Monday, July 21, 2014

Defence is important, but the economy must come first

After the smart salutes and displays, Union Defence Minister Arun Jaitley must now be snowed under with the long lists of demands from the armed forces. The army wants its mountain strike corps, artillery guns, attack helicopters. The IAF remains fixated on the Rafale fighter, as well as Airbus tankers, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters.
The Navy wants to move faster on the aircraft carrier construction, Project 75 I submarines, Project 17A frigates and 15 B destroyers besides wanting more multi-role helicopters, and corvettes.
It is an irony, of course, but Jaitley's main job - and, indeed, his principal duty as the Union Finance Minister - is to get the country's economy ticking at high speed again.
So my suggestion: The government should freeze all new defence acquisitions for the next six months. This will help stabilise the fiscal situation.
But more importantly, it could provide space to begin a comprehensive and much-delayed reform of the country's national security machinery.
Needless to say, acquisitions required to keep existing systems going should not be affected by the freeze.
The six months should be used to conduct a Strategic Defence Review, which should determine just what the government wants its armed forces to do.
In other words, before arming, the government must clearly define its goals.
In 2010, Stephen Cohen and Sunil Das Gupta outlined India's predicament in their book, "Arming without aiming" which brought out the multiple problems confronting the Indian armed forces, who have functioned without effective joint planning, and political guidance for a long time now.

 Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should freeze defence purchases

Left to themselves, each of the three services cater to each and every eventuality. But being able to fight any and every challenge is a luxury even the US can no longer afford.
To start at the very beginning: India is today a nuclear weapons state with an estimated 100 warheads, sufficient to ensure that no foreign power, not even the US, can militarily bully or overwhelm us.
Though we have serious issues with both Pakistan and China, nuclear weapons capability in each of the three countries makes the chances of an all out war between them low.
In such conditions, what kind of conventional capabilities should the country acquire and over what time frame?
This is an important question, since we are talking about spending hundreds of thousands of crore rupees over the next decade in which we also desperately need to spend the money to enhance India's economic capacity. No one has applied his mind to this issue, since there has been no governmental effort to review the situation.
That is why the first priority of the government is to call for a comprehensive Strategic Defence Review (SDR), which should be steered by the top ministers of the government through the National Security Adviser and the National Security Council machinery, which includes the Strategic Policy Group of key secretaries, and military and intelligence chiefs.
Such an exercise could, for example, come up with the finding that we do not need a mountain strike corps, and that the country's objectives vis-à-vis China could be better and more economically met through other means, which could include a naval strategy, or the enhancing the quality and mobility of existing mountain divisions.
That would straight away lead to a saving of at least Rs 100,000 crore over the next five years.
Likewise, it may result in the finding that the Air Force cannot afford the 126 Rafale fighters, or that India does not really need some of the big ticket items like heavy lift C-17 aircraft right now.
There is need to re-prioritise the expensive items in the services' wish list in a manner that will not strain the economy, without necessarily increasing the vulnerability of the country.
In any case, remember, we are a nuclear-armed state.
Because there has never been an SDR, the armed forces have simply built layer upon layer of capabilities, without any of the layers being particularly effective since India lacks the wherewithal to support them.
Thus, the pre-nuclear age army plan called for massed tank attacks to cut Pakistan in two. But this is not going to happen now.
So, do we need the massive holdings of Main Battle Tanks? The army will say yes, since Pakistan also has them. But wouldn't it be a good idea to negotiate a mutual reduction of such tanks, which are not going to be used anyway?
Then, take the huge armies of paramilitary that we are adding to each year. Is it not time to start putting serious money into enhancing the quality of the state police forces?
Do we need the Rashtriya Rifles now? They were raised in 1993 when we had our backs to the wall in Kashmir. Today, the situation has changed completely. J&K Police officers have repeatedly stated that they no longer need CAPF or the RR.
The SDR exercise is not aimed at reducing defence expenditure. It is to right-size the force structure based on the needs of the country.
For example, the Indian Air Force today is focused on fighters, but it has never had a long range bomber, nor indeed sought one. This SDR could well come up with a different answer. Similarly, the SDR could suggest a stepping up of India's naval capabilities which have been seriously neglected in the past decade.
Conducting a Strategic Defence Review is one aspect of the exercise through which we will take aim at our objectives. The second, and equally vital part of it is to empower our armed forces.
This does not mean better and more equipment and personnel. It means firm political guidance that will clearly set out what the country expects from their armed forces, not in vague sloganeering terms, but through a detailed document worked out through careful study.
Mail Today June 10, 2014

