Category Archives: Security
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Now that Barack Obama has just left office and is no doubt miserably plotting out his post-presidential life in Trump’s America as a private citizen, it’s time to assess the legacy of his relationship with India.
Like that between any US president and India, this relationship game was pretty complicated. There were ups. There were definitely some downs. There were times fraught with peril. And just like in a cricket match, there were two distinct batting partnerships: Obama/Singh and Obama/Modi (which incidentally, has the holiest of Hindu words OM as its acronym), each of which had its own unique flavor. Through all of this, one thing is inarguable: Obama was the best US president for India, its people, its development, and its advancement in the nation’s 70 year history. It’s not even a close competition.
Getting There. Any discussion of Obama’s legacy vis-a-vis India must begin and end with one remarkable fact: Obama is the first president in history to visit India twice while in office. The below figure shows the number of times each one visited India since “Ike” in 1958, which I just learned was the first of the official American head of state visits to New Delhi. There have been only 6 since.
Looking at this chart, a few interesting things come to light; Kennedy, LBJ, Ford, Reagan, and H.W. didn’t even bother to visit India. Reagan had eight whole years to pay his respects to the world’s largest democracy, whereas the others had less time, in all fairness. Kennedy was assassinated early on. Johnson and Ford became presidents by default via assassination and political corruption, respectively. Nixon, the only one of these presidents to (sort of) threaten India militarily with Task Force 74, actually did swing by. Obama not only visited twice, in 2010 and 2015, but arrived as the chief guest at India’s 2015 Republic Day parade, the first US president in history to receive this honor from India.
Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle Obama chose to host Manmohan and Gurshuran Kaur Singh for the first official state dinner of the entire Obama presidency, cherry-picking the Indian Prime Minister over leaders from other close allies including the UK, Canada, Germany, France, etc. in 2009. While state visits in either direction are partly symbolic shows of pageantry, they do help to grease the wheels for real, substantive work to get done. It is clear that Obama, Singh, and Modi all directed their staff and agencies to work together and advance the cause of friendship.
Good Trade. The pulse of any bilateral relationship is the amount of trade conducted between the two nations. While the governments certainly cannot take all of the credit for these numbers, and even less so the heads of state, the vibrancy of the private sectors of both nations depend heavily on government providing some nudges in the right places, while not getting in the way too much.
US-India trade has been on a healthy upswing when it comes to both goods and services, and around the middle of the Obama administration, official statistics from the US Department of Commerce show that total trade crossed the $100 billion annual threshold. While this is dwarfed by, say, US-China trade totaling $659 billion in 2015, a $35 billion upswing in five years still isn’t too shabby. Go back a little further to 2004, and the US-India trade total was only $12 billion. There have been major hiccups, including significant trade wars that dragged on and played out at the WTO, and ongoing battles over intellectual property but we can expect bilateral trade to continue rising in the future.
Unprecedented Defense Cooperation. Perhaps more important than trade advances, another clear victory in the US-India relationship took place on the military front. After all trade between two countries halfway around the world depends on open and secure sea lanes, airways, communications, and a relative amount of peace. Some military cooperation is essential to keeping the goods moving.
In 2015, a surprising event took place. The Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, and government-run airline Air India answered an urgent call for help from Washington, DC in Yemen, by helping evacuate US citizens among others along with the Indians who were stuck in that war and terrorism infested country without any US military assets in the area immediately available to respond. This is the first time we could think of that the Indian military participated in rescuing Americans in a third country. While the US media mostly neglected this dramatic development, plenty of grateful praise was heaped upon India by the Obama administration and the evacuated Americans. This event did not happen in a vacuum. It took place after years of military cooperation, which made it possible in a highly dangerous situation to trust.
The two nations in 2016 signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the first such agreement between them in history, and highly tailored for India’s sensitivities towards any sort of formal alliance, which smacks of colonialism. The US and Indian defense establishments have been distant for most of the last 7 decades. Now thanks to the LEMOA, they can officially share fuel and communications, ports and bases, cooperate in cyberwarfare and humanitarian operations, co-develop aircraft carrier technology, and even build US military equipment such as the Marine One helicopter used for presidential transport, as part of the Make in India campaign. Much of the credit for this unprecedented “strategic handshake” between the United States and India in the last two years must go to Obama, Narendra Modi, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a noted longtime friend to India, and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. In fact, the Obama/Carter Pentagon has been the friendliest of any to India, including kickstarting the only country specific “rapid reaction cell” tailored to India cooperation. All this despite India not being a mutual defense treaty ally such as the treaty members of NATO.
Meanwhile, US-India joint military exercises and training exchanges have ramped up. The two nations’ air forces, armies, special forces, and most prominently, their navies are building powerful relationships through increasingly complex exercises such as Yudh Abhyas and Malabar. Malabar is now a permanent annual deep-ocean exercise that as of recently also includes Japan. While these exercises aren’t explicitly meant to threaten any other nation, it’s quite clear that China and Pakistan have taken note, and have been spying on them with a dose of concern. Speaking of spying, India and the United States are now jointly monitoring the movement of Chinese submarines and other assets in the Indian Ocean. The US-India naval partnership is now, in our estimation, the most powerful naval partnership in the world.
All of this means that India can now continue developing into an economic and military powerhouse right behind China, unhindered, without needing to worry too much that the hostile neighbors surrounding it, especially BFFs Pakistan and China, can convincingly halt this rise while America has its back. Meanwhile, the United States gains a partnership in Asia to help counterbalance China. Before Barack Obama came into power, this business had not been settled.
Nobody questions that it’s settled now, even after a new US administration has transitioned in.
The Personnel Front Indian leaders couldn’t possibly say nicer things about the previous Defense Secretary, Ash Carter. But he wasn’t alone. Others among Obama’s appointees, including US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Jr., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal worked tirelessly on India’s behalf at Obama’s direction, and all of them spent time in India with their counterparts, business leaders, non-profits, and school children.
