Earlier this year the United States in a ‘symbolic move’ renamed its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command in recognition of closer military relations between the two countries. Joint Indo-US military exercises have increased in frequency and agreements have been signed to enable the Indian Navy to use American military facilities in the Persian Gulf. While the two countries are ostensibly trying to counter China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean and in the region, India is inexorably getting drawn into an arms race and act as a buffer between the US and China. The United States has also emerged as India’s major weapons supplier and clearly wants India to spend more on warships, fighter jets and weaponry from the US.
The former Indian Minister of Defence AK Antony, reticent at the best of times, now voices his concern at India’s pronounced tilt towards the US. This, he says, has compromised India’s strategic balance. Is the Modi Government turning India into a lapdog of the United States? Excerpts from his interview with Bhasha Singh:
Is India under pressure from the US, as indicated by the tone and tenor of US officials?
The United States wants us to be solely dependent on it for supply of defence equipment. They want to eliminate Russia from the Indian scene. So, they are putting pressure on India. They don’t want that we should procure equipment from Russia — aircraft, helicopters and other products — and are therefore threatening sanctions against countries which procure equipment from Russia. The US has imposed sanctions on Russia. This pressure will increase in future. It is clear that the US wants to have a monopoly over the Indian defence market. They are quite open about it.
But is there any new deal with the US in the pipeline?
Yes. The US wants a stranglehold on India. That is why they are insisting on a slew of agreements. We (UPA) resisted pressure on signing the logistical support agreement. They have been trying to get us to sign it for the past 10 years. The Modi government simply changed the name and signed it. It’s now called Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
Basically, Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) are referred to as the agreements that the US signs with countries with which it has close military ties.
LEMOA gives access, to both countries, to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment. The agreement covers four areas — port calls, joint exercises, training and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
I believe India under Modi has already gone too far in its tilt towards the US.
Is that all or is more in the offing?
Now, the US wants us to sign two more agreements - Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and BECA. Under COMCASA, US will be able to transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic system to India. The US can then track and snoop on Indian warships and aircraft equipped with this system. Under BECA, US digital sensors will be positioned on Indian soil. This means they will have complete control. India has its own systems in place. So, the intentions are pretty clear.
How has the Modi government handled this pressure?
The US wants India to become an unofficial NATO partner which is not in the interest of either India or the region. Unnecessary tensions will mount and we will fall into the trap of an arms race. They want India to completely break defence ties with Russia. This is also not good as we have to maintain a balance. We should not forget that the former Soviet Union and present Russia have been our defence partner from the beginning and helped us in times of crises. Because of the antics of the present government, for the first time in history, Russia has started supplying weapons to Pakistan.
But isn’t Prime Minister Modi been visiting Russia as well for informal, ‘meetings without agenda’ with President Putin?
Whatever PM Modi may or may not do, I have serious doubts about Russia having any illusion on the nature of Modi’s relations with the US. Russia is not happy. Moscow can see India’s tilt towards the US. It’s hardly a secret. India has gradually come into the orbit of the US. That means we are abandoning our strategic independence. The Indian National Congress was careful about maintaining our strategic independence. We were friendly with every country; our defence cooperation was with more than 50 countries. Today, that strategy is at stake.
How are the armed forces reacting to this situation?
The Modi government’s focus is not on the welfare of armed forces. So, armed forces are suffering as well. In UPA, we tried our best to focus on modernisation along with increasing welfare schemes. These people are ignoring it. Housing, medical facilities are being ignored. Capital allocation is not increasing. Capital budget is needed for new weapons and platforms. During UPA, capital expenditure was higher than what has been allocated by this government
But there are so many defence deals one keeps reading about…
There are very few new deals in fact. Most of the deals one reads about were initiated by the UPA. Negotiations started then; we were forced to go slow due to several reasons.
How do you judge the success of the ‘Make in India’ plan in the defence sector?
It has been a total failure. It is only on paper; nothing has moved on ground. Whatever deals were finalised during our time have also been pushed back. The Rafale deal was to go to the state-owned HAL. This government has dropped the plan without citing any reason whatsoever. No big investment has come so far. Like the economy, defence too is in a bad shape. For the first time serving officers came out openly in criticism of the Government before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
Ordnance factories are complaining that they are in a crisis. Apparently, their production targets have been reduced…
The Modi government is importing more equipment and ammunition. So, they don’t want these factories to achieve high targets. It is working in direct contradiction of their slogan of ‘Make in India’. It is not just the case with ordnance factories. No expansion plan is there for HAL and other PSUs. Ordnance factories are an important part of our defence structure. Their modernisation should be an area of prime focus and consultations should take place before any policy change.