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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 40, September 25, 2010

Deepening India-US Strategic Ties—Evidences and Repercussions

Tuesday 28 September 2010, by S G Vombatkere

It is necessary in today’s world of intimately linked national economies to strengthen and deepen economic and cultural ties between all nations in the interest of peace. This would also be a positive move to effectively combat the scourge of terrorism synergistically. But if economic ties are predicated on “fighting terror” by the use of police and military force and trade in military hardware and software, it would imply that the military-industrial complex (MIC) has an increasing role in economic ties, presaging ill for the whole world and particularly for those countries that join in strenghtening such ties. This is especially so as the USA has made the first-ever step in formally corporatising armed conflict and confirming the legendary power of the USA’s MIC by converting “combat operations” by regular US troops in Iraq to “stability operations” by US-paid contractors such as Halliburton in the guise of military disengagement.

Military-to-Military Relations

A day before the ninth anniversary of the horrendous 9/11 attack-cum-tragedy in the USA, a leading Indian daily reported two events indicating deepening strategic ties between India and the USA.1,2

The on-going defence engagement of “military cooperation and inter-operability”3 and defence equipment procurement was proposed by US Admiral Willard during his visit to New Delhi, to be expanded to a “much richer dialogue” including the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), to go “beyond bilateral exercises and sale of military hardware”. It is acknowledged that the topmost US military commanders have a US foreign policy role in addition to their military role;4 thus these two Agreements, designed “in order to slice away bureaucratic procedures for the armed forces to work with each other” need to be considered seriously in the public domain.

Speaking of the Indian military, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi notes: “Our political leadership is highly uncomfortable in dealing with the military directly and prefers to let the bureaucracy do so.”5 Thus effectively, the military’s contact with the elected executive is through the bureaucracy, giving bureaucrats a large degree of control that the military resents even while it unhesitatingly accepts civilian control. It is easy to blame the bureaucracy for this, but the historic and on-going failure of the political leadership in maintaining contact directly with the Defence Chiefs, cannot be wished away. (Creation of a Chief of Defence Staff post would overcome the problem, but this has been successfully stalled by the bureaucracy for years notwithstanding the cost to national security.)

The bureaucracy is hardly, if ever, accountable in the present system and bypassing bureaucratic procedures will remove the existing tenuous military-political link, additionally causing dangerous confusion at policy level. Willard’s suggestion to “slice away bureaucratic procedures” in military-to-military contacts seeks to further weaken the existing weak link between India’s military and its political leadership by taking the bureaucracy out of the loop. This is interference in India’s internal affairs and government functioning, and dangerous for India’s security. Thus, even in the present scheme of skewed civilian-military relations within India, it must be ensured that the bureaucracy is not “slice[d] away” from direct India-US military-to-military interactions; the elected executive must urgently get its act together in the interest of national security.

Logistic Support

THE LSA clearly envisages providing logistic bases for the US military. This needs careful thinking-through; it could be the thin end of a wedge commencing with providing facilities for docking or landing, victualling and re-fuelling for US military ships and aircraft, later expandable to ammunitioning that includes stockpiling US weapons protected by US military personnel stationed on Indian territory. The serious problem with this is: a US weapon stockpile is an attractive target for militants and terrorists, and a successful attack can well become reason for the USA to multiply its military presence on Indian soil, even without this provision built into the LSA.

The CISMOA is connected with “containing and defeating the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] ... in cyber space and outer space, defending both domains”.2 The hand of the USA’s MIC in this CISMOA is manifest. India is creating its own MIC by outsourcing its defence production to Indian industry, in a phased replacement of the Ordnance Factories and the Defence Reserach and Development Organisation (DRDO), both under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This, along with the CISMOA, will inevitably result in a growing defence budget as industry produces new and improved munitions and weapon systems, the surplus of the older versions of which will be exported to the Third World. This will of course increase India’s GNP to coincide with present economic policy, and the CISMOA will provide a link between the MICs of India and the USA, with the mutual advantage of encouraging armed conflict for corporate profit.

Security Issues

ACCORDING to the US-India Business Council (USIBC),2 there is “significant potential for defence cooperation between India and the United States”, and the USIBC intends to launch a Homeland Security Executive Mission at INDESEC Expo 2010, a major defence industry exhibition in New Delhi. Also, according to the USIBC, this mission, following nine previous aerospace and defence executive missions to India, aims “to promote deeper strategic collaboration between the two countries”. Over ten top US defence, security and cyber security MNCs were represented at the INDESEC Mission held September 6-8, 2010, in New Delhi.2 It is worth emphasising the growing link between business interests represented by the USIBC and defence needs that seeks to make “defence” in India into a corporate venture to the benefit of the MICs of both countries.