But the jewel in the crown for Indians everywhere was Obama’s appointment of one of our own, Rich Verma, as the US Ambassador to India. The first Indian-American to ever occupy this prestigious role, Verma moved the ball across the goal line since his appointment in September 2014. The US-India relationship finally turned the corner for the first time after almost 7 decades of drift. Imagine in this devastatingly polarized time, that his confirmation was unanimously approved by the US Senate, a sign of respect from both Republicans and Democrats for Verma’s long diplomatic career. In New Delhi, Verma shepherded a dizzying array of initiatives on behalf of the United States, including on the longtime bugbears, nuclear energy cooperation and climate change cooperation. India rightly believes that it’s unfair for the United States, which has been leading the planet’s defiling and environmental demise for centuries before India was even a country, to dictate environmental austerity on India. The United States responded with financial and technological assistance in areas including solar energy. US nuclear suppliers are now active in helping India build up its plant capacity after many years of disagreement and inaction, especially on liability concerns. This is important, because without India’s participation, there is no hope to reverse climate change.
All of this aside, when a brown man appointed another brown man to lead the relationship with India, India sat up and took note, proud to be dealing with its native son across the table. Many other Indian-Americans were given prominent roles in the Obama administration, finally bending toward being in line with the community’s achievements outside of government: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy faced a brutal yearlong confirmation battle largely due to the NRA’s dislike of his calling mass shootings an American epidemic, but was appointed anyway; Ajit Pai was appointed an FCC Commissioner (and is now the new FCC Chair); and Aneesh Chopra was the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Nisha Biswal was promoted at State, as mentioned before. There are many others.
Tired of Pakistan’s Games Much as I loved visiting Pakistan and the Pakistani people, the US government has been growing exceedingly bored and tired with the Pakistani government’s dangerous games. These include providing disgraceful succor to Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists who have harmed or intend to harm both US and Indian interests. When the Obama administration showed the courage to eliminate Bin Laden without informing the Pakistani government, it proved to India that the longstanding US policy of fierce courtship with Pakistan was on the rocks. The US-Pakistan relationship (by the way, “us-pak monitor” would be a very interesting site!) has been the most intractable problem in the US-India relationship until recently. Now that Pakistan’s games have largely removed the country from US favor, and with withdrawal from Afghanistan US troops no longer rely on Pakistani ports and supply lines, it created a stategic opening for unprecedented cooperation between Obama’s America and India with less concern for Pakistan’s feelings. This could of course change, but I haven’t seen good signs from Islamabad in this regard. Pakistan has been curling deeper and deeper into China’s warm, welcoming, but costly embrace.
The Worst Moments It wasn’t all wine and roses in the US-India relationship during Obama’s presidency. The darkest stain was the 2013 dustup over Devyani Khobragade, the consular officer at the Indian Consulate in New York who was arrested for underpaying and mistreating her domestic help. Both sides completely bungled this. It somehow turned into a major international incident, bringing out all that was wrong in the US-India relationship, like Washington’s heavy hand and India’s deep insecurities and mistrust. The incident caused the cancellation of numerous high-level meetings, the halt of major projects, and a spiteful war of words between the two nations. Nobody came out of it looking good from either the US government or Indian government, all of whom utterly failed to resolve the crisis even after it escalated to greater and greater heights for multiple months. It was all shameful and could have been easily prevented, as I’ve written before, with a single, quiet, closed door meeting between friends. Instead, we got amateur hour from both sides, and witnessed diplomacy at its worst.
There is no doubt that Khobragade’s superiors should have shut her behavior down to start with; then when they failed to, the United States should have worked out a deal to quietly deport her, under the radar, with Indian cooperation. Instead, she was arrested and publicly shamed and treated somewhat roughly in detention, like many who spend time in American jails. India swiftly retaliated in a number of ways, such as removing traffic barricades near the US Embassy, revoking US diplomats’ duty free liquor privileges, issuing calls to arrest the domestic partners of gay US diplomats in India from shockingly high levels of Indian government, and violent anti-US riots. None of this should have happened, and we can blame both the Obama administration and Singh administration for it.
Then there was the brain-dead Modi visa ban. It might be hard for some to remember, but current Indian Prime Minister Modi was totally banned from visiting the United States at all by the US Congress due to a little-known and bizarre law on religious freedom for a whole decade before assuming national office. This visa ban was enforced as a result of Modi’s terrible management at best, and condoning at worst, of Hindu-Muslim riots that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the state of Gujarat while he was Chief Minister. While Modi’s performance during the Gujurat riots constitute his worst days as a leader and a human being, the US visa ban was stupid and targeted, and did not apply to any other foreign politicians who have done so many worse things. In fact, Modi was the only one targeted by this law. Many believe it was a plot to please Pakistani lobbyists. In this case as well, nobody came out looking good, and unnecessary resentment was caused toward the Indian people. While Modi became a head of state, and therefore earned a bullet-proof passport allowing him to go anywhere, the resentment among many Indians has continued. Obama’s administration should have tried to put an end to it.
The Obama-Modi (OM) Years On the flip side of that, the two-and-a-half years of the Obama-Modi partnership have been so productive that most people can be forgiven for forgetting the visa ban even existed. Today, the US-India relationship is firing on all cylinders, and credit should go to Modi as well as Obama. The two hit it off early on in a heady and unashamed bromance for all the world to see, and continued to grow closer both as friends and as enterprise partners. Their praise of each other in various other venues was copious and sincere.
