I have been inactive with my blog for more than three years but I have decided to start again and hopefully will keep it active. I thought I will share with you a few short pieces that I wrote this month for The Outlook and The Diplomat. I have now become a regular author with The Diplomat the Asia Defense page at The Diplomat, and so I will be doing a regular column for them.
I wrote the first piece this year for The Outlook on dealing with China - Beijing’s Diplomatic Crumbs Shouldn’t Con Delhi; Talk, But With Hands On The Holster. I argued that India must take a couple of steps if it has to be able to effectively balance the China factor in the Indo-Pacific.
As I mentioned, I have more like a column for The Diplomat and my first essay for them looked at India’s space programme and policy. India’s space programme is one that has done India proud but there are continuing challenges that need to be addressed if we have to be maximise our gains and minimise the vulnerabilities in the mid to long term. One, India needs to augment its policy and program in line with contemporary regional and global developments in the space domain. The fact that India does not a comprehensive space policy is a major lacunae. As of now, there are sector-specific policies for remote sensing and Satcom. While these are essential to catering to the needs of specific customers, the need for a holistic approach to space is gaining greater momentum. India’s leaders must think about developing a comprehensive, overarching space policy, issued by a central agency such as the Prime Minister’s Office or the Ministry of External Affairs. The second challenge is finding a strategy to enhance India’s space capacity. While the ISRO has begun acknowledging the new reality that there are growing demands from a variety of sectors for space services, the problem lies in the capacity to deliver in a timely manner. ISRO has begun co-opting private players to meet these growing demands. While a few companies other than the traditional players such as Larsen & Tubro and Godrej are entering the domain, the Department of Space could make the outreach to commercial entities in a more coherent fashion through a comprehensive policy framework. The third challenge India faces is how to deal with the growing demands for an international space regime. India must be mindful of the efforts at developing an effective outer space regime as it frames its own national space policy. The growing number of problems, including space debris, the potential weaponization of space, as well as deployment of anti-satellite weapons, require concerted multilateral action. India has yet to decide how to frame its national interests in outer space in a way that both promotes its own national requirements but also global needs. India has an opportunity to take the lead on this, lest it face the alternative of having others determine these rules.
I wrote a second short essay for The Diplomat on the just-concluded India-ASEAN Summit. Leaders of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are in India for the 69th Republic Day celebrations. This is the first time that India has hosted more than one head of state or government as guest of honor for its Republic Day events. The fact that the ten leaders are in India together reflect India’s growing strategic profile and also the increasing strategic convergence between India and Southeast Asia. India and ASEAN are celebrating 25 years of their partnership and 15 years of their summit engagements. The two sides have grown a lot closer in the last decade, primarily driven by the China factor, but questions still remain as to whether India has the will and capacity to make a strategic difference in Southeast Asia.
Creating physical regional connectivity has been of specific interest to India and the ASEAN countries, especially Thailand and Myanmar. The trilateral highway involving the three countries as well as the Kaladan multi-modal transit and transport project are examples. However, they are also a reminder that projects that began with good intentions have not gone very far. While the Modi government has given them a fresh impetus, the lack of progress on infrastructure projects has created negative perceptions about India’s overall wherewithal to undertake and deliver on large projects. Trade and economic interactions between India and ASEAN have grown in the last two decades, from $2 billion in 1992 to $12 billion in 2002 and around $76 billion today. While this is fairly impressive, ASEAN-China trade is many times larger than trade with India. Also, the more pressing interest between the two sides has to do with the emerging Asian strategic order and the respective roles for India and Southeast Asia in it. India and Southeast Asia have an interest in developing a free and inclusive regional architecture. The idea of an open and free Indo-Pacific has been articulated by India several times. For this, ASEAN’s role as a regional institution and that of individual member states such as Singapore and Indonesia are significant. The absence of an overarching comprehensive regional architecture remains a possible agenda for both sides to work on.
I will be doing the full essay from the next one.