Japan's rise is good for India

In the past week, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur have focused on the future geopolitics of the Asia Pacific.
Not surprisingly, the key discussions have centered on the rising tensions between Asia’s has-been power, Japan, and rising power China. This is a rivalry poisoned by history, and it is threatening the peace of a region which is the engine of the world’s economic growth.
In the past five years, China has been flexing its muscles in the South and East China Seas raising the hackles of its neighbours. Not only is Beijing undertaking a massive military build up, but the Communist Party of China under the leadership, of Xi Jinping, is taking an active role in promoting a proactive national security posture.

 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that when  Indian PM Narendra Modi visits Japan, the two sides will work to make the Japan-India cooperation peaceful and prosperous . Pic/AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that when  Indian PM Narendra Modi visits Japan, the two sides will work to make the Japan-India cooperation peaceful and prosperous. Pic/AFP

A consequence of this has been the US decision to ‘rebalance’ itself towards Asia to reassure key allies like South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. But perhaps more dramatic, and in its own way worrisome, has been the ‘return’ of Japan to the high-stakes table.
This has been evident in the platform of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the foundations of whose policy is an economic revival of Japan based on the ‘three arrows’ of Abenomics: A bold monetary policy with a view of easing monetary conditions to encourage an inflation rate of 2 per cent; a flexible fiscal policy which includes an economic stimulus package and fiscal consolidation; and finally a growth strategy dependent on promoting private investment, targeting new markets and working out new trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Equally significant has been Japan’s new diplomacy which has sought to, first and foremost, strengthen the US-Japan alliance. A subset of this is the push to work out a modus vivendi with South Korea which retains historical suspicions of Japan.
The second pillar of Japanese diplomacy involves promoting links with the ASEAN, Australia and India. The third is to deepen ties with EU and Russia and finally, take a more active role in global issues such as climate change, millennium development goals etc.
But the most dramatic changes are likely to show up in Tokyo’s security policy, which is based on deep reform of its security infrastructure. In December 2013 Japan set up a National Security Council and within weeks, came up with a new National Security Strategy which sees Japan as a ‘proactive contributor to peace based on the principle of international cooperation’.
This means redefining what self-defence is all about and enhancing the Japanese contribution to it, through stronger ties with the US, strengthening the Japanese military and sharpening its technological edge. The Abe government wants to re-interpret self-defence to mean the ability of Japanese forces to come to the aid of allies, even if Japan itself is not attacked. This is opposed by China, South Korea and by some in Japan.
They are afraid that it could put Japan back on the path of militarisation that led to the catastrophe of World War II. India has been the beneficiary of China-Japan tensions. Prior to the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in 2005, Tokyo largely ignored New Delhi. China was the foremost recipient of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in the 1980 and 1990s. By 2000, Japan had provided China with some $25 billion in soft loans and grants which went a long way in developing China’s infrastructure. In the 1958-2000 period, Japan’s ODA to India was around $7 billion.
Since then, India has become its largest recipient for successive years and since 2000, it has got some $30 billion worth of ODA. In addition, Japan’s private sector, long leery of India has begun hedging its Chinese bets by investing in India. Among the Japanese projects are long-range ones like the Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor along which there are plans to build new cities and economic zones.
India could also benefit from Tokyo’s shifting stance on exports relating to defence equipment. In April, Japan tweaked its export policy by coming up with a new set of ‘Three Principles’ on defence equipment transfer. But, already, it has offered New Delhi the ShinMaywa US 2 amphibian aircraft for use by the Coast Guard and other non-military agencies.
The rise, if you want to call it that, of another Asian power on the flanks of China, one which also has difficulties with Beijing, is to India’s advantage. New Delhi is not unaware of the geopolitical benefits. For this reason, Abe was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade this year. India and Japan began bilateral naval exercises in 2012, and during the Abe visit, it was announced that Japan would join this year’s Malabar Exercise involving India and the US again.
In his speech at the Shangri-La dialogue, Abe had hailed Modi’s election as Prime Minister and said that when the Indian PM visited Japan, the two sides would confirm that “Japan-India cooperation, as well as trilateral cooperation including our two countries, will make the ‘confluence of the two seas’, that is the Pacific and Indian Oceans, peaceful and more prosperous.” These are public declarations, deliberately couched in generalities, but containing within a host of geopolitical possibilities. 
Mid Day June 10, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Strategy, not money must drive Modi's military overhaul

Narendra Modi's invite to heads of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has set a comforting tone for the incoming government.It suggests that the foreign policy of the new government will not destabilise the neighbourhood and will actually emphasise continuity. 