Some of the diplomacy between the two men was transcendental. In Time magazine’s 2015 issue on the world’s 100 most influential people, Obama took the unusual move of personally penning Modi’s entry, “India’s Reformer-in-Chief.” There was of course Obama’s seat next to Modi at India’s Republic Day parade. That entire trip began with a breach of protocol, as Modi waited for Obama on the airport tarmac and gave him a famous hug right off of Air Force One (pictured). There was also the Mann Ki Baat radio show, Modi’s weekly address to the Indian people, where the Prime Minister quite casually called his guest by his first name, and implored millions of listeners to follow the example of “his good friend” Barack who was lovingly raising two girls, with no son, and if the most powerful man in the world can do that, why couldn’t Indians give their daughters equal respect? There was also Obama’s speech at North India’s Siri Fort, which was unforgettable for its full-throated defense of women’s rights, in an era during which Indian women continue to suffer a heap of indignities, from low pay, poor medical care, abuse in the home from husbands and in-laws, and rapes and gang-rapes on the streets, often without justice. This speech was so powerful, and created such a far-reaching debate in the media and political establishment, I have no doubt that it made a difference.
Then there was the first Obama-Modi hotline, or 24/7 secure line of communication set up between Washington and New Delhi in a sign of the prestige being given by both countries to one another. At launch, this was India’s first and only hotline, and only the fourth for the United States after the UK, Russia, and China. Media outlets reported that it was one final phone call from Obama to Modi that sealed a flailing India’s decision to sign the Paris climate change agreement. There were also 9 separate one-on-one meetings in just the short period when both Obama and Modi were in power.
The Future? The United States and India have turned the corner. This means that the relationship has advanced to the point where it is unlikely for the progress to be completely undone under any new administration. While Trump has business interests in India, and has even said that the two countries “are going to be best friends,” a statement beyond anything Obama said, Trump is all over the place, and his policies are unpredictable. However, observers of the bilateral relationship can take heart in knowing that Trump’s obsessions with Islam, Mexico, NATO, and Russia do not interfere with any of India’s core interests. We are still bullish on the US-India relationship due to ever-converging values. We will save progress in the Trump-India nexus for the next article.
I have read many pieces in the US media about Obama’s long-term legacy. There is nearly zero mention in these lengthy assessments of Obama’s India policy. Part of the reason for this is the India relationship is seen as a bipartisan priority among American politicians who all want a piece, and therefore isn’t always controversial like other areas. Another reason for the lack of attention on US-India progress is a severe underestimation of its importance. India is now a key player in US global strategy, especially as relates to balancing against terrorists, Russia, and China for the foreseeable future. Barack Obama is not the sole reason, as his staff, Indian leaders, and previous presidents, especially Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were excellent for India too.
But Obama has taken things to the next level. He has lit a lamp that should continue shining for the rest of this century. For all of these reasons, it is very much fair to name him as the best US president for India in history so far.
With Memorial Day upon us, it is worth sharing a little-known fact about the deeply revered and beautiful Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Memorial will be forever tied to the hills of South India.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has a unique and unmistakable design by Maya Lin, with a centerpiece consisting of two walls of solid polished black granite, each one 246 feet and 9 inches long. These walls list the names of 58,307 American men and women who were killed or MIA due to the Vietnam War, etched into stone. The gigantic blocks of black granite were imported all the way from Karnataka, India, the home state of my family and one of the few places in the world where shiny black granite is to be found. It helps make the Memorial reflective- in more ways than one- with a spirit that extends to other monuments, including the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
We’d like to salute those who have fallen in the Vietnam War and other wars in service of their country. As the United States and India build toward a closer military relationship, it is worth noting the other important ways the two countries are meaningful to one another.
Photo Credit vvfm.org
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
This is Part 3 of a special 3-part series on US-India Naval cooperation being published by usindiamonitor, timed in coordination with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s critical voyage to India on April 10th, 2016. Part 1 focused on the background and history. Part 2 covered the short-term outcomes from Ash Carter’s 3-day trip to India in the context of April 2016 current events. Part 3 will project what the future may hold for the two Navies.
What does the future hold for US-India naval relations? Will the two countries work ever more closely together on the high seas to protect commercial lanes, slay pirates, capture terrorists, rescue hostages, and keep the peace generally? It’s hard to say at this time, especially accounting for the domestic political realities of both America and India. Following this bizarre election year, nobody is confident in what a President Trump, Cruz, Clinton, or Sanders might bring to defense policy, not just in relation to India. It’s possible that US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will be replaced early next year. Meanwhile, India’s fervent anti-US voices are making themselves heard right now. The two Navies, and two military establishments in general, may continue floating adrift from one another as they have done for most of the last 7 decades.
However, a very different narrative is percolating after Carter’s trip to India from April 10-13. The United States and India, if they so choose, could not only tie up to accomplish all the above strategic outcomes, they could also potentially form the world’s strongest naval partnership in history. Such a route would be a dramatic sea change from current course, and it could quite possibly launch during the partnership of Carter and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar while they are both serving.
Carter’s trip resulted in more forward progress than expected, certainly more than any other delegation in recent memory that the two nations have sent to one another. Below we will examine the specifics and what they mean.
Carter and Parrikar inspect India’s aircraft carrier
The Pentagon’s India Tiger Team Ashton Carter is the first SECDEF to create an “India Rapid Reaction Cell” at the Pentagon specifically focused on advancing cooperation with India on research, development, and acquisition under the aegis of the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), an outcome of President Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi in India in January 2015. This is the only such country-specific cell in operation at the Pentagon. As a result of its work before and during Carter’s trip, there were a host of wide-ranging collaboration goals ready to be discussed on aircraft carrier co-development, F-18 fighter jet joint production, sales of US arms rarely shared with other nations, such as Predator drones, and planning for US defense contractors to participate in India’s new Make in India program, which encourages companies from around the world to invest in Indian manufacturing. Participation in Make in India by the US military could be of benefit to both nations and also others.
