Chinese delegations that come along with major visits - it is always a big business delegation that accompanies their premier or the president. It simply goes to show that they are clear about and able to dictate what they seek in this bilateral relationship.

Lastly, India needs to get a lot more clarity on what it expects from China. For all the economic engagement that India may have with China, it should not be under the illusion of its impact on the overall India-China relations. Economic and trade relations serve a limited utility of creating prosperity on both sides but that constituency may not be able to deflect a conflict altogether. There are multiple imperatives including nationalism that works in the conduct of inter-state relations. For all the talk of natural partners, China's policy on Arunachal Pradesh and stapled visas has remained problematic. India should understand that there is a huge gap between the Chinese rhetoric and their actions. India has to be realistic about, as Prime Minister said during his campaign days, "Beijing's possible expansionist designs." This is not to suggest that India should not cooperate with China where it might maximise India's own power and gains but be realistic to say a No when it is not to India's advantage.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

on Prime Minister's India Visit and India-Japan Strategic Partnership....

Here's an analysis of mine on Prime Minister Abe's visit to India as the Guest of Honour at this year's Republic Day function on January 26, 2014. Japan has been clearly the flavour of the season as far as India is concerned. Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera was in New Delhi few weeks before that for consultations with his counterpart on how to strengthen and coordinate relations between the two sides in the security arena. In one of their rare visits, the Japanese Emperor and Empress were in Delhi in December.

With both India and Japan acknowledging the need to strengthen bilateral defence and security ties, a major chunk of the attention is likely to be on maritime security and anti-piracy efforts. While these are by no means unimportant facets of bilateral cooperation, more significant will be the role of India and Japan in shaping the Asian strategic order. Both the countries have a common and shared perspective on the Asian framework, even as it is an emerging one.

For the full article, click here.

Having said that, Defence Minister Onodera's visit focused on some of the tactical and policy issues for enhancing the level and pace of India-Japan bilateral cooperation. Cooperation between the two navies has been an on-going affair, but what has been low on the radar until now have been the links between the air forces of the two sides. This was given some emphasis during the recent visit with the two sides agreeing to encourage more staff exchanges and coordinate the possibility of staff talks between the Indian Air Force and the Japan Air Self Defence Forces as well as exchanges of test-pilots, professional exchanges in the field of flight safety and between two transport squadrons of the two air forces. Also agreed upon was promotion of exchanges on UN Peace Keeping operations between various Japanese agencies (such as the Japan Peacekeeping Training and Research Centre, Joint Staff College (JPC), Central Readiness Force of Japan Ground Self Defence Forces and the Indian Army's Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK), and expert-level engagements on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counter-terrorism between Indian Army and Japan Ground Self Defence Force. On the naval front, there were agreements on joint exercises between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defence Forces on a regular basis (with the Indian Navy to visit Japan this year). Some of the other aspects that were decided during Onodera's visit included visit to Japan by India's defence minister later this year and a decision to undertake high-level visits on an annual basis, conducting of the third 2+2 dialogue and the fourth Defence Policy Dialogue (Defence Secretary level).

While a rising China factor is undoubtedly an important consideration for both India and Japan as they strengthen their cooperation, the two have been careful not to invite Chinese wrath and thus have not made a mention of China in any of their statements. However, as mentioned above, there are any number of areas including freedom of navigation, anti-piracy, uninterrupted commerce, safe energy corridors and an inclusive Asian strategic framework that are becoming important to both India and Japan.

One of the key areas of potential cooperation is an arms trade relationship between the two sides. Japan's lifting of a historic ban on export of arms under the policy guidelines issued in December 2011 has provided abundant opportunities for India and Japan to strengthen defence cooperation. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision is something that came about with a lot of prodding from Japanese industry, which have been keen on getting its share of the growing defence market pie. Given that Japan is a sophisticated naval power in the region with advanced technologies and weapon systems, the reversal of the ban will make it free to enter into agreements for joint production and co-development of systems with their select partners. Obviously, the decision has had its share of domestic criticism in Japan, with many viewing it as Tokyo potentially moving away from its post second world war pacifist posture.

