Can India ever get responsible government?

India makes itself strong

by Olivier Zajec

India has risen to become a global power. Thanks to its economic growth, the country has reached a position that neither its population nor the status of a semi-official nuclear power achieved in 1981 could give it. Of course, the changed world situation - and above all the failure of US unilateralism - has made a significant contribution to India being able to claim a role that it is almost naturally entitled to: as another global center of power and influence alongside the USA, China, Russia, the European Union, Japan and - maybe - Brazil.

The Indians now want to anchor this new status of a rising world power in the general consciousness. So you have to get rid of the image of a quasi-eternal regional power that is still committed to "moral foreign policy"1 feels obliged, as it shaped the (now extremely critically viewed) Nehru period. Only then will India be allowed to participate in the “eternal festival of the great powers”, as the writer Sunil Khilnani did2 put it with mild irony.

But even today it is no longer conceivable what US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took eight years ago when he - still trapped in the categories of the Cold War and angry about the close nuclear cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi - went so far as to Calling India a "threat to other peoples such as the United States, Western Europe and the West Asian countries".3 No US politician would afford such a mistake today.

Because the Indians are being courted by all the major powers with the exception of China, they are now in the comfortable position of being able to choose their allies, while never losing sight of their goal of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In New Delhi today one can hardly wait to find out more details about the intentions of the Obama administration, which is seen as less pro-India compared to the Bush administration, especially with regard to the ongoing conflict with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.

A “responsible” nuclear power - thanks to Bush

The political scientist and India expert Christophe Jaffrelot states a profound cultural change: "While India used to be a wholesaler in matters of ethics, it is now more the herald of a realistic understanding of foreign policy."4 And the Indian specialist Harsh V. Pant, who teaches at King’s College in London, emphasizes India’s newly gained "self-confidence."5

There are three pillars on which this status is based. First, there is economic development, which has been endangered by the global economic crisis. Second, there is the enormous diplomatic success of the agreement negotiated between George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh in 2005 on the civil use of nuclear power, which was ratified by the US Congress in 2008. With this agreement, which revises the inviolable rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India (with its 150 nuclear warheads) is designated as a "responsible" nuclear power.6

The third pillar is the Indian armed forces (Bharatiya Sashastra Senae). Conventional military power is particularly important because the arms race has broken out across Asia. Most of the debates and questions raised by Indian strategists focus on this conventional sector.

In terms of nuclear weapons, India has apparently reached the desired level. In February 2008, the submarine-based medium-range nuclear missile K-15 was tested. India has thus acquired second strike capability and has risen to become a nuclear power of the first category. Nevertheless, the principle of minimal deterrence and a first strike ban still apply to Indian nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, much stronger changes are conceivable in the field of conventional weapons. In competition with the Western armies and China, which is modernizing its armed forces with giant strides and on a broad front - from battlefield communications to space travel - New Delhi is following its own path to increase its conventional clout. It is true that one is still dependent on operational concepts from the Cold War era and on arms deliveries from Russia, which have been important for a long time (80 percent of arms imports come from there), but now the Indians want to develop more and more weapons systems of their own. Especially since the most important components of military power have changed fundamentally in less than 15 years: as a result of the technological revolution in control and communication systems, the challenges posed by irregular or “asymmetrical” wars, the armament in space, the many new measures for internal security and the hectic surveillance and security of shipping routes.

Building on these trends, the civil and military elites are trying to design a security model that is adapted to Indian conditions. In doing so, they hope through greater diversification of arms deliveries7 and a progressive change in mentality to bring about a revolutionary change in their armed forces, which, in the opinion of some observers, has still not entirely outgrown the tradition of the colonial Army of India. To finance this program, the defense budget was increased by 23.7 percent to 29 billion dollars in the 2009/2010 financial year.8

With more than 1,300,000 women and men in uniform, India has the third largest armed force in the world after China and the United States. By far the most powerful weapon is the army (see box). However, despite its renowned elite units, the equipment of the land forces is in a precarious condition. The basic evils include the outdated weapon systems and means of transport, together with the difficulties in keeping the devices operational at all. This increases the feeling of frustration among the members of the land forces, who anyway have less money available for research and development and for new weapon systems than their colleagues in the air force and the navy.