Every single one of these actions would be unprecedented, and the fact that they were discussed in detail during the delegation is a big deal.
Preliminary Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement Any closer cooperation between the US military and Indian military will require a large number of baby steps- or baby swim strokes. One of those is a logistics agreement, which would allow the two governments to share military bases for repairs, rest, refueling, or resupply, while also sharing digital mapping protocols and advanced lines of communication. There has never been such an agreement. The United States has signed them with its full military allies, a status that India does not share at this time. For example, Carter visited the Philippines following his trip to India, and the two nations this month inked an agreement for the US military to use five Filipino bases for major operations.
India has expressed concern with these types of logistics sharing for several years, especially balking at being forced to accommodate US assets and troops at Indian bases. Carter assured his Indian hosts that India would have the right to approve or refuse each specific logistics request, initially expected for operations such as disaster relief. The wording has been changed accordingly, a concession only being offered to India. If a US-India agreement is signed, which may happen in the next few weeks despite serious Indian domestic opposition, a new door would open that will affect the naval forces the most, especially their ability to work with each other more. Naval assets are the most important that the US military has in Asia. We have shown that the two navies are in the vanguard of the US-India relationship through Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, but a logistics agreement would be next-level.
Misgivings Amidships The best way to gauge the importance of US-India military discussions is the responses they receive from the usual suspects. An article in Chinese state-owned Global Times in response to Carter’s trip stated that “India wants to be the most beautiful woman, wooed by both US and China.” This show of bravado, and China’s attempt to equate itself with the United States, is clearly a sign that Chinese thinkers are worried about US-India cooperation on logistics, which they are quick to note has languished on the table for years.
Pakistani commentators rang the alarm, on cue. “The US alliance with India has obvious and significant negative implications for Pakistan’s security,” writes former Pakistan UN Ambassador Munir Akram, who waxes quite eloquently about unfair treatment by India and the United States towards Pakistan without mentioning the country’s outsize influence by the military in government, and ineffectiveness in controlling terrorism despite billions of dollars in unconditional US military and civilian aid.
On a different tack, India’s cadre of Non-Alignment Warriors such as Atul Bhardwaj believe America is trying to throw another new colonial yoke onto India: “India’s strategy must address the issue of freedom from Western thought and question imperial alignments ingrained in such defense agreements.” Some Indian thinkers do not take into account the rapid changes happening in the world and their effect on the calculus faced by Indian leaders today. The British Raj is actually over.
There is no better proof that the latest US-India military developments are significant in nature than bravado in the Chinese media, fear-mongering and umbrage in Pakistani media, and anti-imperial rants in Indian media. All while the ADD-addled US media-entertainment complex is too busy covering the adolescent behaviors of the 2016 election or potential infidelity in the Jay-Z marriage to Beyonce involving a half-Indian designer named Rachel Roy- the closest you will get to US-India “relations” making a splash in mainstream media.
The United States political, diplomatic, and military establishments have all grown bored with Pakistan’s games, foremost among them the harboring of Osama Bin Laden and countenance for the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai, both with some unknowable level of Pakistani official involvement. As the United States troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s leverage in holding back US cooperation with India will also proportionally diminish as the major factor in US-Pakistan relations will become keeping nukes out of terrorists’ hands, which is no fun. I love Pakistan, but they won’t have much of a say in this matter.
As for China, that country can still avoid becoming a rogue state on a much conjectured-about collision course with the United States and its allies in Asia over Taiwan or islands in the South China Sea. The epic power struggle between the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army are artificially inflating tensions with Japan, India, ASEAN, and the United States. China can decide to participate in more military exercises with the United States, as they are already being invited to do in the RIMPAC joint naval exercise in Hawaii. Person to person contact could help lessen tensions. Even joining Exercise Malabar with India, the United States, and Japan would be a solid show of goodwill while helping reduce hostility. Ultimately, just like the United States in the Mideast desert, China is blundering around in the water. Beijing machinations are actually pushing most of its neighbors toward the United States and in India’s case, kicking and screaming the entire way.
US-India military cooperation could help reduce flareups with Russia, which is quite clearly challenging NATO and the US with aggressive military maneuvers in Eastern Europe, Alaska, and Syria, including against the US Navy. That’s because India is probably Russia’s best friend outside of former USSR satellites- and India’s good offices with Russia perhaps represent the world’s last best chance to prevent a conflagration between Moscow and Washington in a bad re-run of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or worse. This will test Narendra Modi’s diplomatic chops to the maximum, but he is certainly more capable of pulling Putin’s ear than any other world leader.
What Happens Now? India has remained non-aligned for almost 70 years. That means it has not had military allies despite three wars and an additional skirmish with Pakistan, nor in an embarrassingly pathetic war effort against China. India maintained relations with both the United States and USSR throughout the Cold War, buying arms from both, but not officially taking sides. India also has massive territorial disputes and the constant threat of hostilities with both Pakistan and China.
The potential partners could not be more different in outlook. Mysteriously spiritual India overthrew the British using Gandhian non-violence, while America became the land of the free and home of the brave by butchering the British up lovely. The United States has maintained formal military allies around the world for many decades. It won two World Wars and would win the next one if forced to. It leads NATO in Europe. It has major bases as part of that construct, and also other ones throughout Asia and the Middle East. Americans have been spoiled when it comes to security. Threats outside of terrorism are far away from US shores, and the United States has a military presence close to all of its threats around the world. As President George W. Bush said, “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” The opposite of the intended effect may be happening, but that’s why we are where we are today.
The superpower will need to understand the trepidation on the other side. For India to enter a real logistics agreement now would have consequences both domestically and internationally. It would mean, finally, the beginning of the end of India’s non-aligned stance, built in order to remain free to buy and sell with everyone, retaining ideological independence, while trying not to threaten anyone beyond its borders. India has been comfortable mostly coasting under the radar.
