Converting Conundrums Challenges

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The India-US relationship is growing across the board but there are divergent views about India in Washington, reflective of how their system operates. In India the military is kept out of the decision making loop, depriving policymakers of vital input that could give new direction to the US relationship BY Vice Admiral Venkat Bharathan(IN) Retd.

The multi-polar world of today seems to be at a terminus of “Pleader-Ship & Dealer-Ship” in lieu of “Leadership”. A ‘Tired America, Strained Europe, Belligerent Russia, Bellicose China, Enraged Iran, Imploding Middle East, alongside Islam, Fanatical, rabid ISIS, Anemic Africa, Self-strangling South Asia are illustrative examples. The stark inability of global leadership to stop the vortices of violence, intolerance, involuntary bewildering human migration of growing magnitude is never more evident than today.

World order and disorder is never a zero sum game. It is a constantly changing dynamic. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the growing Indo- American relationship; the meteoric rise of ISIS, China’s hardening stand in the South China Sea, US-led NATO confrontation with Russia are a few examples.

South Asian regional conflicts would have neither participation, nor proactive intercession, barring diplomatic overtures, even in the current nuclear weapons environment. This was true in the past as would be most likely in the future. “Then”, it was in the height of Indo Soviet Cooperation and “Now” augmented by growing America India Cooperation.

LEADERSHIP IN INDIA’S MILITARY AND SECURITY SITUATION

The amorphousness of India’s Regional Military and Security Situation (MASS), is very obvious. It is this carcinogenic ‘MASS’ that hinders development of the subcontinent with a debilitating strain on India. India’s polity and people have to perforce learn to balance between being independent and interdependent. India and Indians have reason and cause to be proud that we are a secular, stable democracy.

The Indian diaspora in America is come of age with many of them in key US government posts. Equally importantly, affinity for their mother country is exponential in growth, depth dimension and direction. India has to learn to leverage and maximize this providential happenstance to strategic advantage

The political leadership with its absolute majority has a providential opportunity to galvanize the country with its Big Picture Approach. The imperatives of ethnic, social, cultural, traditional inclusiveness of all faiths through the clarion call of “Unity in Diversity”, is the imperative order of governance. In this lies our country’s ability to internalize our development, economic, military, security fiscal and diplomatic equities. Only then can India continue to maximize its external reach and contain the military and security intransigence on its borders and within the nation.

INDIA –USA

The America India relationship is also impacted, influenced by all of the above. Contradictions, Complexities, Conundrums, Contradictions have to be managed alongside cooperation, opportune “economic, commercial, scientific, industrial, civil aviation partnerships”, Defence Technology Trade initiatives and the like. Most essentially, in the context of equities of cooperation with America, India would do good to recognize that global interests of the US would always override regional considerations.

Both the nay and aye sayers of the emerging alignment, despite elements of angularities should/would perhaps appreciate the long and large term salutary impact of an India-USA democratic denouement of some promise!

This article if read in conjunction with the Previous article “Contradictions & Complexities of America India Relations” would provide continuity, on the reality of “Conundrums & Challenges” and the “Thick and Thin lines of Asymmetry and Alignment”

AMERICAN ANGULARITIES IN SOUTH ASIA

American angularities begin with lingering consequences of American foreign policy in the subcontinent, past and even present? To summarize

SINO-AMERICAN SIGN OFFS

America is the largest recipient of China’s exports. In the last 40 years, the United States has enabled China to become a formidable Global powerhouse. In more ways than one, both these economies have become intricately inter-woven. The 1972 “One China Policy” was the first de-facto sign off.

World order and disorder is never a zero sum game. It is a constantly changing dynamic. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the growing Indo- American relationship; the meteoric rise of ISIS, China’s hardening stand in the South China Sea, US-led NATO confrontation with Russia are a few examples

Taiwan was de-recognized and full diplomatic relations established with the PRC. America helped China’s entry into the WTO. It also enabled the latter to become an influential geo-political power, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. China’s ingress in the African continent, the Middle East, Latin America, South Asia and its maritime military resurgence in South China over the last two decades, is largely due to tacit American passivity, aided by US focus on combating radical Islam and subsequent military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet there is a trust deficit, now reaching high temperatures over differences in the South China Sea, IPR issues, cyber-crimes, trade agreements and currency manipulation. The American Asian pivot, though a bit late, is an attempt to contain China. American long large term interests in Central Asia, engagements in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the rise of Taliban, Al Qaeda are compelling reasons for the US to be wary of China and yet keep the dragon harnessed to the extent possible. This is also a catalyst in the growth of America India cooperation and US, Japan India naval operations in the South China Sea. India also has to deal with the reality of China’s influence in South Asia and its collusion with Pakistan, inherent in its strategic marginalization of India.

US-PAKISTAN-AFGHANISTAN KALEIDOSCOPE

Pakistan has historically been among the top recipients of US aid. Since 1948, the US has sent more than £30bn in direct aid to that country. Nearly half of this has been for military assistance. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent US supply of arms money was the actual tipping point in creating the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Post 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the US-led NATO counter-Taliban operations In Afghanistan, had tremendous successes. At this juncture, the American leadership decision to open up another front in Iraq proved to be a costly military blunder as the Taliban regrouped, and are now a reckoning force today with grave and dire consequences to the region.

