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December 6, 2010

A case for co-operation

Media reports have suggested that the United States and India plan to establish a bilateral technical group for further consultations on the issue of surmounting the difficulties in India’s reservations to accede to the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which will enable India to get cutting-edge technologies in defence equipment to procured from the United States. This is be a very welcome development.

Photo: USAF

The Ministry of Defence and the Air and Naval Headquarters are reported to have argued that accession to these two agreements is viewed with reservations by friendly defence suppliers like Russia. They may also involve India in commitments which may not necessarily be in India’s national interest. Russian officials have been said to argue that they have borne in mind India’s sensitivities and concerns by not supplying defence equipment to Pakistan and therefore, India should bear in mind similar Russian sensitivities on the issue. It is not clear at what level such Russian reservations were expressed. The forthcoming visit of President Dmitri Medvedev should provide a suitable opportunity to clear any misunderstanding on the issue.

All defence agreements are subject to supreme considerations of national sovereignty and national security interests. Though Turkey and Italy are founding members of NATO, Turkey refused to allow US troops to pass through its territory during the attack on Iraq in 2003. Italy similarly refused permission to the United States to use its bases to bomb Libya in 1986. In international diplomacy it is taken for granted that national sovereignty supersedes all bilateral and multilateral agreements. Therefore signing the LSA would not bind India to act against its own perception of national interest. The LSA is only an enabling agreement subject to India’s decision in each case. There can be no objection to signing a similar LSA agreement with Russia too. Nor can there be any objection to signing a similar interoperability agreement (like CISMOA) with Russia with respect to the equipment procured from them.

The fact remains that at present, the United States is operating in South, West and Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The extent of interoperability is a function of the intensity of operations by the concerned power in our region. A second consideration is the issue of a common language for interoperability communication. Military officers in India and the United States share a common language, English; only a small number of Indian officers can speak Russian.

Surely no Russian official of sufficiently seniority could have seriously cited their not selling weapons to Pakistan as an example of Russia exhibiting appropriate concern to Indian sensitivities. It is obviously a decision determined by Russian national security interests. It is not Russia’s national security interests to arm Pakistan, which provides safe haven to the Chechen terrorists. At present India gets the bulk of its supply of armour from Russia and is likely to do so in future. If Pakistan was supplied the same armour by Russia, India would obviously look for technologically superior equipment and Russia will lose its larger arms market in India.

Therefore accession to CISMOA and LSA will have to be determined on the basis of an objective cost-benefit analysis with the Indian national interest being the sole determining criterion. The reservations reported to have been advanced by the Ministry of Defence and Naval and Air Headquarters do not stand rigorous scrutiny.

Unfortunately there is still a strong residuum of Cold War and its derivative Non-Alignment mindsets in the world including among the politico-military establishments of India, Russia and the United States. During the Cold War era when India signed the Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship Treaty as an abundant precaution to provide deterrence against a possible Pakistan-China and US adventurism at the time of Bangladesh crisis, US officials asserted India had abandoned its non-alignment and joined the Soviet bloc. India offered to sign an identical Peace and Friendship Treaty with US. There used to be wild and irresponsible writings in the US and Western media that India had Soviet advisers in its armed forces and India allowed Vishakapatnam and Andamans to be used as Soviet bases. Even Indian politicians used to talk about the need for India to practice ‘genuine non-alignment.’ India’s principled stand on the Khmer Rouge issue and on Afghanistan were also subjected to severe criticism. But Indira Gandhi, unmindful of such criticism, pursued Indian national security interests single-mindedly.

Part of our problem arises because, for reasons totally incomprehensible, successive Indian Governments have not encouraged writing of current history and many politicians and officials of today have inadequate understanding of the radical changes that have come about as a result of the end of the Cold War and globalisation process. For instance, while there is a very widely held impression even among our ministers and senior officials that India has to maintain a posture of non-alignment between US and China.

They will find it difficult to explain the latest Chinese offer to invest $500 billion of its sovereign wealth funds in development of US infrastructure to carry out job creation in US provided the conditions were right. Beijing already has and is prepared to expand further its enormously high stakes in Washington. The two cannot be treated like the Cold War adversaries and a policy of non-alignment will make no sense. The world of 21st century is very different from the world of 20th century.

In other advanced democracies authoritative policy pronouncements and policy documents would inform the political establishments the assessed view about the international situation. In India this does not happen and each ministry and service develops its own assessment without there being a coherent view among all ministries and services. The arguments reported to have been presented by the defence ministry and the services should have been discussed at the level of the National Security Adviser, the foreign and defence secretaries and the service chiefs and settled. If they are unable to reach a consensus, the National Security Council is the appropriate forum for arriving at a decision.

Unfortunately, our National Security Council system has not yet developed to be the generator of comprehensive assessment of the international situation and its disseminator both within the government and to the country. A coherent view must be developed within the government with full participation of the Ministry of External Affairs and the National Security Adviser before the bilateral technical group is convened.


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