But there is an upside that will become harder and harder to ignore as time goes on, not just for India, but for the world. India’s window of opportunity isn’t unlimited: the next US administration could engage in several behaviors that India would find offensive, such as invading another country, or cozying back up to Pakistan, or withdrawing its technology transfer offers.
In the 21st century, the biggest threats to global peace will continue to come from authoritarian regimes who will need to act tough in order to cling to power such as North Korea, Russia, and China, or non-state terrorists with a scorched-earth agenda. A smooth-running US-India naval partnership with deep reach into the (fast melting) Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal would be a formidable force between the world’s two largest democracies on, above, and under the water toward addressing any threat. It would in fact be the strongest naval alliance in the history of the world, as a number of friendly democratic nations from NATO, to Japan and Australia would be providing backup. And it’s now within reach, if India decides to jump on board.
India needs US technology transfer and a ramp up in training and naval assets in order to become a global power. The United States needs Indian ports and logistical cooperation in order to successfully complete its Asia pivot. The two, in concert, could help maintain peace on the high seas for the rest of this century. Or not.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
April 2016 brought a most remarkable trip to India by a US Secretary of Defense in recent memory. Ashton Carter is the most well-versed SECDEF we’ve seen on matters related to India, as the videos below will show. On a substantive level, the two sides talked about surprisingly advanced levels of technology sharing, weapons co-production, and logistical cooperation. These types of discussions never happened before. Washington is clearly trying to push further than New Delhi seems comfortable with, and Carter stands out for remaining assertive, yet understanding and patient through it all in recognition of India’s lively internal political processes.
The USS Blue Ridge docked in Indian harbors in time for Carter’s arrival. Early in the trip Carter gave a speech to the sailors and marines aboard the 7th fleet’s command ship, focused on why the United States was working so closely with India on security issues. The most memorable part was when Carter told them, “Our militaries grew up separately, our technologies grew up separately… now when we want them to work together, we have to try to get the gears to match up, and that’s not automatic; we have to work on it…that’s why I’m here, that’s why you’re here, but it’s a winning hand we’re playing out here… remember, when you look back, in the years ahead, and say ‘I remember that, I was part of the beginning of that’ – you will, I promise you, in the future be thinking exactly that.”
The following clips show Carter visiting Old Goa, including a temple and a church, guided by Parrikar who was formerly Chief Minister of that state.
The following two interviews on NDTV show that Carter is very much in his depth while talking of the US-India relationship, and many other subjects.
Carter was also in attendance at a repatriation ceremony for the remains of World War II KIA, finally unearthed in recent days in Arunachal Pradesh.
This is Part 2 of a special 3-part series on US-India Naval cooperation being published by usindiamonitor, timed in coordination with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s critical voyage to India on April 10th, 2016. Part 1 focused on the background and history. Part 2 will cover the expected outcomes from Ash Carter’s 3-day trip to India in the context of 2016 current events. Part 3 will project what the future may hold for the two Navies.
They say that time heals all wounds. This cannot be more aptly applied than to US diplomatic relationships in Asia. In the last installment, we discussed how President Nixon sent Task Force 74 to the Bay of Bengal as a menacing warning for India just 45 years ago. For much of the early 20th century, America was brutally fighting an insurgency in the Philippines, while trying (and failing) to hold on to its overseas colony. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s the United States was at all-out war, first in Korea and then in Vietnam, some of the hottest patches of the Cold War resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties. Most dramatic of all, in 1945 President Truman ordered the only nuclear bomb attacks in history on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan.
In the 20th century America spent a fair amount of time embattled with Asian countries. Yet today, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines are American allies. India and the United States are meanwhile on the path toward developing a closer strategic relationship as well. We are predicting that US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s 3-day trip to India this week will help smooth that path- which will still be a challenging one. This makes the trip that much more critical. On the eve of his second visit to India in less than a year, Carter said of the US-India defense relationship: “Over the course of my years at the Defense Department, I have seen a remarkable convergence of US and Indian interests – what I call a strategic handshake.” The term strategic handshake has only been used by him in this context.
Naval matters will rank high on the agenda. Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar is hosting Carter at a naval base in his home state of Goa, while giving the US delegation a tour of India’s only functional aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. The US Navy 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge made a port of call to Goa after a stop in Mumbai, and will be on hand for Carter’s visit to Goa. In the meantime, US sailors and marines will be participating in community service and taking on local college students in some friendly athletic competition, including a few cracks at the bat… the cricket bat.
There are substantive negotiations going on during this trip. The Indian Navy is interested in buying 40 unarmed Predator drones for surveillance over the Indian Ocean. If a deal were to go through soon these unmanned spy aircraft, made by the US company General Atomics, would be the first Predators ever to be operated by the Indian armed forces. The US government and Indian government would first need to agree to this deal before General Atomics could fulfill the order. Considering that the Predator is one of the sharpest tools in the US military arsenal, such a purchase would be a very big deal. It could also open the door in the future for Predators that go beyond surveillance and reconnaissance, but are also armed with precision missiles.
Carter has also said in Goa that the United States backs India’s naval expansion “as a net supplier of security in the region,” an oft-repeated phrase that has been analyzed in different ways for many months. Taken literally, it would seem to mean that India is being encouraged to increase its naval capacity to be able to supply the vast Indian ocean with greater force projection capability than it needs for itself. A number of other announcements expected this week include the sharing of aircraft carrier technology, but are contingent on the desired American roadmap for the future of the Indian Navy.
