Defence cooperation: Need for a considered approach

Defence diplomacy is a potent instrument for promoting national interests. As India grows in stature, it will need to utilise defence diplomacy to the fullest extent to enhance its national interests. 

The overall vision and aim of India’s defence cooperation needs to be clearly defined. So far defence cooperation has only been restricted to platoon or company level interaction with other militaries and some joint naval exercises. There is a need to evolve systems and mechanisms for joint consultations among the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence and the Chiefs of Staffs of the armed forces while formulating a comprehensive national strategy regarding future defence cooperation.
 
The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) organised a one-day seminar on “Defence Cooperation as a Tool for Enhancing National Interest” on 18 February. The inaugural address was delivered by General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Army Staff. The keynote address was delivered by Mr AK Antony, Defence Minister. 

The seminar had two plenary sessions. The first was chaired by Gen Shankar Roychowdhury, former COAS. Maj Gen AK Singh, Lt Gen VK Kapoor (Retd) and Lt Gen VG Patankar (Retd) analysed defence cooperation from the Indian perspective with emphasis on the Indo-US and Indo-Russian defence cooperation. 

At the second plenary session, chaired by G Parthasarthy, Former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd), former Vice Chief of Army Staff, Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan and Mr Vivek Katju, Additional Secretary (Political & International Organisations), Ministry of External Affairs, deliberated on a road map for the future of defence cooperation in India. 
Both the Defence Ministry and the COAS highlighted the importance of defence cooperation in India’s overall strategy in dealing with the emerging security situation in the country’s immediate and extended neighbourhood. The Defence Ministry pointed out that globalisation had affected defence as much as any other activity and there was a need to continually find avenues for exchanging points of view with colleagues overseas, as well as learning from successful innovations being implemented elsewhere.
 
India has wide ranging interests in international defence and military cooperation. It has been used as an effective tool of foreign policy and is one of the main forms of engagement with many countries such as Bhutan, China, France, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, the UK and the USA.  
Military to military contacts are particularly vibrant and dynamic with countries like Bhutan, Nepal and the USA.  Defence cooperation can play a key role in regional and global security and it must be further enhanced with countries in the region so that bilateral and multilateral ties can be improved even further. 

The COAS observed that India has a good track record of military to military exchanges with friendly foreign countries. This has resulted in bolstering confidence amongst our military and other armies with regard to inter-operability of equipment and other resources. India’s large contribution to UN peacekeeping operations over the past few decades has also contributed towards further improving military ties with a large number of countries. However, much more can still be done in the field of defence cooperation to further advance India’s national interests and foreign policy objectives. 
There has been a paradigm shift in the Indian approach to defence cooperation since 2001 that has resulted in exponential increase in international defence cooperation both in range and levels of activity. Defence cooperation in technology is gradually moving away from a buyer-seller relationship to joint development/production. The present defence cooperation engagement is, however, based on individual service/organisation’s perception and needs. Defence wings from 51 countries are presently represented in India whereas our representation is only in 37 countries. Our own representation needs to be enhanced. 

On 28 June, 2005 India and the USA agreed on a “New Framework for Indo-US Defence Relations” which included the conduct of joint and combined exercises and exchanges; collaboration in multinational operations when it is in the common interest of both the countries; strengthening of the capabilities of both militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism; expanding of the interaction with other nations in ways that promote regional and global peace and stability; enhancement of capabilities to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; increased opportunity for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production and research and development; expanding collaboration relating to missile defence; strengthening of the ability of both militaries to respond quickly to disaster situations, including in combined operations; assist in building worldwide capacity to conduct successful peacekeeping operations; exchanges on defence strategy and transformation; increase intelligence cooperation, continue strategic level discussions by senior members of the US Department of Defence and India’s Ministry of Defence. 

The recent visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the signing of arms purchase agreements has served to highlight the growing defence relationship despite the slowing down of operationalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal. 

India and Russia have had close and friendly relations for nearly six decades. About 70 per cent of India’s weapons and equipment are from Russia. Military-technical cooperation has always been an important part of this relationship. However, the Indian defence industry has not benefited much from this cooperation, as the Russians have given India little by way of technology transfer. Military-technical cooperation should be expanded to a broader level of defence cooperation including transfer of technology. 

The two governments must facilitate direct interaction between the original equipment manufacturers and the actual buyers, the armed forces. Involvement of Indian public and private sector industries in the development and production of military equipment and systems is necessary for further improvement in the relationship. The governments should also initiate consultations for formulation of policy options for the situation in Central and West Asia and should cooperate more vigorously in space and information technology as essential ingredients of security. 

Greater effort needs to be made to enlarge the scope of defence cooperation with India’s neighbours due to the commonality of interests. India should continue engaging the Pakistani military as the military is still all-powerful. China respects power and, hence, a policy of appeasement will have negative repercussions. 

Military relations between India and Nepal were sustained even when there were strains in other fields. The Indian Army training team in Nepal was wound up many years ago. This must be revived so that better military to military contacts can be achieved. Bangladesh is geographically encircled by India. There is a need for reassurance that India has no designs on that country. There is a need to enhance military to military relations as a confidence building measure. 

Military to military relations between India and Myanmar are good. Besides training, there is cooperation in border operations against insurgents and the Border Roads Organisation is providing assistance in road construction. There is a need to expand training assistance and offer weapons and equipment to reduce the influence of China on Myanmar. Sri Lanka must be weaned away from diversifying its arms purchases to countries like Pakistan and China. 

Uncertainties continue in Afghanistan. The writ of the government prevails only in a few areas. The best military help that can be given is to train, arm and equip a portion of the Afghan Army. India must expand foothold in the Ayani airbase in Tajikistan with a permanent presence, including of a joint rapid reaction force, trained for peacekeeping and related roles. Setting up of better training facilities for the Afghan army and police forces will provide handsome dividends. 

The South East Asian countries are wary of the increasing military capabilities of China. India can provide a viable alternative to counter-balance China. 
The primary area of Indian maritime interest ranges from the Persian Gulf in the North to the Antarctica in the South, and from the Cape of Good Hope and the East coast of Africa in the West to the Strait of Malacca and the landmasses of Malaysia and Indonesia in the East. 

As India and China compete for influence in the Indian Ocean, wisdom and forbearance are going to be needed in generous measure so that competition does not transform itself into conflict. There is a need to increase interoperability amongst navies of the region to facilitate joint patrolling of the sea lanes of communications and to enhance “maritime domain awareness” through a variety of information-sharing mechanisms. 

Defence diplomacy is a potent instrument for promoting national interests. In recent years, the Indian armed forces have shed their hesitant approach, but endeavours are still essentially in the fields of training and visits. Co-opting the military leadership in strategic dialogues and consultative processes is essential. Defence diplomacy, as a tool for strategic engagement, should be conducted both at bilateral and multi-lateral levels. 
As India grows in stature, it will need to utilise defence diplomacy to the fullest extent to enhance its national interests. There is a need for appropriate structures and organisations to use this important strategic tool. These are lacking at present. 

(The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)