This may not be quite the message many of Mr Modi's more radical followers expected to hear, but it is the one that the new government seems keen to give.
Anyway, "strong" foreign policy must be anchored on strong fundamentals.
And anyone who has studied these things knows that neither the state of the economy, nor our national security machinery, is working at full pace.
In these circumstances to adopt tough postures would be highly irresponsible and, indeed, hazardous, because they could lead India to the kind of misadventure it faced when Mr Nehru ordered the Army to "throw out" the Chinese from the Thag La ridge on that fateful October of 1962. 

The situation with regard to our armed forces is not new. In 2001, in the wake of the attack on Parliament House, the government contemplated the use of the military, but it took them nearly a month to get ready and by the time the moment had passed.
The subsequent year-long mobilisation was a farcical exercise that took the lives of nearly 2000 personnel, without an actual war being fought.
In 2008, once again, when the government explored military options in response to the Mumbai attack, it was told that the Army was not ready because it lacked key tank ammunition, air defence artillery and that its artillery holdings, too, were not in good shape.
It is no secret that our higher national security management is dysfunctional, with the civilians and uniformed people in barely talking terms.

There is no joint planning to speak of, and morale in all three services is low because of the poor political leadership they have had in the A. K. Antony era.
A mere change of governments will not alter the state of affairs which has deep structural roots. A great deal of effort and, principally, political leadership is needed to make our forces fighting fit.
As long as we were focused on Pakistan as the main adversary, we could continue as before because they could be counted on to be a degree worse than us. But this year we have seen the shape of the future.
The American pivot to the Pacific seems to have pushed Beijing to take a forward stance along its maritime periphery, and the effects of this are washing into the Indian Ocean.

Security: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Modi's defence policy must shift away from focusing solely on India's relationship with Pakistan
Security: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Modi's defence policy must shift away from focusing solely on India's relationship with Pakistan 

At the beginning of the year, we saw a major Chinese exercise on the Lombok Straits, which was very transparently aimed at breaching naval choke-points.
Around the same time, a Chinese Shang-class nuclear propelled submarine carried out a patrol across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
When it comes to China, we cannot afford any complacency, we cannot be satisfied with a military that can -- just about -- cope with Pakistan.
We need one that can fight and win wars with any adversary, or a combination of them.
Dealing with this is not merely a military problem. It is one that requires the maximising of India's comprehensive national power.
The primary requirement here is certainly economic. This is well understood by most people across the country.
Minus a rapidly growing economy, India will be hard put to feed, clothe and house its growing population, and worse, it will also be wasting the demographic dividend of tens of millions of working age young who can help propel its economy to double-digit growth.
Minus a growing economy, it will also lack the resources of maintaining a military system which can safeguard its integrity and protect its interests in its region and beyond.

This is the system which is in a severe state of disrepair. It needs urgent attention, but not in terms of importing shiny new weapons and equipment, but with regard to its organisation and morale.
We need to understand that if the Indian armed forces are going to fight a modern war in today's world, they will need to do this in an integrated fashion.
This integration is required not only between the armed forces and the civilian ministry of defence, but it will also be required within the three services both in terms of their acquisitions and war plans.

Increasingly, most observers, barring, perhaps, the babus in the Ministry of Defence itself, realise that the R&D and government-owned defence industry needs to completely open up.
There is now a need for a complete overhaul of the system and a large-scale entry of the private sector both into defence R&D and industry.
Indeed, India also needs large amounts of FDI in the defence industry. If the Indian defence industry is going to be a viable enterprise, it will have to create a place for itself in the global supply chain as a player, because currently India's defence requirements are simply not sufficient to sustain a stand-alone industry.
As soon as a new minister comes, there will be a big push from vendors to prioritise particular import deals.
It is no secret that fiscal problems compelled the government to put many, such as that of the Rafale fighters, on hold.
The government will do well to look into the rationale of some of these big-ticket items, including the recently approved mountain strike corps, and insist that they be worked on as part of a rational tri-service defence plan, rather than the desires of a single service. 