One can expect another important discussion item would be joint US-India naval patrols, which has never happened before. In the weeks leading up to Ash Carter’s trip to India, Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris, Jr. voiced welcoming intimations to India about such a development, especially freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea along with Japan and Australia, during a speech in New Delhi. However, India has never conducted joint patrols with any country, as part of a larger structural foreign policy of non-alignment. Defense Minister Parrikar and others promptly denied that India would conduct any such patrols. The Obama White House and Pacific Command have had to say there is no “gag order” in response to rumblings that naval officers are off-message on China Sea related issues.
We covered in the last installment how Exercise Malabar has become a successful partnership, but patrols are an unlikely step at this time. India is no doubt worried about a Chinese response, especially in the three bodies of water, the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal, where India and China are already pushing to establish the naval upper hand.
China has for some years engaged in a strategic encirclement of India by close cooperation with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma. The Chinese Navy recently docked its ships and submarines in Colombo’s port in a “friendly visit” that was not well-received by India in its own backyard. China has also extensively supplied Burma’s military, and uses Burmese ports frequently. Finally, the Chinese government helped build Pakistan’s Gwadar port, with the expectation of free passage for China’s Navy and commerce, while Pakistan conducts joint naval exercises with its closest ally.
China’s encirclement of India cannot be completely dissociated from the perceived US encirclement of China. Joint US-India naval patrols in one of the China Seas could trigger joint China-Sri Lanka-Pakistan-Burma patrols, or some combination thereof, in the waters around India. Meanwhile, India still has to watch its vulnerable flank on the long, disputed, and treacherous shared borders with Pakistan and China. Indian leaders consider themselves to be truly alone on these borders, and their actions on the seas could backfire along both land and sea. Not to mention, both Pakistan and China have nuclear weapons pointing toward India’s major cities.
India is keen to not draw too much attention from China when it comes to US-India naval cooperation, while not rejecting America’s extended hand in cooperation on the seas altogether. It is a difficult and delicate water dance indeed. So far, India seems to be threading the needle by occasionally sending ships into the South China Sea, but not on joint patrol; aiming to procure Predator drones to spy on the oceans around India, but unarmed drones to start; participating in increasingly complex US-India joint exercises, but not joint patrols; training with US counterparts, but not fighting next to them against, for example, the common enemy of ISIS.
The United States appears willing to do more with India, when India is ready, not only on naval cooperation but also with other military branches. Ash Carter is spending a precious 3 days in India even while his Defense Department is at war in the Middle East, because without increased Indian cooperation, there can’t really be a successful American “pivot to Asia.” We are in the waning days of the Obama administration- and the highly restrained “Obama Doctrine” in US foreign policy. Who knows what sort of US administration comes next?
It’s time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, and their teams to decide if India wants to fully engage the world’s only superpower, leaving non-alignment behind on terms that are favorable to both sides, and engage in the risky climb towards superpower status. The risk comes from having to manage its own encirclement on the water, by land, and in the air.
Time heals all wounds, and India believes it has suffered many in its relationship with the United States over the years. But we are in the year 2016. The tea leaves seem exceedingly clear. China has its grand global ambitions and is going to act very predictably the same regardless of how diplomatically or non-confrontational India behaves.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
This is Part 1 of a special 3-part series on US-India Naval cooperation being published by usindiamonitor, timed in coordination with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s critical voyage to India on April 10th, 2016.
If it seems diplomatic relations between the United States and India are all over the map, that’s because they are. Scan the headlines in 2016, and you will find a complex and confusing array of bilateral interactions. Today the two nations are duking it out over solar panels and H-1B visas at the WTO while engaging in a war of words over a proposed sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. Meanwhile the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is sending warning letters citing violations to Indian pharmaceutical companies that supply the American market, India is roundly rejecting the offer of joint South China Sea patrols with the United States, and India’s previous External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told students at Georgetown University of the Republican presidential front-runner, “I would think India would be very, very worried if Mr. Donald Trump is to be your president.”
The media stories can be misleading. The concerns and disagreements are real, but minor in the grand scheme of things. The United States and India are now cooperating like never before in their history, chugging forward thanks in large part to their leaders. President Obama, the first sitting US president to visit India twice, and Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the first-ever hotline between the two nations in late 2015. Indians continue to pour into the United States for tourism, education, and work. 40% of the drugs sold in America are manufactured in India. India’s troops dramatically came to the rescue of Americans stranded in Yemen last year- an operation that “impressed and inspired” US Ambassador Richard Verma. Indian-born executives are running Google, Microsoft, Pepsico, South Carolina, and Louisiana. The United States and India are increasingly locking arms to combat climate change, cybercrime and terrorism. They have even set a record for initiating the farthest bilateral collaboration humanly possible, on Mars, through their respective space agencies.
One specific piece of the puzzle has stood out from the others, and it’s all about water. The tip of the spear in US-India diplomatic relations just may be the established and institutionalized cooperation between the two nations on the high seas. As US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter prepares for his next trip to India on April 10, we are publishing a special 3-part series on the Navy to Navy interchange that is helping shape the larger bilateral relationship due to common goals, interests, and challenges. And we may as well come out and address the elephant in the room: an aggressive China figures heavily into the equation, joining stateless terrorism and piracy on the list. China is even largely to thank for the cooperation that exists, so we will put Chinese developments into context.
Part 1 will focus on the background and history. Part 2 will cover the expected outcomes from Ash Carter’s trip to India. Part 3 will project what the future may hold for the two Navies.
Part 1: A History of Cooperation on the High Seas
Both The United States and India are coastal states with 12,383 and 4,671 miles of sea coast respectively. By no coincidence the two nations have their own traditions of storied maritime history, encompassing exploration, commerce, and military applications. Christopher Columbus actually stumbled upon the Americas while sailing the seas blindly in search of India, so the two countries have been inextricably linked by water ever since 1492.