As for India, even prior to the decision by Prime Minister Noda on lifting the ban, there was a Japanese proposal to sell New Delhi a multi-role amphibious aircraft, the US2, suitable for SAR (Search and Rescue) operations. The aircraft is significant for both the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to undertake humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in addition to more important search and rescue missions. A Joint Working Group (JWG) was put in place in May last year to work out the modalities of cooperation and the possible induction by the Indian Navy. The JWG is also studying the possibility of joint production, operation and training on the US-2i aircraft. Despite the Japanese inclination and the Indian interest, the deal has not been signed yet. Discussions on this were expected to be stepped up, with hopes that a deal would be announced during Prime Minister Abe's visit, but this now seems unlikely. Sources now suggest that the second meeting of the JWG will take place in Japan this year and no decision is likely beforehand.

Meanwhile, there are other systems and platforms on the offer list, including electronic warfare equipment and patrol vessels among others. Given India's general aversion to buying defence items off the shelf, Japan has gone the extra mile offering India the option of establishing joint ventures with Indian partners, both in the public and private sector. However, the Indian reaction so far has been subdued.

India has to get much more long-term and strategic in its defence diplomacy. While Tokyo made its intentions clear and official, New Delhi's reaction has been less than forthcoming. On the US-2, India responded to Japan's offer to supply the aircraft by asking the Japanese company to follow the usual route of tenders. Accordingly, in response to the Indian Navy's Request for Information (RFI), there are three companies in the fray - Japan's ShinMaywa, Canada's Bombardier and Russia's Beriev. While open tendering and transparent processes are to be encouraged, this is not how strategic ties are built. Japan's offer of the US-2 was a strategic message that India missed, just as it did earlier with the MMRCA decision.

Even as the alliance relationship with the US is key to Japan, Tokyo has understood and acknowledged the need to strengthen relations with India and other like-minded democracies. The idea of an 'arc of democracies' has been a pet theme of Prime Minister Abe. The quadrilateral initiative among India, Japan, Australia and the US was also an initiative to forge closer security ties among these countries. A diamond initiative was talked about by Abe during his campaign days last year.

What do all these mean for India-Japan relations and the larger Asian strategic framework? Japan's interest in defence trade with India is not entirely driven by commercial angles. While commercial factors are an incentive, a closer strategic partnership with Asian neighbours has become an important priority for Japan. In addition to the general concerns over the rise of China, Tokyo also has unresolved border and territorial issues with China. In the current context, the simultaneous rise of three powers - India, Japan and China - is a perfect design for conflict and rivalry. It does not help that China has had prior disputes with both Japan and India.

Both Tokyo and New Delhi want to create a stabler Asian order by redefining partnerships in the region. Can India and Japan take the lead in this regard and form a concert of nations that would bring about balance of power in the Asia-Pacific? The role of small and medium powers such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and South Korea is significant. India and Japan have to be able to offer stable options to an aggressive China.

Monday, May 12, 2014

GSLV success: A major technology boost

Here's an analysis of India's successful GSLV launch conducted on January 05, 2014. This puts India in an exclusive club of five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China. Given the complex nature of this technology - the use of rocket propellants at extremely low temperatures, as the ISRO Chairman Dr. Radhakrishnan remarked, "only a few in the world have mastered it."

For the full article, click here.

With the launch of GSLV-D5, India’s indigenously developed cryogenic engine upper stage technology has been proven for the first time, a major feat of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The proven technology demonstrates India’s ability to launch heavier payloads into geostationary orbit. Cryogenic technology is significant due to the thrust gained through burning every kg of propellant that is far higher in a cryogenic engine, which gives the thrust to carry heavier satellites into orbit. In the flight of GSLV-D5, the ISRO also launched a communication satellite GSAT-14 into the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The test was a make or break situation for the ISRO after two successive failures in 2010 and a mission cancelled in 2013.