The Indian Navy is one of the most important war fleets in the world. The symbol of the newly won status as a global navy is the acquisition of two aircraft carriers, one of which comes from Russia and is being completely modernized, the other being built by Indian shipyards. In July 2009 the first (of five planned) nuclear-powered submarine "INS Arihant" was launched, but it will not be ready for use before 2012.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is undoubtedly the most brilliant and also the most spoiled armed service. The Luftwaffe, founded by the British in 1933, was initially only equipped for tactical missions by the cautious colonial rulers. When the IAF wanted to purchase American F-104 fighters after independence, the military alliance between Pakistan and the USA stood in the way. This drove the Indian Air Force into the arms of the Russian armaments industry for a long time, which also meant adopting the more defensive strategy of the Russian Air Force, whose symbol is the MiG-21 as the backbone of Indian air defense. Today the Indian Air Force strives for the ability to strategically "attack in depth" (deep attack) and therefore requires aircraft that are comparable to those of modern western armed forces. This acquisition is such a high priority for the IAF that today it is the only customer in the world to whom the Russians sell systems that are more modern than those of their own air force, and that the Russians are working with the Indians to develop fifth-generation prototypes.9

But that is no longer enough for the IAF. Today it is primarily wooing Israel, France and - despite the continued strong traditional anti-Americanism - even the United States. For example, the Indian Air Force has announced a bidding competition for 26 arms programs. The most important is the medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) as a fourth generation fighter aircraft, of which India plans to purchase 126 units for almost twelve billion dollars. The European manufacturers Dassault, Saab and European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS), the Russian MiG group and the US aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Lockheed Martin are competing for this “contract of the century”.10

However, the trauma of “technological apartheid” of the Cold War - as IAF Air Force General V. K. Verna calls it - is so deep that the Indians ultimately want to build a completely independent aviation industry. So they don't want to swap their close ties to the Russians, with whom they are now very familiar, head over heels for a dependency on Western suppliers who tend to turn unpredictably. The company that wins the MMRCA tender must therefore comply with strict requirements in terms of technology transfer: The first 18 aircraft must be delivered by 2012, the remaining 108 will then be built in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In addition, the selected company must reinvest half of the order volume in the Indian economy, that is at least six billion dollars.

The Air Force wants a national aircraft industry

At least the air force and the navy have left the famous improvisation and hobbyist skills (jugaad), of which the Indian military used to be so proud, far behind. Rather, their drive for new weapon systems and reforms demonstrates the Indian government's ambition to acquire the ability to operate over long distances. This new ability was first promoted in 1999 by then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.11 In the case of India, this reflexive urge for the expansion of power at sea and in the air, characterized by a fascination for technology, still seems somewhat artificial. And not only because of the cultural imprint (the kalapani, the “black waters” of the ocean, have long been regarded as something bad in India), but above all in view of the enormous challenges that the country's immediate geographic environment poses .

In the nuclear armed region of South and Southeast Asia there are a number of regional trouble spots of global importance: from Taiwan to the Spratley Islands to Kashmir. No matter how keen it is to develop the ability to "export safely" over long distances (following the encouraging or deterring US model), India must always keep an eye on the potential for conflict with its two neighbors Pakistan and China. Each of these two allied powers are individually capable of mobilizing obsessive fears in New Delhi. It is true that the Indian strategists in Pakistan still see a puppet of Beijing - a point of view that actually contradicts the historically shaped but still lively fixation on the hostile brother state - but they are closely following the technological and military developments in China that they are far more worrying, but which they mostly over-interpret.

The India expert Harsh V. Pant comes to the conclusion: “The geopolitical situation in Asia makes a 'brotherly relationship' between the two countries very difficult, if not impossible, in the future. If India and China continue to arm in the coming years, they will inevitably become competitors on the security level. "12

The growing distrust is confirmed by New Delhi's decision not to invite the Chinese military to the second Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in May 2009.13 It is evidently unacceptable to the Indian government that the Chinese should take part in this forum that it initiated, at which the command staffs of all naval forces in the Indian Ocean are represented. The protest from Beijing was correspondingly violent, the official newspapers scoffed at the "ocean of Indians" and drew a parallel to New Delhi's original refusal to deny China observer status in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).14

India is concerned about the chain of naval bases Beijing is trying to build from the China Sea to the Indian Ocean to the African coast (Seychelles). New Delhi is working hard to keep the Chinese out of the region that India firmly sees as its forecourt.15 But the density of global ship movements in this area favor the growing presence of the Chinese People's Liberation Army on a sea that is no longer the Indian Ocean - if it ever was. China also benefits from the fact that the other neighboring countries - above all Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and, until recently, the Maldives - have mixed feelings about India. This maritime rivalry between India and China is also evident in the race to send warships to the Horn of Africa to fight Somali pirates.