Integration: If the Indian armed forces are going to fight a modern war in today's world, they will need to do this in an integrated fashion
Integration: If the Indian armed forces are going to fight a modern war in today's world, they will need to do this in an integrated fashion

More important, instead of focusing on the big-ticket items, the government needs to focus on the smaller but more vital cogs in the country's defence machine which are needed to get existing equipment going – armour-piercing ammunition for tanks, replacement for Bofors guns, surface-to-air missiles, heavyweight torpedoes, sonars and multi-role helicopters whose absence is degrading the capabilities of our existing warships.
Having taken care of the urgent requirements, the new Cabinet Committee on Security should insist on a radical overhaul of the national security system before funding new acquisitions.
Suffice to say, there is sufficient slack in the existing system which, if tightened up, will provide for a more efficient and capable fighting force without spending any more money than is being spent today. 
Mail Today May 27, 2014

Modi's diplomatic master-stroke

The invitation by the incoming government of Narendra Modi to the leaders of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is being seen for the diplomatic master stroke that it is. In one fell swoop, it has answered several questions about the nature of the incoming regime and also staked out a number of positions relating to its outlook.
To be specific its foreign policy will not divert significantly from those of past governments, and that it will seek to build relations on a template which was actually drawn up during the previous NDA government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Even so, there are four significant issues arising from the development.

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepts greetings from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the swearing-in ceremony of the NDA government at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. Pic/PTI
Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepts greetings from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the swearing-in ceremony of the NDA government at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. Pic/PTI

First, it has sent a powerful signal about what could well in the coming years be called the Delhi Consensus — that democracy works, even for poor developing countries and is the superior way of doing things. In the last couple of years as the US turned inward and Europe appeared to implode, rising China seemed to signal that, perhaps, its authoritarian model was the better one when it comes to development.
In virtually each of our neighbouring nations, there is a battle going on between forces of democracy and those of authoritarianism and anarchy. That the largest nation in SAARC has seen a peaceful, indeed, a routine transfer of power, despite the radical nature of verdict, is a powerful signal.
Second, India has signalled that it will embed its regional policy within the framework of SAARC. This should reduce the disquiet among our neighbours arising from the sheer size of India and its economy. This has a history since India’s Pakistan policy of today is rooted in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad to attend the 12th SAARC summit between 4-6 January 2004.
Two events here shaped the UPA-1 and 2 policies. The first was the signing of the Framework Agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and bring the customs duty on traded goods to zero by 2016. The second was a joint statement in which the Pakistan president committed to ensure that Pakistan’s territory would not be used for terror attacks against India and the resumption of the composite dialogue.
Third, this signal is important because among the foremost tasks that confront the government is to push for the economic integration of the South Asian region. India’s goal of being an economic power of significance cannot take off unless it is able to knit the natural economies of the South Asian region together.
This is accepted by all SAARC countries who are committed to SAFTA. Indian leadership here would be a crucial determinant in moving the project forward in the coming years. We are already at a breakthrough point with Pakistan at last coming around to giving India the Most Favoured Nation (or Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA).
Fourth, and this is not something to be talked about loudly: The presence of the South Asian leaders and the prime minister of Mauritius, lays out in a way, India’s sphere of interest in the South Asian and Indian Ocean Region. It goes without saying that Pakistan and Afghanistan are a special case here since Islamabad’s grand strategy has always been to seek parity with India by hook or by crook.
But, the other South Asian nations know that they are ‘India locked’ and that while they may accept aid and arms from China, there are some red lines that they should not cross. This is the lesson learnt, most recently, by Nepal.
When the Maoist government of Prachanda started trying to alter the Himalayan balance by pushing Beijing to play a bigger role in Nepal. India reacted and within a few years it was successful in neutralising him and getting Nepali politics back behind the Indian red lines.
All this must be seen in the context of the Modi government’s larger ambitions to restore India to the economic growth path. Only if that happens over the next few years, will the Indian economy exert a regional pull, but it will also aid in quickening the pace of modernisation of the Indian armed forces.
Presumably, of course, the government will carry out the necessary organisational reforms that are needed to ensure that the Indian military is not just the sum of a certain number of tanks, fighter aircraft and the like, but an effective instrument of India’s national security policy.
Many fire-eaters, who had expected a ‘56’ -inch foreign policy, will be disappointed at this approach. But for one thing, they are not running the government. For another, what is clear is that in the area of foreign policy, which did not figure much in the campaign and constituted an insignificant portion of the BJP election manifesto, will follow the existing track.
Significantly this is derived from those of the BJP-led NDA in the 1998-2004 period, which emphasised engagement with the neighbouring countries. However, with the rise of China, it is clear that unless India’s foreign policy is anchored in a strong national security system, it will not have much of a market either in the region, or the world.
Mid Day May 27, 2014