In the case of India, through 5,000 years of recorded history its people have been highly dependent on the oceans for survival and progress. A quick look at the Indian topographical map would show why. Most of India is essentially a peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal- and on the very Southern tip of India, at Kanyakumari, these three bodies of water actually meet. Toward the Northern edges of India are the tallest mountains in the world, including the Himalayas which are formidable barriers to interchange with other countries over land.
The United States not only abuts the Pacific Ocean to the West, Atlantic Ocean to the East, and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. Hawaii and other territories in the Pacific give the United States reach deep into that massive body of water, Alaska juts out toward to the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, while islands in the Caribbean provide access to that sea as well. All of these waters provide both opportunity and risk.
The American Revolution, War of 1812, and American Civil War were all affected greatly by skirmishes and blockades at Sea. Building a strong naval force has been an American military priority since 1775. It’s no coincidence that the Japanese chose to attack the U.S. Naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941, a move that forced a reluctant nation into World War II; the Japanese calculated that crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet would help them win the war.
It’s also no coincidence that India played a huge role in World War II, including sailing alongside Americans and other allies in several naval endeavors such as Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 (though the Royal Indian Navy was fully under England’s thumb at the time). Largely unknown and overlooked in the West, over 2.5 million Indian troops were deployed at the peak of World War II to theaters around the world to fight the Axis powers. This is likely the only time that American and Indian troops openly fought side by side, though technically the Indians were still representing the British.
During the Cold War which played out in the decades that followed, India and Pakistan were treated as pawns in the larger chess match between the United States and the USSR. Often, the strategic interests of the US and India were not aligned, as the United States supplied Pakistan with arms and other support, while New Delhi became cozier with Moscow most of the time, resulting in most Indian weaponry being Russian. The US Navy would navigate through the Indian Ocean, sometimes close to India, but by and large India did not interpret these as a threat.
Though there has never been a real naval skirmish between the United States and India, the 1971 Indo-Pak War came uncomfortably close. US President Richard Nixon infamously ordered Task Force 74– a fleet of US Naval assets assembled to be a show of force against India and by proxy, the USSR- into the Bay of Bengal in December of that year after a severe breakdown in diplomatic communications. Task Force 74 included an aircraft carrier group led by the now-decommissioned USS Enterprise, at the time and still probably the most powerful nuclear-powered carrier ever made. Americans did not directly engage India, but without the intervention, India may possibly have pushed its luck and tried to over-run West Pakistan as it did East Pakistan- now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively (soon after, both India and Pakistan began nuclear weapon tests, making such an outcome virtually impossible ever since). The 1971 Indo-Pak War resulted in a peace treaty and Bangladeshi independence anyway; but resentment towards the United States among Indian elites continues to this day for interfering in the war and aiding India’s mortal enemy.
The end of the Cold War in 1991 ushered in a dramatic new era of relations between the United States and India. While US-Pakistan cooperation remained a thorn in India’s side, and still does in 2016, the military establishments and markets began opening up to each other more than ever before. The inaugural Exercise Malabar in 1992 was a direct result. Malabar started out as a modest joint US-India naval exercise that year with the two navies working “hull to hull” in partnership off the Southwest Malabar coast of India. This was described by Gurpreet S. Khurana of the National Maritime Foundation as a “token passage exercise (PASSEX) between the Indian Navy (IN) and the US Navy (USN).”
Over the years since 1992, Exercise Malabar has come to constitute the backbone of US-India naval interchange. It is also the premier joint exercise series between the two countries, though the armies, coast guards, air forces, and special operations forces also have their own separate exercises and interchanges. There have been hiccups over time, especially the hiatus caused by the 1998 Pokhran desert nuclear weapon tests that resulted in US sanctions, but the post-9/11 era saw a revamp of Malabar, with increasing levels of complexity and new partner nations over time. In fact, sometime participant Japan has joined Malabar as a permanent member in 2015, making it an official trilateral exercise, and one that has drawn the ire of China and Pakistan. Since 2008, Malabar has taken place annually and is expected to continue on this trajectory. Below is a map by the National Maritime Foundation depicting exercise locations, years, and participating nations from 1992-2014.
As we can see, Exercise Malabar 2007 saw the most participation, with two separate exercises that year, one of them including Australia, Japan, and Singapore joining, and a complex operation involving 30 warships and 200 aircraft in the US-India segment. We can also see that the Western Pacific became a more frequent exercise location in the most recent years.
With Exercise Malabar now becoming a permanent trilateral between three nations that China considers to be in varying degrees hostile, and with whom China disputes territorial claims, the participants will need to consider how to react. China is certainly building up its naval capabilities, including carrier-destroying torpedoes, creating artificial islands for military bases in the South China Sea, and developing its own carrier capacity. The United States and India have taken measures to assure that Malabar is not about threatening China, but this message is unlikely to be trusted. Alternatives to consider would be inviting Chinese officials to observe the exercises in an official capacity, or even to participate. There have been other occasions of such cooperation, but they have been rare, and it’s not clear if China would agree to either scenario, for political reasons.
2015 was a big year in US-India naval cooperation for other reasons. The US-India Aircraft Carrier Working Group was finally convened. This idea was in process for several years, with the goal being for the two countries to work together at a high level on designing, developing, and producing aircraft carriers jointly. This is a big deal, as the two nations are still in the very early stages of military weapon or vehicle co-development, and aircraft carriers are the jewels of the US Navy’s crown- and key piece in America’s capacity to be a global superpower. India has just one running carrier, with a second being built, and its own ambitions in Asia and beyond would depend heavily on upgrading these or acquiring new ones. The contact group should help in both endeavors. The United States, in turn, would find a more capably equipped partner to share some of the burdens of keeping the world’s sea lanes safe from pirates, terrorists, and other threats.
