Growing dependence on USA no good
US Defence Secretary Aston Carter is committed to keeping his date and would be visiting India on December 7 and 8. The importance Carter has been attaching to his visit could be made out of the mere fact that he would be going out of America at a time when the country has been passing through the most critical transition for the US Presidency.
Carter has been the architect of the recent strategic defence partnership between India and US. His mission is significant for two reasons; first, while he would test the political water and try to prepare a pitch for Donald Trump and Narendra Modi to bat, he would also complete the unfinished task of pushing the stalled defence deals and promote the interest of the US defence companies.
The fact of the matter is that Trump nurses a skewed vision about India. The recent call centre episode has underlined his foreboding. Though Carter has launched the mission at the behest of Obama, in the changed situation he would also try to convince Trump that a partnership with India would provide much power to the US.
India is seeking to hasten a deal with the USA to buy Predator drone aircraft, one of many defence and nuclear projects the two sides have been pursuing during Obama administration. India's request for 22 Predator Guardian drones made in June is in an advanced stage of negotiations. Both parties hope to make enough progress during Carter’s visit.
Two years ago, Obama and Modi had decided to increase bilateral trade to $500 billion by 2020. But more than achieving this goal, the Modi government strives for close cooperation with the USA to ensure the success of the government’s “Make in India” initiative. The Modi government nurtures that the presence of the USA in South Asia will help maintain the balance of power.
Nevertheless the Indian government nurses the skewed notion that India cannot pursue military modernisation without access to advanced US weaponry and technology. Unlike Russia, the USA has never been sincere in arming India beyond a particular stage. Petty interest has always guided the USA. In fact, till George Bush took over as President, the USA administration had been assiduously helping Pakistan and promoting their interest. Ironically America always looked at India as a big arms bazaar and not as a friend; this has been precisely the difference between the Russian attitude towards India of protecting and promoting Indian interest.
It has been known fact that for RSS and the BJP, America has been their source of political inspiration. The Saffron Brigade hated Russia for carrying the Marxist legacy. The BJP-RSS, even today, look at Russia as a communist country. For them, the real harbinger of capitalist politics and policy has been America. Israel is the protagonist of their concept of ultra-nationalism.
US recognition of India as a 'major defence partner' came during Obama dispensation with America's leading defence companies clamouring for a share of the cake. It was after India entered into the nuclear deal, the USA realised the actual potential of the friendship with India. The upgrading of the strategic friendship and eulogy of India as the most vibrant democracy are mere ploys to keep the Indian government on its side and capture the Indian defence market.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the defence companies are eyeing multi-billion dollar 'Make in India' market. Ashton Carter has been obliging the US defence companies by forcing India to ink various deals. Carter’s December visit is aimed at boosting the defence trade ties. It would open new vistas for US defence majors to make their products in India. The move will propel the Indian defence industry’s integration into the US arms supply chain. In the last 24 months, the Indo-US ‘defence’ bonhomie has reached a new level, and this is primarily due to the zealous efforts of the US administration and responses from India. The Indian government plans to spend $620 billion by 2022 on defence. As India ventures to strengthen its military, it also intends to buttress its relationship with the USA.
The Modi government has been promoting Make in India. But a closer look at the policy turns one sceptical because it is just, ‘Come and build in India'. India will spend $10.4 billion on defence procurement in 2016. That will increase to about $15 billion by the end of the decade. That’s a billion a year increase in defence procurement spending over the next few years.
Though it is a transition period for US Presidency, the US arm suppliers companies are pro-Trump, so one can expect these companies will use the new situation to expand their business activities in India. As Parrikar’s fascination for Carter is an open secret, he will go to any extent to help Carter achieve his goal. Both countries also plan to work together in the maritime arena. Further, India and the United States have agreed to launch a bilateral maritime security dialogue.
India is a massive defence market, and several US-based companies are looking to gain a share of this market. India spends around $24 billion a year, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Indian companies also wish to form partnerships with USA firms for being a part of the international chain. True enough some experts look at the present hype of border clashes with Pakistan with scepticism. The current stand-off with Pakistan offers a “tremendous opportunity” to major US companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon to expand their Indian operations. This fact is even conceded by the US-India Business Council (USIBC).
It is quite intriguing that a still-poor India has emerged as the world’s biggest arms importer since 2006, accounting for 10 percent of all weapons sold globally. For the US, displacing Russia as India’s largest arms supplier has been a diplomatic coup. Significantly, US weapons to India are of the nature of defensive weapons while Russia transferred offensive weapon systems to India. Though Russia continues to be the major defence partner of India, the manner in which Carter has been pursuing the defence deals and Parrikar has been obliging him, it is sure that soon America will capture the significant share of Indian defence trade.
India is trying to hasten a deal with the United States to buy Predator drone aircraft for military surveillance before Trump formally takes over the office as the authorities are sceptical of Trump's "America First" foreign policy statements. They are afraid that Trump may opt for a US pullback from Asia.
The major task before Carter will be to allay the view of the Indian authorities and make India sign on the deals strengthening defence ties between two countries. Carter will push the agenda of broadening the DTTI (Defense Technology and Trade Initiative). In July this year, India had agreed to expand it by setting up five new joint working groups on naval systems, air systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; chemical and biological protection; and other systems.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)