Added to this are the ongoing conflicts over territorial issues beyond the seas. The strategy and logistics of the Indian army are geared more than ever to border conflicts. The biggest trouble spot is still cashmere. Also in the northwest there is the frozen dispute with China over the small area of ​​Aksai Chin.16 The Northern Command, which has the strongest troops, is responsible for this entire north-western front.

In competition with China also in space armaments

In the northeast, the dispute with China over Arunachal Pradesh remains unresolved. The eight states of this region, which are only connected to the rest of Indian territory by the Siliguri corridor (maximum 40 kilometers wide), remain the problem child of the General Staff in New Delhi. Numerous separatist movements are active in this region, for example the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), which is suspected of cooperating with Beijing because it rejects Indian supremacy.

Further south, the constant immigration from Bangladesh is causing problems due to the difficult demographic and economic situation of the Muslim neighboring country. The Indian army is trying to curb the influx of 50,000 soldiers. In addition, despite international protests, it has secured the border with 4,000 kilometers of barbed wire and reinforced border surveillance with reconnaissance drones. This shows once again that, despite the decisive aid that India gave the Bangladeshis in 1971 when they split off from West Pakistan, no particular affection arose between the two states. Chittagong, the most important port in Bangladesh, is now a port of call for the Chinese Navy after Beijing has invested heavily in the expansion of the military part of the port facilities.

These trouble spots at the land borders determine the deliberations on Indian defense policy to the same extent as the maritime dimension. All of these topics are passionately discussed. In the last ten years, many publications and think tanks on military issues have emerged: for example the Center for Air Power Studies of the IAF, the Strategic Foresight Group or the South Asia Analysis Group of Bahukutumbi Raman, the former head of the Indian anti-terrorist agency, who also has a foreign policy hard line.

These debates are lively and sometimes polemical, together with the rivalries that are common elsewhere between the lobbyists of the army, navy, air force and space industry. The experts also refer to earlier operational experiences of the Indian army: to conventional wars such as the Kashmir campaign of 1947/1948, the Indo-Chinese border war of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistani wars between 1965 and 1971, but also to “limited "Operations such as those of the Indian UN troops in the Congo in 1961/1962 or the Indian peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka (1987) and the Maldives (Operation" Cactus "1988) as well as on" mixed "operations such as in Kashmir (" Glacier War "from 1999 ).

The experience with border conflicts and also the historical tradition still favor the dominance of mechanized infantry divisions. Nevertheless, the Indian army has developed technologically and tactically. The Luftwaffe also took action against the Naxalites17 in central India and the independence movements in the northeast18 learned some lessons from the aerial battles of 2008 over Sri Lanka and developed new recipes for counterinsurgency (coordination of land and ground troops, use of drones). During the army's maneuver in Punjab in May 2009, a “blitzkrieg” was simulated against Pakistan, which was inspired by the bold attack tactics of the Russian tank weapon.

During this maneuver, India was also able to benefit from the achievements in space travel: In April 2009, the Risat-2 observation satellite purchased by Israel was brought into orbit for permanent surveillance of the Pakistani border.The Indian generals want to benefit from the advances in their own space industry and advance space armaments in order not to be sidelined in relation to Beijing.19

With this in mind, the Indian military is calling for new investments in an offensive, space-based deterrent weapon, the military logic of which is formulated as follows: “In the possible scenario of a limited conflict, China would not hesitate to disrupt or damage selected observation satellites in order to weaken Indian forces and to prevent us from the urgently needed reconnaissance of the battlefield. "20

Through all of these internal debates on high and low intensity warfare, there are two interrelated threads of discussion that respond to the geopolitical challenges facing the new India.

The first discussion revolves around the alternative between a strategy of border defense and a more ambitious concept of global power projection. The representatives of this second position have gained ground on the General Staff with reference to China and its maritime ambitions. The competition between the two schools is particularly evident in the navy: the supporters of the old, still Soviet-inspired school see the fleet as just one factor that contributes to the nuclear balance in the region. The representatives of the other school, mostly graduates of the US military academies, want to counter the Chinese expansion with a more aggressive maritime strategy.

