Shifting Geopolitics Realigns Indian Relations


Senior Member
Nov 1, 2009
Shifting Geopolitics Realigns Indian Relations

Growing Chinese Muscle Pushes New Delhi Back Toward Russia

NEW DELHI - India has shifted back into a closer relationship with Russia as New Delhi perceives a growing threat from China while the U.S. Obama administration has focused on engaging traditional foe Pakistan to aid its Afghanistan campaign, defense analysts said.

While New Delhi signed a $2.1 billion contract with the United States to purchase six P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft in January 2009, India and Russia closed the year by signing an agreement on nuclear cooperation and resolving the long-standing Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier dispute. India agreed to pay $1.2 billion above 2004's contracted price of $800 million for the ship.

The countries also finalized the joint production of a fifth-generation combat jet for $10 billion, and the Indian Navy has decided to buy additional MiG-29K aircraft from Russia worth about $1.2 billion.

India and Russia signed a nuclear cooperation agreement in December 2009 that offers India better terms than the Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement, which has yet to become operational, Indian officials said.

The Russians have offered a lifetime supply of fuel for reactors it would build in India and to transfer nuclear energy technology. India and the United States still have not concluded a crucial pact on reprocessing spent fuel, the primary hindrance to implementing a civilian nuclear cooperation deal signed in 2008, the officials said.

With India viewing the possibility of a war with China as ever more plausible, the govern-ment needs to buy weapons and equipment from various sources, including Western sources, said Zach Mathews, retired Indian Navy commodore and defense analyst. But the country also relies on easily acquiring advanced weaponry from Russia, where there are few political hurdles, he said.

Indian defense planners, meanwhile, are preparing a military doctrine that envisions fighting China and Pakistan at the same time.

China is already making its presence felt in the Indian Ocean region, where it could come into conflict with Indian maritime interests, an Indian Navy official said. China has established a military base in the Coco islands, leased from neighboring Myanmar; is helping build the Gwadar Pasni port in Pakistan; has established good relations with several African states and has some leverage with Iran, the official added.

China's feverish military modernization is the most destabilizing factor for Indian national security, the official said.

The annual Indian Defence Ministry report of 2009-10 describes what it views as China's growing threat to the region: "China's stated objectives, in their White Paper of National Defence in 2008, of developing strategic missile and space-based assets and of rapidly enhancing its blue-water navy to conduct operations in distant waters, as well as the systematic upgrading of infrastructure, reconnaissance and surveillance, quick response and operational capabilities in the border areas, will have an effect on the overall military environment in the neighborhood of India."

India has begun improving its infrastructure and road system along its border with China, a senior Indian Army official said. Special troops are being trained to deploy along the Chinese border, and tenders have been floated to buy ultralight 155mm guns along with a variety of helicopters and light combat tanks.

The Air Force has procured C-130J aircraft from the United States to speed deployment of troops, and efforts are being made to improve surveillance and search assets, including through UAVs.

India and China fought a brief battle in 1962 over a border territory issue. The border between India and China is currently defined by a 4,056-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is neither marked on the ground nor on mutually acceptable maps. Efforts since the mid-1980s to have a recognized LAC have made little headway.

The dispute involves the longest contested boundary in the world; both nations claim the same 92,000 square kilometers of territory.

India and Japan have also upgraded their defense relations and in December 2009 established a long-term framework to review defense ties on a regular basis. Maritime security dialogue between the two nations has been taking place for some time.

Indo-Japanese strategic ties are part of an effort to counter China's growing influence in the area, said Mahindra Singh, retired Indian Army major general and defense analyst. The dependence of Japan and India on oil imports from the Arabian Gulf is another major driver behind their growing relationship, Singh said.

India and Bangladesh also signed three security-related deals during the Jan. 11-14 visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi. The pacts relate to treaties on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, mutual transfer of convicted prisoners, and cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organized crime and illegal drug trafficking.

India is concerned that Bangladesh may drift toward China. There have been reports that China has access to Bangladesh ports and may try to locate a military base there, Singh added.

The United Progressive Alliance government, which came to power for the second term in May 2009, hiked the defense budget by 34 percent to $28.9 billion for the current financial year, which ends March 31, but a cumbersome Defence Ministry bureaucracy still slows procurement. The result is that not a single 155mm artillery gun has been procured since 1986 because of a cautious political process that has led to several foreign bidders being blacklisted on corruption charges.

The Indian Army desperately needs 155mm/52-caliber guns, a senior Army official said.

India is preparing for possible conflict with China and Pakistan, but New Delhi cannot afford to overreact on a border issue with China, Singh said.

"Both China and India cannot afford to have a war in the near future, as their economic growth path would be severely derailed," Mathews said. ■

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