India had undertaken so far seven GSLV launches, including three failures and one mission cancelled hours before the launch. Previous failures included problems such as fuel tank leakage, the mission centre losing control of the rocket with it deviating from predicted flight path, among others. Therefore, the January 5 successful launch is a matter of technology demonstration and a major boost for the Indian space community.

India’s cryogenic journey has been a long one, going back to the 1980s. In December 1982, a Cryogenic Study Team was established that studied all aspects of the technology and questions such as whether India should develop or buy the technology from outside were examined. In 1983, the team submitted a report that recommended developing the engine capable of generating about 10 tonnes of thrust indigenously as against procuring it off the shelf. In addition to the exorbitant cost to buying from elsewhere, export control mechanisms such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that denies transfer of such technologies were also contextualising factors in India’s decision. However, in 1991 after a great deal of indecision, Government of India entered into a deal with the Soviet Union for procuring two cryogenic flight stages and the technology to make them in India. The sale of such technology was seen as a violation of the MTCR commitments made by the Soviet Union and thus the deal was scrapped.

In addition to the prestige factor of being part of an exclusive club of countries that have the proven cryogenic engine technology, the GSLV-D5 launch is important from a commercial and strategic perspective. The growing satellite launch market has a huge commercial angle. So far, this market is dominated by the French and the Chinese to an extent. Given the growing number of countries entering the space domain for a variety of missions from socio-economic and development to military functions, the number of satellite launches is likely to go up significantly in the coming years. India should not lose out opportunities in this ever-growing lucrative foreign satellite launch market.

From a strategic perspective, the successful launch of the GSLV means it is self-reliant in the area of satellite launching, including heavier satellites. This also means that India will not have to depend on foreign agencies to carry their heavier payloads. Without a successfully tested indigenous cryogenic engine GSLV, many of India’s future missions would have been affected by delays. India already has a series of satellites including include GSAT-6A and 7A, two remote sensing satellites, GISATs and the GSAT series including GSAT-9 ready for launch in the near future. Chandrayaan-2 and India’s interplanetary and manned moon missions will also have a huge boost. While India has not faced any serious issue of reliability as far as foreign launchers are concerned, being self-sufficient in this area is significant in addition to having more cost-effective, cheaper options at home.

So far India has used its tried and tested Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) although these do have a weight limitation of just over one tonne. A PSLV can carry 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). On the other hand, a GSLV offers India the ability to launch satellites weighing 3.5-5 tonnes.

1. N. Gopal Raj, "The Long Road to Cryogenic Technology," OpEd, The Hindu, April 21, 2011,

India's GSLV Launch: A Major Milestone for ISRO...

India's GSLV launch in January 2014 has been watched with a lot of interest as well as apprehension given what happened in 2010 and 2013. However, it is clear that s successful launch of GSLV will place India in the same league as a handful of countries as far as the technological sophistication is concerned. Currently, there are five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China - that have demonstrated the cryogenic engine upper stage technology in order to launch heavier satellites in geostationary orbit. India will become the sixth nation to design and develop this sophisticated and complex technology.

For the full article, click here.

After two successive failures of its Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) launches in 2006 and 2010 and an aborted mission in 2013, India's endeavour to launch another GSLV on January 5 is being watched with both hope and apprehension. Though the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has done several trial tests for the launch of GSLV-D5, there is apprehension because of what happened in 2010 and 2013.

A successful launch of GSLV will place India in the same league as a handful of countries as far as the technological sophistication is concerned. Currently, there are five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China - that have demonstrated the cryogenic engine upper stage technology in order to launch heavier satellites in geostationary orbit. India will become the sixth nation to design and develop this sophisticated and complex technology. The GSLV-D5 rocket will carry on board the 2-tonne GSAT-14 satellite capable of delivering communication services in the area of tele-medicine and tele-education. On December 28, 2013, the Mission Readiness Review (MRR) team and the Launch Authorisation Board (LAB) cleared the GSLV-D5/GSAT 14 launch for January 5 and thereafter the rocket was shifted to the launch pad.