The second discussion is about the vulnerability of multicultural India to terrorist acts. With reference to the Islamist attacks in November 2008 in Bombay, better cooperation between the defense and interior ministries (based on the model of the militarized "homeland security" in the USA) is called for. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at the beginning of July 2009: “With the bombings in Bombay, cross-border terrorism has taken on a new dimension. A threshold has been crossed here. Our security situation has deteriorated significantly. "

This view has now established itself. Over the next three years, the government plans to increase border security for more than $ 10 billion.21 The number of Indian special forces is expected to increase sharply. This is intended to create a balance between the elite troops of the Ministry of the Interior and the army, with the new special military troops being able to be used in anti-terror warfare and house-to-house fighting.

In spite of all these debates, the Indian army remains a thick-skinned being with a very limited willingness to reform. In addition, the question arises whether the financial crisis can set New Delhi's military ambitions back. This is officially denied. According to Defense Minister Pradeep Kumar, who was responsible for arms production until July 2009, the modernization of the Indian army continues unaffected by the financial crisis.22 If this happens, Nehru’s principle of a “moral” and non-aligned foreign policy will finally have had its day.

Footnotes: 1 The “moral diplomacy” that characterized India's foreign policy in the first decades after independence in 1947 was based on the principles of peaceful coexistence and non-alignment; it testified to Jawaharlal Nehru's desire to break away from the realpolitik of the two blocs, which was condemned as predatory and aggressive. 2 Quoted by Martine Bulard, “Great Power Dreams in Delhi”, in: Le Monde diplomatique, January 2007. 3 Siddharth Varadarajan, “Stop supply of N-fuel to India, U.S. tells Russia ”, in: The Sunday Times, London, February 18, 2001. 4 Christophe Jaffrelot,“ Desired Partner India ”, in: Le Monde diplomatique, September 2006. 5 Harsh V. Pant,“ La montée en puissance de l 'Inde et ses ambitions nucléaires', in: Défense nationale et sécurité collective, Paris, July 2007. 6 Nuclear weapons experts are still looking for a satisfactory definition for this term. What is a responsible nuclear power? One who won't use her bombs? In this case, the US may fall into a problematic sub-category. 7 In 2007 and 2008 Israel rose to become India's most important armaments supplier (in terms of order volume) after Russia (or the Soviet Union) had held this position for over 40 years. The reason for this is the high technological added value of Israeli weapons (missile defense, on-board electronics, communication systems, drones, satellites). 8 In the 2008/2009 budget, expenditure rose by 10 percent. India spends 2 percent of its GDP on national defense (China 7 percent and Pakistan 5 percent). 9 These include the BrahMos anti-ship missile (Brahmaputra / Moskwa), which flies at Mach 2.5, and the Sukhoi / HAL T-50 FGFA multipurpose fighter aircraft, which is still under development and which is compatible with the US types F-35 and F-22 should correspond. 10 The offers made by the two US corporations also played a central role in the talks held in New Delhi in February 2009 by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2009. 11 See his book “Defending India”, London (Palgrave Macmillan) 1999. 12 Défense nationale et sécurité collective, July 2007, op. Cit. 13 26 countries, including France and Australia, were invited to the symposium, which took place in Sri Lanka. See 14 India had to give way in November 2005 because all other member states supported China's observer status. Since it was founded in 1985, the SAARC has consisted of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In 2005 Afghanistan was added, with which India has excellent relations. 15 See Olivier Zajec, “Actualité et réalité du 'collier de perles'”, in: Monde chinois, Paris, summer 2009, as well as “Admiral Zheng He returns”, in: Le Monde diplomatique, October 2008. 16 Part of this Pakistan ceded its territory to China in 1963. 17 Naxalism is a revolutionary movement that is active in 15 Indian states and tries to force an agrarian reform through. 18 Cf. Arjun Subramaniam, “The use of air power in Sri Lanka: Operation Pawan and beyond”, in: Air Power Journal, No. 3, New Delhi: Center for Air Power Studies, July – September 2008. 19 The Indian military are particularly jealous of the Beidou system, a stand-alone GPS used by the Chinese army. 20 Kaza Lalitendra, "Dragon in space: Implications for India", in: Air Power Journal, see note 18. 21 Among other things, reconnaissance drones, light interception boats and transport helicopters are bought. See Vivek Raghuvanshi, “India plans homeland security buys worth $ 10 billion,” in: Defense News, Springfield (Virginia), December 31, 2008. 22 Speech on February 2, 2009 at Salon Aero India. Translated from the French by Sabine Jainski

Olivier Zajec is a consultant for Compagnie Européenne d'Intelligence Stratégique (CEIS), a private consulting firm based in Paris and Brussels.

Le Monde diplomatique, October 9th, 2009, by Olivier Zajec