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Defence deals not for sake of Indian interest
US seeks to control India's lucrative arms market
By Arun Srivasatva
While the US President Donald Trump is yet to make a significant move towards giving more strength to the friendly bilateral relations and dispelling apprehensions about his approach towards India, the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has been feeling blissful and striving to build upon tremendous progress in bilateral defence cooperation made in recent years with the USA.

Least concerned of the criticism India has to face for entering into contract with Westinghouse, the Toshiba-owned US company, Parrikar is steadily is going ahead with his plan. Incidentally, Parrikar and his US counterpart, James Mattis, on Wednesday agreed to expand cooperation, that too at a time when noises in the global nuclear industry have been getting louder in the recent years about the malpractices of the Japanese major Toshiba, which owns the US company Westinghouse. Now Toshiba has decided to withdraw from the construction of nuclear power plants in United Kingdom and India and this decision poses a big uncertainty over the future of India's ambitious nuclear power programme with US collaboration.

This in fact has been the first high-level contact between the defence ministries of India and the US since President Donald Trump took charge. Little doubt, the alacrity which Parrikar has shown in pushing the deal is quite intriguing. During the telephone conversation, Parrikar and Mattis discussed cooperation under the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) and the Major Defence Partner status, and agreed to take forward the joint development of defence platforms. If the sources are to be believed the two would be meeting by April to give a shape to the deal.

During their telephonic talks, Parrikar and Mattis emphasised the high priority placed by both countries on the relationship, and resolved to work together to expand this partnership. Quite interestingly, the USA government is not in the mood to have a relook or review the decision made during the Obama's tenure. General Mattis is committed to build upon the progress in bilateral defence cooperation made in recent years underscoring the strategic importance of the US-India relationship and India's role in advancing global peace and security. This also sends the message that the Trump administration would not like to make any significant change in the American defence policy towards India. The officials handling and deciding the policies relating to Indian defence needs during Obama's time would continue to manage the things during Trump rule.

Meanwhile, Parrikar has set a target to raise India's defence exports to $2 billion in the next two years from the current $330 million. The relentless effort made by Parrikar has also been recognised by the USA administration. A powerful US Congressional conference committee had on November 30 asked the former US defence secretary Ashton Carter and the secretary of state to take steps necessary to recognise India as America's major defence partner in a bid to strengthen bilateral security cooperation. In fact, at the thanksgiving meeting in Delhi, Carter said, "Our defence relationship takes a major step as we designate India as a major defence partner."

At the meeting Carter had said that this was the seventh meeting that he was having meeting with Parrikar. "He is the defence minister with whom I have met for the maximum number of times," he said emphasising the importance that US puts on its ties with India. The provision mentioned in the voluminous Congressional conference report, running into more than 3,000 pages, on $618 billion National Defence Authorisation Bill (NDAA), also asked the defence secretary and the secretary of state for an assessment of the extent to which India possesses capabilities to support and carry out military operations of mutual interest of the two countries.

The hurry shown by Parrikar has been intriguing. He ought to have maintained some amount of restraint. With Toshiba deciding to withdraw, its American arm Westinghouse will be in no position to carry out the gigantic task of construction of the nuclear power plants in India. If at all Toshiba intends to continue with the Indian assignment, it has to tie up or rope in some other company. The financial condition of Toshiba is not strong to make any other company bail it out of the present crisis. Obviously in such a backdrop India has no other way out but to go slow and to have a complete review of its agreement with the Westinghouse.

Undeniably Indian effort has received a major setback. It would not be in the national interest to rely on Westinghouse for completing the projects. It is indeed shocking that Parrikar instead of taking the criticisms and suggestions in right perspective has been viewing them as monitored by the defence scamsters. He must do away with the skewed vision. He has to be objective and must look at the issue in the right perspective.

Before taking a major stride, he must explore and analyse how things will pan out with the new Donald Trump administration on the political and economic fronts. The bilateral DTTI launched in 2012 to identify military products for co-development and co-production, should be reviewed and anomalies removed. Having bagged Indian defence deals worth over $15 billion over the last decade, the US obviously remains keen to corner an even larger share of the lucrative arms market.

Parrikar also must realise that Trump's strategy towards South Asia remains largely vague and inconsistent. He and his men might have been saying nice words for India, the fact remains that they are clear in their overhaul approach to the region which is of quite importance for India. Three areas in particular deserve attention: combating terrorism, ensuring a stable Afghanistan, and greater strategic coordination in the Indian Ocean.

—(IPA Service)

News Updated at : Thursday, February 16, 2017
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