The arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragde makes us rethink on the existing diplomatic policy of India with US. The blossoming of ties with the US has become an important diplomatic asset for India. Historically, these relations were somewhat thorny and adverse. But after the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991, India began to get closer to United States. Recent developments include the rapid growth of India's economy and bilateral trade, closeness between the computer industries, a geopolitical coalition to balance China and the 2008 India US Nuclear Deal in which long standing American opposition was reversed. The prominent challenge of this relationship is that its quite asymmetrical in many aspects from trade, culture to economic and military transactions. The Obama administration's reluctance to accommodate Indian interests on major issues has created deep differences that are questioning the resilience of the partnership.
Here we are going to discuss one of such aspect- US arms sales to India. With the advent of technology, the US has emerged as a World class arms supplier, as evident in being India's largest arms supplier, leaving behind Russia and Isreal.
This development can be attributed to Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. Though it haven't yet proved to be a significant deal in regard to energy, but it has been successful in opening the door to major US arms sales. With little prospect of substantial amount of output, it remains a worthless deal on energy. Failure to deliver a single operational nuclear power plant for so many years is a testimony to this fact.
The rise in arms sales from mere 100 million dollars to billions of dollars yearly might be projected as required boom to survive in the world race, or as advancement of India's security interests. But at the peak of Khobragade affair, awarding US with another mega-contract- a $1.01 billion deal foe 6 additional C-130J military transport aircraft, let alone the imposing of any penalty, is a sign of some flaw in our foreign policy.
US has security alliance and strategic partnership with Pakistan since 2004, strategic partnership with China since 1997. Then why US has given so special treatment to seek some special results from the relationship ? The major question arises here - Is this relationship is sustainable when we have our regional adversaries on the same end as we are, leave alone the long run prospects.
This fact is widely acceptable and makes sense that no country can ever emerge as a major international power in a complete sense, if it remains dependent on imports to meet even its basic defense needs. Capacity to acquire and develop one's own resources is the foremost requirement to become a powerful nation.
In contrast, India has emerged as the world's biggest arms importer since 2006, accounting for 10% of all weapons sold globally. Is this fact is a thing to proud or to shame? These stats can suggest that we are leading in a well planned military power, but deep inside these lack strategic direction and long term perspective.
This dependency is making India subjected to external pressures, and keeping it devoid of its capabilities. Further financially it is a major burden on taxpayers. These defense transactions are hugely prone to compromises and corruption as demonstrated by Bofors scandal, Break missile Scandal. This factor can explains why India is not able to repeat the indigenous success it has gained in other sectors where imports are least possible like space, missile, and information technology.
Some experts suggest that displacement of Russia as India's largest arms supplier has been a diplomatic game played by US as happened in early 70s with Egypt.
The major concern is not that we are importing but is that are we importing the worthy things in a transparent and fair manner? There is lack of competitive bidding and transparency in arms deal. There was one case -buying 126 fighter jets- where India called out for bids, but American firms' performance was miserable even in first round.
A major well known rule of foreign diplomacy is that it must be backed by leverages to maximize the advantages for both sides. Though India contributes to a number of contracts with the US, but is has not yet successful to make use of them to persuade US to stop arming its rivalry Pakistan against India. India has not even tried to access American market with competitive IT and pharmaceutical companies, which currently are facing number of US non tariff barriers.
The four-point declaration of intent signed by US with India last year include to move beyond the sale of complete weapon systems to co-production through technology transfer. According to which, efforts to identify specific opportunities for collaborative weapons will be pursued in accordance to national policies and procedures. There is lot to do in that direction. For the time being, US has now willing to co-produce some smaller defensive units with India, like Javelin anti-tank missiles. But such restricted access to technology should not serve the way US is expecting-to secure additional multibillion dollar contracts.
Need is to make US willing to sell high-precision conventional arms, anti-submarine warfare systems, long range air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, and other conventional counterforce systems that could tilt the regional military balance in India’s favor?
A wise India would consider declaring a moratorium on arms purchases from all sources to give itself time to strategize its priorities and clean up its procurement system. A moratorium of just three years will save the country a whopping $20 billion without compromising national security. With non-traditional threats — ranging from asymmetric warfare in the form of cross-border terrorism to territorial creep through furtive encroachments — now dominating India’s security calculus, procurement of more mega-weapons to meet traditional security challenges must wait until the nation has added strategic direction to its defence policy.