- Feb 23, 2009
Booz Allen Report on Indo-U.S. Defence Ties
The recently-released report by leading defence consultants Booz Allen Hamilton—”The U.S.-India Defense Relationship: Reassessing Perceptions and Expectations”—is well worth a read. Commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the study is based on almost 100 interviews of serving and retired Indian and American military and civilian officials which, given the vagaries of conducting accurate policy research in India, is about as good a methodology as any. While its inexact attribution of quotes is not ideal, it does enable a modicum of much-needed frankness. I’ll share a few highlights.
First, the report clearly reveals how Indians and Americans have different expectations about the defence relationship . According to the report, the Indians interviewees felt that the U.S. should “create a special category for the defense relationship that acknowledges India is different from other U.S. partners” and which “guide
The report also indicates increasing convergence between the United States and India on Pakistan (once again, similar to my observations): “U.S. views of Pakistan and its role in the war on terrorism are more closely aligning to India’s while, at the same time, India’s economic confidence and focus on broader strategic issues have subordinated Pakistan on India’s agenda.” One U.S. official is quoted as saying: “There is some convergence with India now on how the United States thinks about Pakistan. We are starting to see Pakistan as part of the problem where we did not see that before.” A U.S. think tank scholar adds, “There has been a nuanced change in position. Now the United States is much more in line with Indian thinking, although this hasn’t translated into India playing a big role in Afghanistan at this point. Part of the reason is that the United States was optimistic about Pakistan in 2001, but now it is discouraged. India was right.”
Next, interviewees confirm the centrality of the MEA in policymaking, including defense. One American ex-Army officer is quoted saying, “The way the structure is set up, MEA very jealously guards anything dealing with other countries. So in MoD or the military, it is difficult to find anyone working on military cooperation issues in broad, strategic terms…on the Indian side, you might find someone who can talk in these terms, but he likely won’t have much influence, and it won’t be someone in uniform.” An Indian admiral concludes that “The relationship between MEA and MoD is a bit like an arranged marriage. And it is in the process of adjusting to a new paradigm where we are trying to bring MoD positions in line with MEA, who are drivers of foreign policy.”
The final point that stood out to me was that the report’s observation of how the Indian tentativeness in decision-making sometimes irks Americans in their dealings with New Delhi. One U.S. defence official is quoted saying, “Indians do not like to make decisions. They will not sign something unless there is top cover. They are cautious because if they make mistakes, they are brutalized by Parliament.” An officer with the U.S. Pacific Command adds, “Americans see Indians as risk averse, and one way this manifests is in tentativeness in decisionmaking. They will wait to make decisions and won’t move until the ‘higher ups’ tell them to.”
Polaris Booz Allen Report on Indo-U.S. Defence Ties