The 9/11 attack resulted in two major US legislations, the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act, both of which acted as a spur to the growth of the USA’s MIC; this led to the conjecture that those legislations were inspired by the MIC. As reported, the USIBC is advised by Admiral James Loy of The Cohen Group, displaying the penetration of US defence personnel in the USA’s MIC. Loy says: “Just like the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America galvanised the US private sector ... we believe the same response from Indian industry is occurring after 26/11.” The presence of retired Indian military officers working the links in Indian defence procurement is known, though this is not essentially adverse to Indian interests. However, extending these links to expansion of India’s MIC may not be in India’s best interests since funds desperately needed for development will be diverted to defence. It is not a coincidence that some of India’s construction and re-construction work in Afghanistan, costing India $ 1.2 billion,3 is understood as contracted to Indian industrial giants like Larsen and Toubro, one of several large firms already working in the Indian nuclear and aerospace sectors, which are intimately linked to defence.

The trend in India is to deploy the army for internal security, which is the primary duty of state and central police organisations. This indicates consistent failure of governance over decades,6 but today it also serves as a foothold for the Indian MIC in internal security.


INDIAN bureaucrats have been sent on post-graduate study leave to US universities in significant numbers over the past two decades. Also, the World Bank Institute (WBI) conducts global training and outreach programmes for “policymakers, civil servants, technical experts, business and community leaders, parliamentarians, civil society stakeholders, as well as other learning institutions such as universities and local training institutes” of many Third World countries including India for, among other things, “public policy formulation”, and “[i]n fiscal 2008, the WBI reached some 39,500 participants, 50 percent of whom were government officials”.7 Thus over the years, the WBI has trained several lakhs of key people, and there is little doubt that there are large numbers of Indians among them. Deepening US-India strategic ties is doubtless influenced by at least some of these decision-makers.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has been formed to create a national biometric data base, with a Rs 1950-crore budget for the current year for outsourcing data acquistion to private agencies. The UIDAI, estimated to cost Rs 45,000 crores, was created without discussion in Parliament or in the public domain for its technical viability.8 A similar scheme in Britain was rejected by the British government because it would lay people open to e-surveillance, compromising privacy and civil liberties in the name of national security. No serious security assessment can fail to overlook possible misuse of the CISMOA’s cyber security strengths to infiltrate into the UID data base for civil and social control. This brings to mind neo-liberal objectives so chillingly pursued in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Poland, Russia and Indonesia.9

India-US strategic ties have their benefits but, as in the nuclear deal and the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, the arrangements are heavily loaded in favour of corporate USA and against India. Therefore deepening existing strategic ties in the military arena needs very careful reconsideration. Slicing away procedures in military-to-military dealings at the instance of a foreign power under the guise of deepening strategic relations, and thereby taking the Indian bureaucracy out of the loop—this will please the Indian military, which has always justifiably felt that bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome and restrictive—will cause irreparable damage to national security and democratic functioning. Procedures remain an integral part of the checks and balances essential to the military remaining under civilian control in a democracy; improving procedures in the national best interest is the duty of the elected Executive. Permitting stationing of foreign troops on Indian soil as part of the LSA or any other arrangement will operate decisively against India’s security and the morale of India’s military and people, compounding the damage and consequent risks. India must maintain and protect its political independence and sovereignty at any cost.


1. “Defence engagement goes beyond exercises, sales—US Admiral points to common interest in quelling terror”, The Hindu, Bangalore, September 10, 2010, p. 14.

2. “Focus on India-U.S. cooperation on homeland security exhibition—Comes after aerospace, defence executive missions to India”, The Hindu, Bangalore, September 10, 2010, page 20.

3. Vombatkere, S.G., “Nine Years On: India’s Strategic Hot Potato”, Mainstream, New Delhi, Vol. XLVIII, No. 38, September 11, 2010, pp. 3-4, 39.

4. Vombatkere, S.G., “The US War Machine—Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, Mainstream, New Delhi, Vol XLVIII No 17, April 17, 2010, pp. 25-30.

5. Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi; “Political direction, military leadership and morale”, Lecture delivered on the occasion of 112th Birthday Celebrations of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, FICCI Auditorium, New Delhi, January 23, 2010.

6. Vombatkere, S.G., “Growing Role of Defence Forces in Governance – An Invitation for Emergency”, Mainstream, New Delhi, Vol. XLVIII, No. 36, August 28, 2010, pp. 25-26.

7. World Bank Institute: Accessed on 15.9.2010; <>
8. “An Appeal to Parliamentarians—Reasons why you should oppose the UID Bill”, Campaign for No UID, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), New Delhi, August 21, 2010.

9. Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine”, Penguin Books, 2007.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. He has over five years service in the Border Roads Organisation in the high altitude area of Ladakh, and the President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished services rendered in Ladakh.

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