August 10, 2014

After US offers, India finds itself at crossroads


Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service 
The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Nation

New Delhi, August 10
A promising offer from the United States to co-produce and co-develop military equipment and a suggestion for a trilateral military alliance to include Japan, leave India at a crossroads.
  
 
Some hard-nosed decision making will be needed on how New Delhi accepts the US offers without seeming to move away from Russia or even remotely looking like a 'cat's paw' for America in the region. In other words, a fine balance has to be struck between the US and Japan on one side and Russia and China on the other side - a balance that could put the Indian diplomacy to test.

US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, who ended his three-day visit to India yesterday, raised two specific issues. First, he showed keenness to co-produce military equipment, unfettered access to technology that is reserved for countries like UK, Canada or Australia. Second, he asked India to make a strategic shift and forge a trilateral alliance with the US and Japan, buttressing it with "as the US and Indian security interests converge, so should our partnerships with other nations".
In case New Delhi accepts this, it will have to be seen equidistant from the decades-old Japan-China acrimony. Japan has given some major infrastructure like the Delhi Metro and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). What India awaits is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan of shifting the thousands of Japanese factories in China to India along the upcoming DMIC and also the Chennai Bangalore Industrial Corridor (CBIC).

Former Defence Minister AK Antony was not so keen on co-development ties with the US but had allowed purchase of specialised planes, the C-17 and the C-130-J for the Indian Air Force and the Boeing P8-I for the Navy. After 2008, the US won military contracts worth military $9 billion (approx Rs 54,000 crore). Al those years when India was in the Soviet Union bloc during the Cold War, the US did business worth only $ 500 million (Some Rs 3,000 crore at today's value).
Between 2009 and 2013, India imported 14 per cent of all global arms sold and Russia accounted for 79 per cent of those supplies, said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its March 2014 report 'trends in international arms transfers for the period 2009-1013'. India has joint development project with Russia, France and Israel. The US has offered a similar tie-up. India may find it tough to sever its umbilical cord from Russia. As of today projects worth $39 billion are in the pipeline with Moscow including co-development of the next generation of fighter jets. The Russia has helped New Delhi in its indigenous nuclear submarine, the Arihant.

At its launch in 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was candid: "I would like to express our appreciation to our Russian friends for their invaluable cooperation". Moscow has also leased out a nuclear submarine, the Chakra. Long standing ties with Russia means India has more often than not voted along pro-Moscow line at the international forum, recently on the conflict in Ukraine.

Antony's successor Arun Jaitley, carries no such baggage or history of dithering on deeper ties with the US, rather by raising the level of foreign direct investment, to allow foreign firms to hold 49 per cent stake in military equipment-producing firms, he has sent out a signal. New Delhi will also be looking to factor in apprehensions and looking for assurance that no hurdle shall be placed at the behest of altered US interests. 
Indian diplomacy faces litmus test 

US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has showed keenness to co-produce military equipment and forge a trilateral alliance involving the US, India and Japan
New Delhi has to accept the US offers without seeming to move away from Russia or even remotely looking like a 'cat's paw' for America in the region
India will have to take into account the decades-old Japan-China acrimony before entering into any military alliance with Tokyo
India may find it tough to sever its umbilical cord from Russia. As of today projects worth $39 bn are in the pipeline with Moscow including co-development of the next generation of fighter jets

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