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India’s Strategic Diminuation – Analysis

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By Dr Subhash Kapila

“Worried over United States new defence focus on Asia, New Delhi today told Washington to re-calibrate its strategy, as India fears that it would lead to increased militarisation of its neighbourhood” –– The Tribune, June 7 2012 reporting on discussions in New Delhi between US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and Indian Defence Minister A K Antony.

Introductory Observations

The above Indian official Indian response during US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta’s visit to New Delhi is strategically pathetic coming from a nation which claims to be the predominant power on the Indian Sub-Continent and pretensions to be a global power.

It is symptomatic of the political diffidence that has plagued India’s national security management and foreign policy management in the last six decades leading to India’s un- remitting strategic diminution in global perceptions.

Indian political leaders and policy establishment must not forget that the United States strategically invested in India’s potential to be a global power and not on its present true worth. India is not a global power as yet as in the last eight years it has shirked as a so-called regional power from shouldering security responsibilities in ordering its neighbourhood and slinks away from acquiring security responsibilities wider afield which others are willing to concede to it

India has not credibly proved to date that it has prepared itself to be a global power and its political leaders have the mental grit and strategic audacity to do justice to that stature. Presently ‘India as a global power’ is only a ‘strategic halo’ bestowed by the United States on India.

Objectively, India should have read what has flowed from Washington in recent times as the United States compulsions to “outsource regional security” to India in a strategic partnership and not as a military ally.

India
India

India should have grabbed the opportunity but all that we are left with is political diffidence arising from a morbid fear that any such action would annoy China. This is strategically demeaning. Indian political leaders can only shed their ‘China Fears’ either when they make India militarily strong substantially or in the interim till those capabilities are achieved mark time with the United States in a strategic partnership.

The appropriate response to Panetta’s visit, in keeping with India’s power-pretensions would have been that “India assured the United States that India values Asian stability and Indian Ocean stability and that India in partnership with all like-minded nations would work towards ensuring that end”.

India has never called upon China to re-calibrate its strategy and restrain its fast track military expansion as such militarisation would destabilise the Asian security environment. Why pick on the United States when all that it is doing is to re-balance its strategic postures in Asia Pacific. After all the United States has been the predominant power in this vast expanse since 1945 and has a well-knit and well spread out security architecture in the Asia Pacific. All that the US is doing is to rebalance it.

When was the last time an Indian Defence Minister forthrightly asserted that The China Threat was real? I think it was George Fernandez as Defence Minister in the NDA time.

The Indian policy establishment is being hypocritical when it labels United States strategic pivot to Asia as adding to India’s fears while remaining utterly silent on The China Threat

India has progressively diminished strategically in the last eight years and this arises from a strong mix of lack of strategic vision at the apex level, a myopic national security establishment and India’s foreign policy managers looking for soft options in consonance with the thinking of the political leadership.

Political diffidence has stymied India’s war preparedness to meet the onslaughts arising from the pronounced threats from China and Pakistan more jointly now than ever before.

The Indian Armed Forces have the confidence to meet the threats from China and Pakistan with whatever means the political leadership has tardily placed at their disposal. Contrastingly, India’s political leadership is diffident in facing upto the new challenges emerging in the Asia Pacific.

Strangely, when relatively less powerful countries like Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangladesh are recasting their strategic alignments and outlook in view of China’s aggressive policies and postures, India is still in strategic awe of China. India is in a state of denial on The China Threat to India and the Asia Pacific Region.

Without further ado this Paper would like to reflect on the following related issues to India’s strategic diminishment arising from political diffidence:

  • India Misreads United States Strategic Pivot to Asia
  • United States Calls on India Focus on Strategic Partnership & NOT a Military Alliance
  • Can India Single Handed Control the Indian Sub-Continent, Indian Ocean and its Immediate Periphery?
  • India’s Political Diffidence & Strategic Diminution: The Major Contributory Factors.

India Misreads United States Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific

Freed from its entanglement in Iraq and a planned drawdown of US Forces from Afghanistan, the United States has placed the Asia Pacific in its renewed strategic focus. The strategic pivot was a logical response to the decade in which China initiated a four- fold military modernisation and up- gradation in the absence of US strategic focus on the Asia Pacific.

Having made the strategic pivot, sequentially a re-balancing of US strategic postures would be a natural consequence. These two developments should not be seen as some earth-shattering game changer of the Asian security landscape, meriting Indian responses of concern.

The US announcement of a shift of naval deployment to a 60:40 ratio by 2010 has been seen in alarmist proportions. The US Navy has strength of about 300 ships. Overall it means shifting about 30 more US Navy ships in next seven years. In terms of aircraft carriers it would mean increase of one to two more aircraft carriers to the existing six deployed in the Asia Pacific.

The crucial question that India must appreciate and answer is as to how this rebalancing of US postures adversely affects India’s national security?

