Several recent developments have further highlighted the need for India
to develop a holistic national security
strategy. The first was the emergence of a new “Quadrilateral” in this part of the world (referred to as the Indo-Pacific), comprising the United States, India, Japan
Navies of these four countries had joined together in a two-day exercise at sea in 2007, after which the then UPA government
decided to discontinue participation, mindful of Chinese sensitivities. A decade later came a meeting of officials of the four countries in Manila
and even if the agenda was nothing dramatic, this grouping has now become formalised. There are also several other bi-laterals and tri-laterals in which India
has a place, each of varying purpose and productivity.
However, this piece is about a larger dimension in which India
is, or may soon, be placed. Every US president
puts out his vision of global security in a national security
strategy (NSS) and President Donald Trump
has articulated his own. This clearly identifies Russia
as “revisionist” and “disruptive nations” which can harm American interests. This articulation has now been followed by its defence
strategy, in which the US
sees itself in competition with China
in the Indo-Pacific. India
is not mentioned specifically, but is clearly seen as one of the “key countries in the region” with which America
must work in synergy.
The Trump NSS puts India
in some quandary by describing India
as an “emerging global power” and, by implication, in partnership with it. While this may bring good cheer to most of our countrymen, we must analyse what this means for us.
First, assigning this status to India
makes it a power which, at least presently, it is not. Second, with Russia
clearly identified as being hostile to US
interests, the NSS formulation presumes that India
is similarly affected. This is simply not true. Leaving aside economic parameters (our GDP is just one-fifth of China’s and one-tenth that of the US), the trade relationship between India
and the US
is a pittance compared to what it is between that country and China.
To expect that those two can enter into any serious military confrontation is simplistic.
On the other hand, China
is India’s immediate neighbour, occupying large tracts of our territory, and the possibility of military conflict between the two, even if unlikely, cannot be ruled out. At another level, Russia, which is seen as adversarial in the US
strategy, is India’s friend of long standing and has been its main supplier of military hardware in which the lease of nuclear submarines and assistance in their indigenous production stand out. India
also has strategic interests in Iran
which, though considered a “rogue” by Mr Trump, has energy resources
and also offers access to Central Asia.
In short, it is difficult to see how we fit in the US
scheme as outlined in its latest NSS. Add to this our problems with terrorism.
Thus, while the quadrilateral is of four countries with the unstated common goal of “containing” China, the other scenarios are full of inconsistencies. For the US, China
is clearly the challenger to its global supremacy and for India, the primary threat. This creates some kind of synergy, albeit a little far-fetched, as the Chinese do not constitute any territorial threat to the Americans. India
cannot also match the economic importance of China
to the US.
So, elevation of India
to global player status is largely semantic. It is possibly driven by President
Trump’s interest in India’s defence
purchases; with $15 billion dollars of American military hardware already done, the figure could well reach $25 billion in the next five to six years. Wooing this market with platitudes is, therefore, logical. India
is the largest and most militarily capable Indian Ocean
power, so describing it as a partner also makes sense. Looked at from the US
point of view, upgrading India
is therefore understandable.
The issues for India
are different. While a healthy defence
relationship with the US
in getting sophisticated military capabilities and this is a benefit of no small consequence, our equations with China
require engagement and not confrontation; its interfaces with Pakistan
and with some other South Asian neighbours also add to the complexities. The relationship with Russia, which the US
sees in negative terms, is even more critical for reasons already highlighted; in recent years, this interface seems to have suffered somewhat even though the military relationship continues. To this should be added a somewhat disconcerting closeness in the Sino-Russian relationship in recent years. In the South China
Sea, despite the recent gathering of Asean leaders in Delhi
and their deliberations on maritime security, not all of those countries are as amenable to our positions in that region as they are to those of China, which is also their largest trading partner. To sum up, there are many uncertainties in the emerging world order which affect India’s security, and in which management of our interests needs careful calibration.
Are these scenarios essentially contrarian is a question that might well be asked. One is ostensibly structured to contain China
in the Indo Pacific, which has its own logic, while the other has China
as a major player, with which most global powers, especially the “emerging” ones, must engage. For India, in particular, the Trump NSS poses questions which have not been faced so far. Integrating our long-proven relations with one friend with those being developed with a new one when those two themselves are at odds with each other is one dilemma; interacting with a potential adversary is another.
There are other important countries, especially those in our immediate and near neighbourhoods, which impact our security concerns. How to play this chessboard and to respond with suitable capabilities is a challenge that the policy-makers face. Most major powers articulate strategies crafted to suit their needs but, until now, India
has shied away from doing so. This may have prevented us
from generating capabilities that would adequately safeguard our interests. It is time this inadequacy is rectified.