The three-stage rocket, with solid, liquid and cryogenic stages, is "a very complex system compared with solid or earth-storable liquid propellant stages due to its use of propellants at extremely low temperatures and the associated thermal and structural problems", according to the ISRO. Cryogenic technology is significant because the thrust gained through burning every kg of propellant is far higher in a cryogenic engine, which gives the thrust to carry heavier payloads into orbit.

Starting in April 2001, India has so far carried out seven GSLV launches, including three failures and one aborted launch. Past failures have included problems such as deviation from the predicted flight paths soon after the lift-off. The attempt in 2013 had to be called off hours before the lift-off as they detected a leak in the fuel tank of the liquid second-stage in pre-launch pressurisation phase of the vehicle.

This time around, ISRO Chairman Dr. S Radhakrishnan and the engineers appear confident of having rectified many of the problems faced in the previous missions. There have been several committees set up to study in detail the cause of failures and accordingly remedial measures have been taken. For instance, they have used an entirely new fuel tank. Apparently, the earlier leaked-prone fuel tank was an old stock, procured four years ago and also the aluminium alloy, Afnor 7020 that was used in the making of the tank tends to develop cracks over a period of time. The booster turbo pump, that ran into problem twice previously, had used different materials that contracted differently at low temperatures, which has been rectified now by using a single material. Similarly, the issues of contamination with the propellant acquisition device procured from Russia have been addressed and this time around, the device is manufactured in India. There has been refurbishing of the casing of the rocket as well.

Tomorrow's attempt will be significant both from the commercial and strategic perspectives. In addition to the large number of domestic satellites ready to be launched using the heavier launch vehicle, a successful launch will also mean India's ability to cash in on the large lucrative foreign satellite launch market.

Given the ever-increasing reliance on space assets for a variety of missions from socio-economic and development to military functions, the number of satellite launches will spike significantly in the coming years. China has already captured a sizeable chunk of this market even though India offers much more cost-effective launches, which in fact have been its strength.

India's tried and tested Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) have a weight limitation of just over one tonne. A PSLV is capable of carrying 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). A GSLV on the other hand will offer India ability to launch satellites weighing 3.5-5 tonnes.

A successful launch with the indigenous cryogenic engine will go a long way in making India self-sufficient in the area of satellite launching. Large tonnage carrying capability is important in the domestic context since it will no longer have to depend on foreign rockets to carry their large satellites. Chandrayaan-2 is a case in point. Other satellite launches planned include GSAT-6A and 7A, two remote sensing satellites, GISATs and the GSAT series including GSAT-9. Relying on foreign carriers has had reliability issues in addition to the cost factor as these have proven to be more expensive options.

Military Diplomacy: Time for India to Go Proactive, my article published in The Diplomatist...

Here's an article of mine, wherein I make case for India to effectively use military diplomacy in its conduct of diplomacy, published in the year-end special edition on Indian Diplomacy (December 2013).

Today military diplomacy is construed as one of the essential tools in the pursuit of a nation’s foreign policy. This would mean utilisation of all defence activities and platforms including exchange of international military personnel, visits of ships and aircrafts, engagement of the civil, military bureaucracies and defence ministers, military training and exercises, regional and global defence meetings and forums. India, however, has been shy of using military diplomacy as an active tool in its diplomacy. What is not clear is whether this has been a deliberate attempt on India’s part or more a result of bureaucratic and political inertia. However, India has to become proactive in using military diplomacy in furthering its own national interests.

What Is Military Diplomacy?
Diplomacy is broadly described as the art and practice of pursuing a nation’s foreign relations, and military diplomacy is defined as the conduct of foreign policy by the men in uniform or even the civilian defence departments. As mentioned earlier, this involves military exchanges and accordingly these are categorised under heads such as defence exchanges to include joint training with the militaries of foreign countries.

