Colombo, June 27: US President Donald Trump rolled out the red carpet to the visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and gave him the unique honor of being the first foreign dignitary to be entertained by Trump at a White House working dinner after the formal talks. But all this was mainly to sell arms to India, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
As in the recent past, what was trumpeted by both sides was a commitment to strengthening the special relationship between two democracies; fighting terrorism; promoting economic growth; and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
But behind the statements extolling the relationship, is the reality of a continuing American bid to sell arms to India, which has shown a voracious appetite for weapons to face perceived threats from Pakistan and China.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the second largest buyer of arms in the world between 2008 and 2015. Saudi Arabia was the first, buying weapons worth US$ 93.5 billion, and India was second coughing up US$ 34 billion.
And the appetite is growing after the jingoistic Modi took over in 2014 and raised the level of tension with neighboring Pakistan and China to new levels.
Since 2009, India’s weapons purchases from the US have grown exponentially displacing Russia as the main seller by 2014. About 70% of the equipment of the Indian armed forces have traditionally been of Russian origin, but this kept dwindling since 2009 because India has been wanting to diversify its sources. And Modi has a penchant for things American. The total value of U.S. imports increased from $200 million in 2009 to $2 billion in 2014.
According to The Diplomat the US aircraft maker Boeing alone has won bids to supply the Indian military with ten C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft (worth $4.1 billion), eight P-8I maritime patrol aircraft (worth $2.1. billion), 22 AH-64E Apache, and 15 CH-47F Chinook helicopters (both helicopter deals have a combined worth of $2.5 billion). More recently India decided to buy 22 Guardian drones for US$ 2 billion.
Not Necessarily Good
India decided to switch to US sources in the hope that it will get access to the latest technology, but experience shows that American products are not necessarily trustworthy.
A C-130 J transport aircraft crashed because of it had used inferior counterfeited Chinese parts. But to please the US, India ordered another C-130 J even before the Black Box of the crashed aircraft could be studied, notes Avinanda Choudhury in an article in India Opines.com.
Choudhury says that when India floats an open tender, US companies fail to qualify. Therefore, Washington has taken to pushing for government to government agreements for purchases because in such deals, political factors and arm twisting could be brought into play.
While the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-18A Super Hornet were competing in a tender floated by the Indian Air Force, they could not match the French Rafael when tested under varying climatic conditions. Following this, the then US Ambassador, Timothy Roemer, who had tried to push the deal at the political level, resigned.
Major Defense Partner
The signing of the 2016 Indo-US agreement making India a “major defense partner” of the US is meant to enable government-to-government purchases. As an incentive to India to stay on track, the Trump administration has decided to sell ultra-modern Guardian drones which are sold only to alliance partners. The US government intends to push Congress to sanction it.
The other deal meant to sway Modi is the setting up of a facility in India to make F-16 Fighting Falcon. But defense experts have exposed the fact that the US is doing it because there is no market for this fighter aircraft any more, and that the manufacturing plant in the US is to be used for making other aircraft.
No Strategic Consonance
Although the US has made India a “major defense partner” and the Modi government has gladly gone along, the US and India do not share a strategic perspective.
The US does not share India’s view that Pakistan is a threat to India and is an exporter of terrorism. In fact, the US is pumping arms into Pakistan which will be used only against India.
Trump has an ambivalent attitude to China, even as India views China as a regional hegemonic power trying to encircle it through an unholy alliance with Pakistan. After attacking China, Trump is now cozying up to it to see if Beijing can help rein in the roguish North Korea. While India stayed away from the One Belt One Road summit in Beijing, Trump sent an official.
After failing to achieve its aims in Afghanistan, the US has cut down its troops from 100,000 to 1,500 and is now wanting other countries, including India, to shoulder the responsibility of countering terrorism. There is a need to increase the counter terrorism force to 4,000 or 5,000 since according to the UN, there were 5,687 violent incidents between January and March 2017 alone and there is no sign of abatement.
Although there are defense experts in India who suggest that India should send 15,000 troops, to safeguard Indian development projects worth US$ 3 billion, and to keep the Chinese and Pakistanis away, the Modi government is reluctant to commit Indian troops abroad. But it could ultimately give in to American arm twisting.
However, as Tara Kartha of First Post says, India could “fund” a division of Afghan troops stationed in an area of strategic importance to it. China has offered US$ 85 million for a Mountain Division to be stationed in Badakshan, she points out.
Trump might push for greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan, and Modi might agree seeing other powers moving into that country. Late last week, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan got together in Kabul to share intelligence and have ministerial level meetings to combat terrorism.
Trump would push for greater market access for US goods in the huge Indian market as the US faces a huge trade deficit of US$ 30 bn. On the other hand, Modi is likely to push for more US Direct Investment which is now only 2% of US FDI worldwide. But American businesses except retailers have not found India attractive and are unlikely to come in significant numbers.
An India-US conflict is inevitable here in as much as Trump is pledged to implement a “Make in America” policy and Modi to the “Make in India” policy. At best the Americans will bring in obsolete technology.
The other contentious Indo-US issue is the issuance of H1-B visa for Indian professionals to work in the US. Trump is revising the rules to see that low paid jobs at least do not go to Indians. But any change for the worse will affect 70,000 Indians who go to the US every year.
All in all, Modi’s visit will either result in gains for the US or it will maintain the status quo leaving the future uncertain.