(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 24, 2011
Wikileaks & India-US
published in The Hindu ( March 28, 2011) on the
Wikileaks cables focusing on the landmark Indo-US Agreement of June
2005 on a ‘New
Framework for US-India Defence Relationship’ as part of a wider
engagement between India and the US has received less attention than it
deserves. (The writer must himself take some blame for not writing this
earlier!) It covers a very significant period of modern
Hopefully we are going to be treated to further Wikileaks instalments dealing with these other agreements too, and their inter-connectedness. Till then we must content ourselves with this glimpse and infer from it what we can about the broader strategic engagement. Yet even this brief look provides some fascinating insights into how this engagement was viewed by both sides.
The first thing that strikes one is that, looking at the bigger picture, there are no startling new revelations, and very few surprises. Most of what we can read from the Wikileaks cables was already known, and had been brought out especially by the Left and by many other strategic commentators during that time. Yet to see it all come together in one place, brought out by official US documented exchanges, is important enough. And fresh light is also thrown on some key aspects, even if not in the referenced The Hindu article itself, if one connects the dots and reads between the lines.
the cables should convince the average reader that the Left in
not spinning out some paranoid conspiracy theory about US intentions
orchestration of events, including micro-manipulations of government
elected representatives both high and low, towards the outcomes it
Indeed, several cables show it was the vigorous Left opposition to the
deepening India-US strategic engagement, and the impact this critique
having in the wider polity and public opinion, which pulled the reins
somewhat and kept the
This unfavourable environment engendered by the predominantly though not solely Left critique, with the Embassy analysis often pointing figures at the Nehruvian perspectives among sections of the foreign policy establishment also, seems to have the major reason for the UPA government going backing off from, or going slow on, several foundational bilateral agreements that the US was pushing. As a result India did not sign, and indeed has yet to sign, the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (re-named Logistics Support Agreement to appear more innocuous) that provides for use of each other’s facilities and obtain refuelling and other services on credit during operations, the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement or CISMOA whereby air, sea and land assets of both sides can communicate with each other through common hardware and encryption software as forces of US allies do during NATO operations, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation or BECA.
One new bit
in the cables is that the
Not that they
converted! In fact, the UPA political leadership is slowly but surely
backdoor means to achieve closer military ties. In some cases such as
End-Use Agreements which the US normally insists on for
government-to-government sales, and which gives the US rights to
military equipment sold to other countries on site and determine how
used, India has not formally signed them but in 2009 agreed to language
annexures to sales contracts that are tantamount to the same.
Much has been
strategic and defence circles of the commercial angle to the India-US
relationship. Articles constantly refer to the opening up of the Indian
market to US suppliers and the potentially hundreds of billions of
could be garnered for US companies through such sales. The cables too
reference to $14 billion annual purchases by
from the US Embassy in
that US strategic and foreign policy objectives vis-à-vis
large orders from
light on some interesting and hitherto unexplored dimension to Indian
especially from the
For one, the cables record considerable resistance in India, notably from the military leadership but also from a broader constituency of sections of the defence production sector, the strategic and foreign policy community, and journalists including defence correspondents, to strategic military acquisitions from the US. The Indian military brass appears to show deep-seated suspicions about US reliability as a supplier especially in time of conflict when, it fears, the US may impose sanctions or otherwise block supplies. The cables note the obvious reluctance of military leaders regarding acquisitions and deployment in theatres potentially involving Pakistan.
The above mentioned acquisitions are interesting in this light. They are mostly stand-alone acquisitions for longer-range or indirect roles, whereas the fighter aircraft would be frontline combat aircraft likely to find use in the neighbourhood. The cables’ repeated reference to support from the military especially the navy for expanded military relations with the US should also perhaps be seen in this light. The navy not surprisingly finds considerable value in the experience gained from joint exercises using modern networking systems, and also looks positively at the prospect of strengthening its deep-water capabilities through such collaborations. None of these involve major hardware acquisitions that may be hampered in times of conflict. The air force chief has gone on record as saying CISMOA would not affect his service’s operational preparedness. The point is, weapon systems are a military’s bread and butter. And no military worth its salt would compromise its ability to be self-reliant within the nation especially in time of conflict when such equipment would actually be put to the use for which it was intended.
This is obviously linked to India’s defence industry capabilities to produce and maintain the major military hardware the armed services require. The on-going effort in India to address the well-known deficiencies of the Indian defence production sector is an unfolding story and cannot be addressed in this article. But we may briefly note that the Wikileaks cables throw a hitherto little noticed and interesting, new light on this aspect too.
The cables show US officials both in the US and especially in the Embassy in New Delhi repeatedly noting the strong Indian requirement for technology transfer to accompany any military sales. The cables reveal the US establishment, not being accustomed to such arrangements, gradually coming around to the idea in the interest of promoting the strategic partnership it wants “at a time when the goal of establishing a key strategic relationship... with one of Asia's rising giants... is becoming reality.” The cables show a US decision to project itself as a “reliable strategic partner for defence co-production, technology sharing, and joint research [while] using military sales as the platform for cooperation [to] catalyse development of India's defence sector [and] spin off new industries.” With typical American push, US officials suggest that the defence production and procurement group set up under the defence agreement could then “lay the foundation for direct interaction among Indian and U S business leaders aimed at creating corporate structures as the basis for defence cooperation, beginning with a few discreet projects.”
We are today witnessing an unfolding of this US stratagem. The UPA government has not only liberalised the offsets regime by various means including opening up civilian sector offsets which would benefit companies such as Boeing but has also decisively opened up the defence sector to the private sector including with foreign collaboration and portfolio investment. So not only will US interests be promoted in terms of military sales by agreeing to licensed manufacture or other offsets or collaboration as India wanted, this could be further advanced by tweaking these collaboration arrangements such that US defence manufacturers gain a foothold in the Indian defence manufacturing sector! But that’s the subject of another article!