Later this week, Parrikar will have the chance to return the favor when he hosts Carter in India for their next meeting- including an inspection aboard India’s Russian-made carrier INS Vikramaditya for the first time by a high-ranking US official. This follows close on the heels of President Obama and Prime Minister Modi meeting in Washington for the nuclear security summit last week. There is no question that US-India security ties are on an upswing. As Mr. Parrikar told NDTV after the tour of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The most important is trust building, which I think is happening for the first time after Prime Minister Modi had good discussions with President Obama.”
It also helps to have two government bureaucracies, such as the US Navy and Indian Navy, who have had a history of working together and have developed relationships and trust for more than two decades running- an environment that certainly did not exist before.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Those of us who have met women from India know that they are capable of accomplishing anything. This week was simply further proof of that, as the world witnessed the toppling of barriers for International Women’s Day and the start of Women’s History Month.
Air India on March 8 executed an extraordinary and unprecedented feat: completing the longest possible commercial flight, a 17-hour jaunt from New Delhi to San Francisco with an all-female crew in the air and on the ground, encompassing the pilots and cabin crew all the way to the check-in staff and baggage handlers. This is a new record in the aviation industry, and one that women (and men) everywhere can be proud of regardless of background.
This great news was followed by another aerospace-oriented announcement of a more martial kind. The Indian Air Force (IAF), for the first time, is inducting female fighter pilots into action this June as part of the next fighter pilot class. Until now, female IAF pilots were relegated to other roles such as helming helicopters and cargo planes. But Bhuwana Kanth, Mohana Singh, and Avani Chaturvedi will be the first to shatter this glass ceiling on their way to the sky.
“They will be treated as fighter pilots rather than women pilots,” air chief marshal Arup Raha told NDTV.
Congratulations are in order to Air India and the Indian Air Force, two government organizations that have seen their fair share of problems lately, but who are flying in the right direction this week.
And the nation of India, which the world has come to know as a sweltering hotbed of battered and gang-raped women preyed upon daily by disgusting men in a culture run amok, has made a few baby steps toward becoming a civilized global power. There is still a very long way to go- but also hope.
Kudos are most of all in order to the ladies who are paving the way for future generations to aim for nothing less than the sky. I have perhaps become as emotional writing this piece as any in the last 3 years. We are humbled and inspired, and have some hope for the future now in an environment of seemingly endless bad news.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
In the last year, a must-read book has been published for practitioners, observers, and students of India’s foreign policy. Beyond South Asia by author Neil Padukone is an excellent and surprisingly easy read considering the complex and puzzling subject matter: the history and future of New Delhi’s strategic thought (insert laugh track here…). Experts in this area, and lay readers with zero background in foreign policy alike will gain new insights by picking up a copy. I have read dozens of books on Indian foreign policy from both Western and Eastern points of view. Padukone’s is easily among the easiest to read, and I was able to complete it in just a few days.
Some analysts, including myself, have complained for decades that Indian foreign policy lacks a cohesive overarching strategy. Others find the decision-making processes opaque, or even downright flailing. Padukone has patiently laid out, with copious amounts of quotes and notes in Beyond South Asia that the reality is more subtle; that the young and growing nation has often pursued rational and intelligent policies throughout its history, though adjustments were required as with any country’s strategic vision in the fast-changing landscape of South Asian and global geopolitics. Padukone earned credibility by working closely with numerous high-level officials in this area; more on that in the Q&A below. Read the rest of this entry
Editor’s Note: In January, usindiamonitor came across a purely humanitarian issue of bringing home the remains of MIA American pilots who crashed in India during WWII and invited Gary Zaetz to write an editorial on the topic. This excellent piece I sincerely hope, brought some awareness to this long and hard battle. And today usindiamonitor is proud to publish Gary’s follow-up about the moratorium FINALLY being lifted by the Indian government after so many years.
We finally have confirmation in the press that the moratorium on Arunachal recoveries, in effect since the end of 2009, has been lifted by the Indian Government, in spite of the fact that the Chinese Government is still on record opposing these recoveries.
See this new article, by Indian journalist Manu Pubby, from India’s Economic Times. We thank Mr. Pubby and the Economic Times for giving this news the attention it deserves.
It compounds the tragedy of our MIAs’ loss that, while this cruel and heartless moratorium was in effect, many of these heroes’ closest relatives, like Dr. Stephen L. Chambers, Ethyle Renee Wolfe, and Fred Morris Oxford, passed away, forever denied their rights to see their loved ones’ remains given a proper burial during their lifetimes.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
As was widely reported in Indian media in recent weeks, a “hotline” or 24/7 secure line of telephone communication has been operationally inaugurated between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi. “This is a secure line between two very, very close partners so that they can exchange views at the heads of state level…exchange views and co-ordinate approaches to solving real problems,” said Peter Lavoy, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs at the US National Security Council, to the Times of India.
On the face of it, this might not seem like such a big deal. Obama and Modi, thanks to their undeniably strong personal rapport, could already find a way to reach one another on the phone if they really urgently wanted to prior to the hotline. They’ve met personally twice already, and will be doing so again in New York later this month when Modi comes back to the United States for the UN General Assembly and to address the powerful brown community in Silicon Valley.
However, a hotline denotes several advances. First of all is prestige. It symbolically represents the two nations coming closer together, for India has never had a head of state hotline with any other country before, while only three other nations- China, Russia, and Great Britain- have a hotline to the president. In the cases of China and Russia, the hotlines clearly exist to diffuse a suddenly emerging crisis, such as nuclear conflagration or quite possibly World War III. Meanwhile the US has a hotline with UK because they are publicly acknowledged best friends. The Obama-Modi hotline seems to be closer in scope to the latter than the former- though crisis mode is never far when it comes to South Asia. We can now expect more frequent contact between the two leaders and their national security staff. This can only be a good thing, and should be seen as a welcome gesture after a long history of mistrust between the two countries.