Obama's foreign policy

In a recent op-ed, former Japanese defence minister Yoriko Koike said that the one man who could, perhaps unwittingly, endanger world peace, is not Vladimir Putin, but United States President Barack Obama.
According to Koike, by his ‘scholarly inertia’, Obama appeared to be unconcerned over the “fate of smaller faraway countries.” What she charges Obama with is the willful neglect of the world order which was created by the United States in the wake of World War II.
This system was based on a willingness of the US, the recognised global hegemon, to take the tough policies and implement rules and norms that ensured a generally stable global environment.
It is easy to understand the Japanese angst. The Russian seizure of Crimea could presage a similar Chinese move to snatch the Senkaku islands of Japan which Beijing claims. It was one thing for Putin to reclaim Russian-majority Crimea which had been detached from Russia in 1959.
But now, as it foments separatism in eastern Ukraine and talks of reconstituting the Soviet Empire, the US seems paralysed. Actually the tremors of America’s passivity are being felt across the globe. In the Persian Gulf, historic allies of the US Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikhdoms wonder whether the US intends to upend the regional order and place its bets once again on Iran. Or worse, end up doing neither moving to Iran, or backing its allies.
In Southeast Asia, there are few signs of an American Asian pivot. The ‘pivot’ idea is attributed to a 2011 essay by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her basic thrust was that as the Iraq war winds down and the Americans begin to pull out of Afghanistan, the US will be at a pivot point.
At this stage, Asia was not mentioned, but soon it became clear that the American pivot, later rechristened ‘rebalance’, would be to Asia. The pivot became part of a larger plan to refocus the US military deployments in the Asia-Pacific region after their diversion to the Middle-East and South Asia in the 2001-2011 period.
The obvious urgency for the pivot/rebalance was to counter the rising power of China, and reassure US allies like Japan and the Philippines, who were locked in territorial disputes with Beijing.
Almost immediately, the Asian pivot was overwhelmed by the Arab Spring following revolts in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in quick succession. But while the situation was manageable in these countries, the revolts in Syria and Ukraine have taken a different turn and brought out the limits of American power. It was also significant that this was the point at which the muscular Clinton was replaced by John Kerry as Secretary of State.
The United States has gone through two harrowing wars and Obama’s main goal is to retrench and recuperate. But when you are the global hegemon, and one that is naturally keen to maintain its primacy for as long as it can, Obama and the US do not have the option of taking their ball and going back home.
It would be wrong to blame Obama alone for this situation. For example, his allies, such as Germany could have done more to control the Russians. But his bigger problem is the US Congress and the American public.
While he is trying to follow a policy of engagement and deterrence, his hands are tied by the Congress, which has pushed the blunt instrument of sequestration to control the budget.
So bitterly divided is the US these days that last year, because of the lockdown of the government, Obama was unable to attend the APEC Summit in Bali, leaving the floor to China’s leader Xi Jinping. America’s long and fruitless wars have been a major drain on its economy.
Its defence spending averaged 4 per cent between 1990-2012 but now, under the sequestration policy of the US Congress, the spending will fall steadily from 4.3 per cent of the GDP in 2012 to 2.8 by 2023.
The consequences of the shift is apparent from the comment of a senior Pentagon official in March that the Pentagon’s plans to pivot to Asia ‘can’t happen’ due to cuts to the defence budget. However, she later clarified that the US Department of Defence would “adapt and innovate” but still make the pivot happen.
Obama has finally made his Asian visit last week, which has included the first visit by a US president to Malaysia since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1966. But there is not much to show for it.
There has been little or no movement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement through which the US hopes to slow down, if not halt, the Chinese economic juggernaut. He has signed a 10-year defence agreement with the Philippines, but he has left unanswered the more important questions about the reliability of the United States as an ally.
The big paradox that the US confronts is the need to confront China and Russia at the same time. Clearly, even the mighty US does not have the energy and resources to do that. Beijing is, of course, quite self-confident because it is locked into the western economies and is, in that sense, sanctions proof.
But a wounded Russia will only rush into the arms of the Chinese. This would serve China well because it would now have access to Russian resources, as well as its military tech which it cannot obtain from elsewhere in any case.
Mid Day April 29, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How the world sees a future Modi Government