The AF Pak region is a volatile grave yard. The Americans by default or design have been unable to influence Pakistan to accept the salutary reality of India’s role in Afghanistan. Consequently, there is neither strategy nor any vision for the region or even a counter Taliban strategy. The current American Pakistan dialogue, the resumption of aid, the promise of military aid, and the remote possibility of civil nuclear agreement does not augur well for the region. The US needs Pakistan as an access corridor to Central Asia. In sum and substance, Pakistani anti-India “Animus” is not only a given but a guarantee in perpetuity. We have no choice but to be prepared, ready and willing, to wield the conventional stick, to countervail the activities of our recalcitrant neighbor that is “internally anarchic”, trending towards implosion, externally, anti-India covertly and overtly. Our thresholds to any nuclear weapon contingencies must serve as deterrence too!

US-INDIA RELATIONS AS IT STANDS

The two democracies have established a bridge head of progressive cooperation across the span. Spectrum of trade, commerce, defence and space with closure on the stalled civil nuclear deal in principle. India has what it takes to absorb US, Israeli, French and Russian technologies. We need to evolve, continuing pragmatic perspective plans to truly and really become a self-reliant industrial nation alongside progression towards a Builder’s Military.

STRUCTURES-CULTURES-FUNCTIONAL DICHOTOMIES

India is enigmatic in many ways. It is highly centralized with extremely limited autonomy even within the higher decision making apparatus. Compartmentalized and cocooned functioning of critical ministries of Defence, Home, External, Finance, Commerce, Shipping is a norm than an exception. We seem to have conveniently forgotten the stark reality that our land was occupied, colonized because we divided ourselves to be ruled by others. Even now, individual direct reporting to leadership is the preferred option in a personality-dominated environment as opposed to systemic process functioning. Amidst all this, the armed and security forces are institutionally separated from the negotiations, decision chain, even in matters of security and defence. Inexplicably and most unfortunately, India has become acculturated to sub-optimal, debilitating consequences of higher decision making. Resultantly, “Management by Crisis” is now part of our habituated DNA. “Autocracy” is also a facet of our democracy, sans any direct accountability. An illustrative example is the absence of constitutionally laid down responsibility on military and security readiness.

The United States is an evolved democracy that is decentralized, autonomous with demarcated responsibilities. The military is integral to the higher decision apparatus of the government. The State and Department of Defense are hard and hotwired through robust IT and associated Command Control systems. The US Central Command deals with Pakistan alongside a long history of close association with pro-Pakistani, old boy’s military, diplomatic, aid agency and NGO networking. The ISI too, has direct dealings with CIA. Overt and covert assistance is part of the overall arrangement. India is dealt with by the US Pacific Command on totally different lines. Resultantly, there are divergent views on India and Pakistan within the US establishment!

The United States is an evolved democracy that is decentralized, autonomous with demarcated responsibilities. The military is integral to the higher decision apparatus of the government

The US-PAK relationship is unique. There is a comfort level, with hierarchical, informal access enjoyed by the Americans across Military, State department, Intelligence agencies, well facilitated by private and government entities of Pakistan. This not being made available to them in India is also a point of unstated friction in the US-India dialogue!

CURTAIN CALL

India has to be above and beyond, being Pakistan-centric and Sino-deferential. Our national interests and threats cannot and should never be contingent on what and how USA, China equate with Pakistan or other littorals. Our nation has a mandate within, on democratic fundamentals. Bringing in functional synergy for eclectic absorption of advanced technologies, maximizing our innovation capabilities, negotiation abilities in an integrated, institutionalized manner, is the only answer for India.

The US has been present and proactive in South Asia, without ever taking cognizance of India and its geo-political compulsions. Only in the last 15 years, there is a sea change in the overall context of Indo-US cooperation. India has acquired $10 billion plus worth of military hardware. The Defense Technology Trade Initiative has sound Make in India potential if optimally orchestrated. The vacuum due to waning technology capabilities of Russia has to be compensated for too!

The Indian diaspora in America is come of age with many of them in key US government posts. Equally importantly, affinity for their mother country is exponential in growth, depth dimension and direction. India has to learn to leverage and maximize this providential happenstance to strategic advantage.

The leadership under Prime Minister Modi has to create higher defence decision mechanisms that are functionally integrated with authority, autonomy and accountability

The leadership under Prime Minister Modi has to create higher defence decision mechanisms that are functionally integrated with authority, autonomy and accountability. The military must become part of the Politico Bureaucratic, Diplomatic, and Security combine. There has to be political leadership awareness and confidence that synergy in nation management is the key to India becoming a strong sovereign power. This dynamic construct is intrinsic too in the America India Relationship to see through the “Conundrums and Challenges, and convert them.

Summary

  • If the US helped China rise to global status, today it is seeking to contain Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea and elsewhere
  • The Af-Pak region is a volatile graveyard with Washington showing neither strategy nor vision to counter the Taliban
  • The US enjoys an enormous comfort level with Pakistan, reflective of their long and close collaboration over many years
  • India-US relations are growing across the board but their politico bureaucratic cultures are different, often divergent
  • India tends to operate in silos, and keeps the military out of decision making structures, this needs to change if strategic maturity is to be realized
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