Home > 2018 > On the recently concluded two-by-two Indo-US Defence Deal

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 40 New Delhi September 22, 2018

On the recently concluded two-by-two Indo-US Defence Deal

Tuesday 25 September 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi

The editorial on the recently concluded Defence Deal with the USA [“Indo-US Defence Deal: What does it Presage?” (Mainstream, September 8, 2018)] is, as usual in the case of Mainstream, timely and well argued. However, it should not really come as a surprise.

It is my contention that the deal is really something we have been responsible for. How come? Because the Modi Government has allowed our relations with Russia to fall to very low levels over the four-and-a-half years it has been ruling or “misruling” the country.

Ever since the heydays of cooperation between the two countries when these states were under the leaderships of Leonid Breznev and Indira Gandhi, that is, the early 1970s, there were well-institutionalised and regular institutional mechanisms for promoting, consolidating and taking further forward the Indo-USSR relations across the board. The most notable of these were: (a) the annual visits of each other’s heads of government to the other country in December of each year; and (b) annual meetings of the Indo-Soviet Joint Commission alternatively in Moscow and Delhi.

All pre-Modi governments, whatever their political complexions, had strictly adhered to this practice; equally important is the fact that Putin has followed the Indira Gandhi-Brezhnev policy and practice strictly. It was Modi who, like in so many areas of foreign and security policy, neglected to the extreme this crucial and unique relationship. What was the result? Russia and India—not so gradually—went further and further apart in area after area. The culmination was Modi’s meeting with Putin in the beautiful resort of Sochi on the Black Sea. How did it go? Modi flew six hours Delhi-Sochi, spent six hours with Putin and flew six hours back to our national Capital. Both the official Joint Press Statement issued after the talks and the press briefings by both sides

struggled

to say something substantive. Moreover, the very fact that the Modi-Putin meeting was held

outside Moscow

was significant.

It is now known that Putin’s coolness towards Modi was palpable. A key reason for the coolness was the fact that Modi chose to spend as much as US $ 2 billion on the direct import contract with the French transnational Dassault for 36 Rafale Advanced Technology Multi-role Combat Aircraft and that in a total deviation from normal practice Modi himself made the announcement during his three-day visit to Paris. This considerably annoyed Putin. The annoyance was compounded by the fact that the comprehensive offer which the Russians made to the Government of India as far back as early 2017 for the initial 20 aircraft (one IAF squadron) direct supply plus

Transfer of Techno-logy

to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for phased local manufacture of any number of Russia’s superlative Sukhoi-35 Multi-role and partially Stealth aircraft rated by even Western defence analysts as the best military aircraft in the whole world (far superior to the Rafale and at only half the price) had been rejected by the Modi Government without any opposition whatsoever to the Russian offer from our Air Chief. The Russian response was to send one squadron of the Su-35s to China!

Against this background there was agreement by the Russians to sell us, on very soft financial terms, as many as six of their unique at the world level S-400 anti-missile and, of course, anti-aircraft air defence systems for six of our major Metros which the Air Force wanted desperately.

A significant aspect of the Modi-Putin meeting was that when Modi sought Russian help and Moscow’s “good offices” with Pakistan, what he got from Putin by way of response was a curt reply from the Russian President to the effect that since the India-Pakistan Simla Agreement stipulated that the two countries should settle all their disputes bilateraly, he (Putin) saw no role for Russia in the matter. What a huge difference from 1960 when it was Khrushchov’s heavy pressure on Mao and Chou-en-Lai to solve our border problems with China that resulted in Chou making a visit to India in June 1960.

All-in-all the Modi-Putin talks at Sochi went so badly that it was a sombre Modi who had to return to Delhi empty-handed.

My overall point is that if we now have had to agree to have to import advance weapons from the USA, it is because of the Modi Government’s serious and pointless refusal to get into an agreement with Russia regarding the much-more-advanced-than-the-Rafale, Sukhoi-35, which is so much better than the Rafale and thereby lose a 50-year-old “bar-gaining chip” which the former USSR and even Putin’s Russian Federation have continued to provide us.

The editorial correctly refers to the likely adverse impact of buying military hardware (and software) on Modi’s much-vaunted policy that in practice has “not lived up to expec-tations”. But the issue of buying military hardware from the USA has, in my view, a much more serious danger and that is the US Government’s practice of cutting off supply of all spares and other maintenance items and even training in case of two eventualities: (a) a war with Pakistan; and (b) our undertaking a nuclear test. What is more, spares and consumables bought by us along with the main equipment as contrasted with spares purchased separately later on are often as much as five or even ten times more when obtained from the US manufacturer-suppliers.

The point about the adverse effect on the continued effective functioning of the Chabahar port is that it has been built by us to enable imports and exports of goods to and from Iran through a secure, not-going-via-Pakistan route without Islamabad’s influence in the region and as a counter to Beijing.

One then comes to the credibility of the US promise (and that is all that it is) to, supposedly “speed up the process of our entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)“. There have been several such promises over the last four years and the USA has consistently failed to keep them because Washington has been unable to overcome Beijing’s steadfast opposition.

Then, there is, as the editorial points out, the serious adverse impact of India ultimately being compelled to stop all its imports of crude oil from lran on the Arab world’s hitherto stead- fast support to this country, in contrast to Pakistan, on the Kashmir issue in particular. This will only exacerbate our problems with regard to continuing to retain Arab support to us that is being continuously chipped away by relentless Pakistani pressure.

Overall it is a bad position for us. But that is why the Government of India has to identify its true friend and work closely with the nation which “has stood beside us like a rock”, as Indiraji was fond of saying, namely, the USSR and its successor, the Russian Federation, and particularly its leader, President Putin.

Prof Ashok Parthasarathi is a former Science and Technology Adviser to late PM Indira Gandhi.

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