While this broader definition has come to be used by a considerable number of countries, China, which has used military diplomacy in an effective manner, defines it from a narrower perspective, to say “foreign affairs work performed by defence institutions and armed forces.” (Matsuda Yasuhiro, “An Essay on China’s Military Diplomacy: Examination of Intentions in Foreign Strategy,” NIDS Security Repors, No. 7, December 2006, p. 3.) Yasuhiro, one of the prominent scholars on the subject, 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.” (Yasuhiro quotes Yang Songhe, Junshi waijiao gailun (Survey of Military Diplomacy), Junshi yiwen chubanshe, Beijing, 1999.)

It may be true that military diplomacy does not differ in significant terms from the regular diplomacy in its content given that visits, meetings, exchanges, negotiations, participating in international conferences, treaty signings and exchanges of diplomatic documents are important aspects of military diplomacy. The difference lies in the fact that these would be conducted primarily by men in uniform or otherwise civilians in the defence ministries and that the content would have a large role for the military. However, these functions will form an important part of the larger foreign and security policy goals and ideals dictated by the political leadership. Broadly, military diplomacy has the following objectives: 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 are also big opportunities for signalling and messaging about a nation’s security interests and challenges to the foreign countries. If one were to look at the now routine SCO-China military exercises, which started way back in 2007, China announced that it intends to fight the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Despite Russia’s wariness and apprehensions of a rising China, it has been an active participant in these exercises. The exercises were also part of the Chinese efforts to limit the US influence in these countries, as much as an effort to strengthen bilateral and multilateral dealings with these countries. These exercises have also provided 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. Forums like Shangri-La Dialogue are also becoming important conduits for conducting military diplomacy.

The major aspects of military diplomacy include military and strategic level undertakings including 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, disaster management operations. Military diplomacy also includes: 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 – India
India has been lagging behind in using military diplomacy as an effective tool in its diplomacy. But this has been changing in the last few years. India has recognised the crucial importance of military diplomacy to strengthen this beyond the narrow traditional level of bilateral joint exchanges to include multilateral exercises in our neighbourhood and beyond and also to engage in arms sales. Traditionally, this aspect of arms sales has been left to our neighbours such as Pakistan and China, who have been active in promoting this aspect of diplomacy and thus gaining greater influence beyond their immediate neighbourhood.

India’s participation in the quadrilateral exercises with the US, Japan, Australia was one of the major demonstrations of India taking big steps in this regard. In addition, India has enhanced its defence ties with some of the Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, who have been prompting an increased role and presence of India in Southeast Asia over the years. Signing of a defence cooperation pact with Singapore in 2004, for instance, drastically changed the fabric of New Delhi’s defence ties in the region. The manner in which the Indian Navy was able to quickly respond, first on its own, sending 35 ships, and later joined by the US, Japan, Australia in ensuring rapid response and relief, post-Tsunami 2004 was a spectacular display of the soft power aspects of India’s military capabilities. As part of its military diplomacy in Southeast Asia, India (as also Japan) has also been active in stepping up the maritime capabilities of key countries, particularly in meeting the challenges of piracy, sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). These have included regular regional and bilateral dialogues on the safety of SLOCs, coordinated patrols, port calls by ships, training of naval officers in Indian military institutions, and intelligence sharing particularly on maritime affairs. India has also been pursuing several trilateral partnerships in this regard including the US, Japan, India framework.

As regards India’s joint military exercises, India has been fairly active. 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. Taking India’s Look East Policy forward, India has intensified its engagement with the ASEAN nations. In December 2012, the India-ASEAN relations were raised to the level of a strategic partnership, in recognition of the security and strategic interests that are gaining a greater say. Similarly, Indian ships have also made regular port calls in Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Greece, Oman, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, South Africa, Kenya, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. Initiatives involving the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa) have been on since 2008 – the first joint naval exercise, IBSAMAR I was held in 2008; a second one in 2010. The IBSA series of exercises has been of a sophisticated nature involving live-fire drills, radio compatibility and Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises as well as anti-aircraft and anti-terrorist drills. Additional measures to strengthen military-to-military cooperation are being explored, especially given the issue of piracy on both the eastern and western coast of Africa. These challenges have also prompted this group to take up issues of ocean governance and freedom of navigation. Unlike the BRICS, the IBSA has far greater potential for military cooperation given that these countries do not share any history of conflict with each other.

