Follow @southasiaanalys


Paper No. 450                                      30/04/2002

 by Dr. Subhash Kapila

India’s  Chief of Army Staff, General Padmanabhan is currently on a visit to the United States.  He will be having high level discussions with the American defense establishment besides visiting United States Armed Forces installations. 

Visits of Indian Army Chiefs have been a routine matter taking place at least once in their tenures. The current visit of General Padmanabhan could be significant coming as it does in the backdrop of the following events:  (1) The first visit of an Indian Army Chief after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in USA; (2) The US military presence in Pakistan; (3) The US military operations in Afghanistan; (4) The Pakistani sponsored Islamic Jehadi attacks on the Indian Parliament in December 2001; (5)United States announcement of sale of weapons locating radars to India. With such a background one could logically expect some fruitful outcomes in terms of United States military-to- military co-operation with India. 

Strategic Co-operation Versus Military –to-Military Co-operation: A strategic partnership between the United States and India in the 21st Century is “inevitable” as analyzed in an earlier paper of mine ( 120.html).                                       

The progression towards such a relationship would have been speedy in the wake of events following President Clinton’s visit in 2000. However due to some change in nuances with the advent of the Bush Administration  and the events of September11, 2001 forced United States on an over-dependence on Pakistan may have arrested this progression. 

However, we have it on the authority of the personal statements of President Bush and the US Ambassador in India, that the United States continues to attach  great importance to building a special relationship with India commensurate with its emerging power  status. 

While an Indo-US strategic partnership has to await the passage of time,  it also has to await the emergence of some more harsh strategic realities.  On  the American side these harsh strategic  realities will revolve around an American realisation of the lack of strategic utility of Pakistan.  On the Indian side the harsh strategic reality will emerge from a realisation of the strategic losses from the wasted years of non-alignment (one could add ‘selective non-alignment’) and that if India has to emerge as a major player in global affairs, there is no place for strategic ambiguities. 

India is also be-saddled with an additional problem, that its main political opposition party, the Indian  National Congress, has been traditionally critical of United States policies and attitudes.  Its re-emergence in power or as the main opposition party, it is likely to impede any progression towards a Indo-US strategic partnership. 

Be as it may, what is still possible in the interregnum is Indo-US strategic co-operation and more importantly Indo-US military -to- military co-operation. 

Indo-US strategic co-operation in the contiguous areas of South Asia , namely the Middle East and South East Asia may be only marginal till such time a full Indo-US strategic partnership emerges.  However Indo-US strategic co-operation in the Indian Ocean region and the “freedom of the high seas” offers promise of substantive progress. In any case this itself has spill-over effects on the Middle East and South Asia.

United States Military-to-Military co-operation With India:  This has been an on-going process. Even during the  non-alignment era, albeit, on a very limited scale. India and Indians should not forget that in India’s darkest military hour of 1962,  it was the US Air Force which came into play in air-lifting Indian troops from Delhi to  Ladakh and the North East ,  US military aid came unreservedly in 1963.but as soon as the crisis was over,  India’s Congress party in power and  its civilian bureaucracy reversed back to their old ways. 

The world has greatly changed since then and so also India’s defense policies  under the present political dispensation.  Any new political dispensation would be unable to roll back India’s current defense policies including strategic co-operation with the United States. 

United States military-to-military co-operation with India should study the voids and inadequacies in India’s current defense and security requirements.  It is there where the United States should step in with a ready hand.  United States should appreciate that with a dependency rate  varying between 70%-85% of India's three Services on Russian origin equipment, it would be difficult to step-in in terms of a wholesale re-arming of Indian Armed Forces with US military equipment. 

United States military-to-military co-operation with India should ideally encompass: (1) Increased military training at each others training establishments of middle and senior rank military officers; (2) Increased  joint military exercises of all the three services ; (3) Enhanced liaison and co-operation in defence intelligence with special focus on global terrorism and organized crime; (4) United States providing India with military equipment in the fields of surveillance, electronic warfare, digital communications and precision guided munitions. 

India is in position to offer at economical prices the use of training grounds to the US forces in glacial terrain, high altitude areas, jungle warfare and desert warfare.  An indirect spin-off in this field could be improvement of Indian military logistics infrastructure in such areas. 

Military-to-military co-operation in areas cited above does not amount to military alliances.  It is strange that while India carries out political, scientific and economic co-operation with all and sundry, no hackles are raised.  Yet if some US officers attend some course at the Jungle Warfare School, there is a shrill cry by India’s political opposition parties .Such political parties are either strategically ill-informed or ill-advised.   They also ignore a realistic appraisal of India's strategic requirements and  national security interests.

Conclusion: Military-to-military co-operation between countries is a normal and accepted manner of enhancing the military skills of each other armies.  Such co-operation does not amount to a military alliance or military  and political subservience.  Such co-operation does lay the foundations for a remote contingency of military inter-operability between the two nations.  India itself felt this emergent need in 1962 from the United States.

 United States military co-operation with India should be viewed  as a desirable  strategic necessity in terms of India’s long range national security requirements and interests.  It should not be viewed or tagged with United States policies pertaining to Pakistan.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at