LiveFist EXCLUSIVE (Part 2): Admiral Arun Prakash On The New Indo-US Strategic Partnership

LiveFist: The Navy was at the forefront of the new strategic Indo-US complexion with exercises and exchanges at the topmost levels. How did you personally see this evolving equation, and what are the risks India needs to keep in mind with such a resolute foreign policy initiative on the military front?

Admiral Prakash:
In international relations you cannot go wrong if you proceed on the basis of two premises: It is not altruism but self-interest that invariably motivates nations. There are no free lunches, and a price will one day have to be paid for everything. And, when you negotiate in the big league, you should be prepared to play “hard ball”.

Great powers obviously have fewer scruples in international relations and are far more conscious of “realpolitik” than novices like India. We have to get used to the idea that everything is negotiable if the supreme national interest is at stake. Therefore clarity of vision and maintenance of aim are vital principles in geo-politics.

This has come out quite clearly in the Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation negotiations. The actual US goal right through has been to get India to “cap and roll back” its nuclear weapon programme, and every attempt has been made to push this agenda through. When faced with determined opposition by Indian negotiators, they have slowly stepped back, but still done their best to extract the maximum out of India.

As far as the IN-USN paradigm is concerned, in 2004 it was obvious that we had been sparring around for over a decade (since the Kicklighter Proposals) and while joint exercises and Op Sagittarius (the Malacca Strait patrol), did signify considerable progress, the US industry was chafing at not getting its teeth into the lucrative pie which they saw the Indian market as. It was obvious that a “hardware transfer” at this stage would enable the US industry to put a foot in the door and make an opening in the Indian market.

As far as the IN was concerned, we had managed without US origin hardware (except some components of our German origin HDW submarines) for over 50 years, and having established multiple other (more reliable) sources, were quite content to do without it. On the other hand, it was obvious that cutting edge technology in many warfare areas was to be had only in the USA, and an entry into the US arms market could have great operational benefits for us. It would also create a badly needed alternate source of supply for us.

However, there were numerous roadblocks. Wherever the US industry representatives went, the first question they had to answer was: “What happens if your government imposes sanctions again?” They really did not have an answer for this, so after some time people stopped asking. Moreover, we found that not only is the US system full of internal tensions and contradictions, but that their bureaucracy is as strong and obtuse as ours.

On a number of occasions, because they could not obtain complete alignment between the Pentagon, the Department of State, and Department of Defence, many well-intentioned acquisition plans fell through. The transfer of USS Trenton thus became a test case and a prestige issue for both navies. A determined push was applied at multiple points (NHQ, MoD, MoF and their counterparts in the USA) at the highest levels to ensure that the deal fructified at the eleventh hour.

(Tomorrow - Part III, What The Future Indian Navy Needs)

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