In dealing with some of its neighbours, for instance, India has been much more pragmatic than idealistic. India has also been moving closer to Vietnam, with an eye on the rising China factor for both the countries. New Delhi has paid closer attention to Hanoi’s needs, particularly in enhancing its air and maritime capabilities. It has offered huge aid and assistance on both these fronts. In addition, India has also considering the idea of forging closer military ties with Myanmar given the growing Chinese reach in that country. While India along with China had come in for criticism for its proposed arms sales to Myanmar, India-Myanmar military-to-military relations have been warming up. All the three Indian service chiefs had visited Myanmar in the past one year – a sign of the closer bilateral ties and a sign of India gaining greater comfort in pursuing military diplomacy. Despite the apparent close ties with Beijing, Myanmar’s Navy Chief Vice Admiral Thura Thet Swe was in India for closer military cooperation with India. This visit secured higher number of slots for the Myanmarese military officers in Indian military installations, in addition to higher number of air force officers, especially helicopter pilots, to be trained in India. The Indian Shipyard will also be constructing at least four Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPV) for use by the Myanmarese Navy. In the recent years, Myanmar had procured 105 mm artillery guns, mortars, armoured personnel carriers (APVs) and rifles from India.

Compared to even a decade back, India has made taken major strides in pushing military diplomacy to a new level. Even as that is the case, it has to do more in order to gain influence and leverage, both closer to home and far. India has not only increased the nature and intensity of its military interactions with others but has also strengthened its reach by increasing the number of military officers posted abroad as Defence Attaches and military advisers. Through woken up late to the idea, India is beginning to get a firmer grip on effectively running military diplomacy.

Arms Sales Should be A Big Part of Military Diplomacy
While there have been several important considerations including technological, economic and commercial, India has shied away from pursuing arms sales as an important aspect of its military diplomacy. However, a more critical consideration should have been the strategic considerations, which is to prevent China or Pakistan from gaining particular advantage in spheres of Indian influence and concern.

Accordingly, India should have considered sale of arms and such other items including the Brahmos cruise missile and the INSAS small arms systems to a number of countries who have been on a look-out. Regarding Brahmos, since it was jointly developed with Russia, there have been issues to work out with Moscow before India could make deals. However, these are problems that can be ironed out if India acknowledges the need to do so. For instance, Brahmos has been looked at with keen interest in South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. Commercial considerations coupled with strategic interests in all of these three countries should be significant drivers pushing India in this direction. Similarly, several smaller western African countries have shown interest in India’s INSAS small arms systems.

India could consider other weapon systems for export purposes such as the Dhruv – the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH). Dhruv, being a multi-role new generation helicopter, produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., is believed to have a variety of capabilities, including heliborne assault, logistic support, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and training, besides its utility as air observation post. Dhruv has appeared in a few international air shows including the 2007 Paris Air Show and potential buyers have been identified as well. HAL entered into deal with Chile to sell six; two to Bolivia, among others. India’s ship-building capabilities are considered fine. 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. Southeast Asia will provide itself as potential buyers given the nature of challenges faced by the countries in this region.

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. While the effectiveness of the Indra radars has been debated, they nevertheless serve some limited purpose.

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.

However, if India has to succeed in this arena, it has to create a strategic industry with significant private sector participation. Private sector participation that could boost India’s own defence sector will also be in a position to drive a profit-driven business if India’s arms export policy is revamped. India has to craft an innovative policy that will minimise delay and red tapism that have been a curse with our state-owned enterprises.

Revamping India’s arms export policy would also involve keeping up to date with the global export control lists such as that of the Waasenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Guidelines, which could also go to strengthen India’s own candidature in to these groupings.