Washington: In the capital of the country that has refused to give a visa to Narendra Modi, there is endless speculation among policy makers about what Modi's arrival on the scene means for India, its relations with Pakistan and China and, of course, the United States.
Modi's own statements have helped to thaw the American freeze somewhat. In several interviews he has insisted that his individual issues in relation to the American visa denial will not be allowed to cloud his judgment over India's US policy.
In another interview last week, he has been most explicit – India and the US are "natural allies" he declared, in a formulation first heard during the Vajpayee period.
Indeed, Modi said it was Vajpayee who laid the foundation for a new era of partnership with the US, so "we will build upon that and take it forward."


But given his personality, no matter what he says, Modi is not likely to forget the slight of the US visa denial easily. It will therefore be some time before relations with the US can get back to the level they were at the time the Indo-US nuclear deal was signed.
In addition, there will have to be a lot of work done in Washington and New Delhi to undo the era of bad feelings that have characterised Indo-US relations in the last couple of years.
None of this will remove the lingering concerns of the different segments of the US policy community. There are non-proliferation wallahs who worry that the BJP promise "to study" and "review" the nuclear doctrine could lead to India abandoning its no first use pledge.
Those promoting religious rights – who were primarily responsible for his visa denial – worry that a Modi prime ministership could have negative consequences for religious freedom in the country.
Then there are those who worry that an assertive Modi could upset the regional applecart in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Modi's declaration that relations with Pakistan cannot be normal "as long as the bombs are going off" provides one perspective. Another can be seen from his refusal to court the Muslim community during the elections. In other words, his Pakistan policy could be marked with indifference, rather than active belligerence.
Indian policy towards Pakistan has veered between what can be termed "flexible engagement" and "flexible containment", and it would not be surprising if the latter theme becomes dominant in his dealings with Islamabad.
Then there are those in Washington who look at relations with India through the prism of specific regional issues-Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, South China Sea and so on. Given America's own reluctance to get involved in another conflict, they hope that India can play a more active role.
India is not unhappy that the US seems to be preoccupied with developments in the Middle-East and Ukraine. Because they worry that a US desperate to leave Afghanistan could further compromise India's interests in relation to Pakistan.
Likewise, there are concerns that the US is pushing the Russians into the arms of the Chinese and this could result in India losing its coveted status as Russia's favoured partner for arms transfer issues.


America itself is going in for an election this year. The mid-term election involves the entire House of Representatives and 34 out of 50 seats in the Senate and 36 out of 50 governorships of the states.
At a superficial level, Barack Obama is not very different from that of Manmohan Singh. He, too, is seen as an indecisive or passive leader. But the US is coping with the consequences of the two wars it fought in the 2000s.
The policy wonks may not like it, but the average American is quite happy to stay away from any new conflict, especially one that could involve another war.
Of great interest in the US are Modi's perspectives towards China. It is known that he has visited both China and Japan. Many feel that these are the countries towards which India could tilt towards in the coming period.
Last week in an article in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times Liu Zongyi, a fellow at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies came up with another angle. He said that that Modi's election is cause for disquiet in western countries and Modi could actually bring China and India closer together.


It is not so much over the issue of human rights or religious freedoms, Liu has argued, but that the authoritarian and tough Modi could give rise to an ultra-nationalist and assertive India which could alter the terms of engagement between India and the west.
As of now, India follows a policy of passive restraint which is essentially defensive. It leans towards the west in terms of its world view. But were Modi to take the Putin track, it could upset the regional power equations. There is, however, an element of wishful thinking in the Chinese argument that a nationalist Modi will avoid getting involved in US plans for India to counter-balance China.
It is difficult to explain to the strategic community here that Modi has not yet been elected. And even if he is, his room for manoeuvre would depend on the kind of majority or plurality he had. But most important, is that Modi's own priorities would be on the economic side because he has raised enormous expectations among the electors on that front.
Getting tough with external adversaries is not a priority area, and in any case the level of toughness he can exercise would be greatly conditioned by the economic situation of the country. Raising the GDP by several percentage points would do more for India's standing, than any act of assertion against Pakistan, China or the US.

 Mail Today May 12, 2014