The US strategic pivot to Asia Pacific adversely impacts on China which has started boxing much above its actual military weight in the Asia Pacific.

India has totally misread the US strategic pivot to Asia in that India has joined China as the only two nations that have expressed officially concerns over recent US moves.

India must also answer as why the Indian Navy is conducting joint naval exercises with Japan at China’s doorsteps? Inter-operability is at the core not disaster relief or anti-piracy operations.

Restating what has been said above, the fact is that India should have read recent overtures from the United States for a greater strategic role in the Asia Pacific as US readiness t “outsource regional security” to India as a marked departure from its earlier policies.

United States Calls on India Focus on Strategic Partnership and NOT on a Military Alliance

Right from the time that US President Obama made his strategic pivot to Asia declaration and through the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to US Defence Secretary Panetta’s visit to New Delhi nowhere has the United States made calls on India to join a military alliance in the Asia Pacific led by the United States.

The United States focus all along has been to stress on a strategic partnership with India for a stable security environment in Asia Pacific to offset fears in the region generated by China’s aggressive actions and postures as evident in the South China Sea.

India with open eyes entered into the US-India Strategic Partnership and implicit in which was a US-India strategic convergence on China and checkmating China’s militarism and aggressiveness on the Asian security landscape.

Then why the howls in India now that India would be reduced to a US doormat and that India would end as being made use-off by the United States in its new strategic doctrine. No cogent arguments are advanced and one is left with the perception that these howls emerge from the sizeable China-apologists community in India.

Can India Single-Handed Control the Indian Sub-Continent, Indian Ocean and its Immediate Periphery?

The answer is a big NO for the simple reason that in the last eight years India’s political leadership and its decision- makers have not been alive to building-up the Indian military machine to levels that it could impose conventional and nuclear deterrence on China .

Till such time, and that implies one to two decades, the Indian military machine can be built to adequate deterrent levels against China, India has no option but to rest on the strategic shoulders of the United States to fill the breaches on India’s immediate periphery.

The United States recent strategic moves in Myanmar and Bangladesh should be viewed by India in that light and these moves stand analysed in my preceding Papers on the US China Containment strategic calculus involving Myanmar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan,

Why is the Indian official machine so alarmed at the China Containment Strategy of the United States? Is it an India-Containment Strategy? The United States is doing what India should have relentlessly done ever since 1962.

As regards the Indian Ocean vital for the maritime security of India, the military picture is even starker for India. The Indian Ocean has never been a Zone of Peace and we can now expect China to forcefully make an intrusive naval presence in the Indian Ocean. As I recently stated in a News hour Debate with Arnab Goswami India is in no position to ensure that the Indian Ocean remains as “Indian”. India does not even have naval assets to exercise sea-denial in the Indian Ocean. It cannot do so with Russia or with China.

India has no other option but to achieve its national security interests in the Indian Ocean only in strategic partnership with the United States. It is one area where India and the United States enjoy the strongest strategic convergences.

India’s Political Diffidence & Strategic Diminution: The Major Contributory Factors

India’s strategic diminution basically arises from the lack of strategic audacity of its political leadership which in turn arises from a servile and equal timidity of its bureaucratic advisers.

India’s defence bureaucracy has been at the receiving end of stinging US criticism as strong impediments in arriving at timely decisions on vital geopolitical issues. Within the India Army they are more perceived as ‘file pushers’ rather than being agents to steel the nerves of the political leadership and galvanize them into assertive actions. If the defence bureaucracy would have been ‘file pushers’, that would have been acceptable but they do not push files but sit on them to avoid giving their views.

In terms of assertive foreign policies the same gets stymied because foreign policy planning has been taken over by the Prime Minister’s Office. The practice of the National Security Adviser being a Former Foreign Secretary leads to short-circuiting of institutionalised foreign policy processes.

Crowning all these distorted structures of strategic planning is the stark reality that in India and India alone, the Indian political leadership has divorced itself and persists in a ‘State of Severe Disconnect’ from the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy who have spent their entire lifetimes in strategic crystal-gazing, strategic planning and in whom lies embedded deeply the “strategic culture” that is an imperative to speedily cope with today’s rapidly changing geopolitical, strategic and military challenges.

Concluding Observations

In sum, it can be safely asserted that India does not have any more the luxury of sitting on fences strategically and politically as the days of delusionary Non-Alignment have long been past. India has to ready itself to take sides in response to rapidly changing geopolitical challenges and especially those which impinge on her national security.

India could have emerged as a global power by the turn of the millennium had political diffidence, strategic-culture deficit political leaderships and civil bureaucratic setups not impeded India’s military modernization and military expansion all along.

If India is to be a regional power in its truest connotations and ascend towards global power status then a complete restructuring of its foreign policy structures, it’s Ministry of Defence, the Nuclear Command decision-making mechanisms and the National Security and National Security Advisory Board need to be recast.

In all of the above including the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy must be integrated in an appropriate manner.

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SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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