Geopolitics

Strategic Partnerships of the 21st Century
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Apr , 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the President of France Francois Hollande

The term “strategic partnership” has been in-vogue in the post cold War period with countries having multiple strategic partnerships. However matters related to realpolitik force to see “strategic partnership” as an idea (constructed) rather than a mirror image of the understood reality. For example, India is a strategic partner to Russia, United States, France, and China all at the same time.

The recent agreement on India’s purchase of French designed combat aircraft Rafale and Russia’s direct sale of RD-93 jet engine for JF-17 combat aircraft jointly designed by China and Pakistan does raise the complexity involved with strategic partnerships of 21st century and its likely trajectory for the future.

However while each of these strategic partnership share uncommon history, diplomatic memories, expectations, it does share a common foundation at a diplomatic level – No Explicit Negation. For example, according to Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash the Russian sale of MI-31 Hind E attack helicopters to Pakistan upsets a informal tactical agreement between India and its largest supplier of arms, Russia. Is this aspect of India’s foreign policy engagement safe and beneficial to its foreign policy?

The recent agreement on India’s purchase of French designed combat aircraft Rafale and Russia’s direct sale of RD-93 jet engine for JF-17 combat aircraft jointly designed by China and Pakistan does raise the complexity involved with strategic partnerships of 21st century and its likely trajectory for the future.

A strategic partnership by its very nature is not only based on deep trust that evolves over a period of time, but also designed to secure each others national interest. While Russia supplies 75.7% of India’s imported defence requirements and provides assistance with some of its more classified strategic programme, such as its nuclear-powered attack submarines[1], the depth of Indo-Russian strategic relation is best comprehended by the secret deal signed in February 2014 where India will pay Russia to supply weapons to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)[2]. This allows India to uphold its partnership with Afghanistan without directly supplying arms.

With an agreement on defence cooperation between Russia and Pakistan, decades old informal understanding between India and Russia to not sell Russian military platforms to Pakistan has entered doldrums. In June 2014 Russia agreed to supply Pakistan with the MI 35 Hind E attack helicopters followed by a Pakistan Foreign Office statement on possible Russian consideration on future Pakistan requests for military hardware supply. As part of the defence cooperation agreement between Russia and Pakistan, Russia has agreed to sell the Klimov RD 93 jet engines to Pakistan directly[3].

The Klimov RD 93 powers the jointly (Pakistan and China) produced FC-1/JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft, which is in service with Pakistan Air Force (2 squadrons) and has been pitched for exports. Both Russian aviation industry and India have raised their displeasure at the budding defence cooperation between Russia and Pakistan.

For the Russian aviation industry the direct sale of Klimov RD 93 improves the export potential of JF-17/FC-1 in direct competition with Russian designed MIG-29 given the similarities in mission orientation and affordability and for India this new development is seen as an attempt on part of Russian to arm-twist India from sourcing its military supply from alternate suppliers. India opted for French designed Rafale C multi-role combat aircraft as part of its need for Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) replacing the aging Russian MIG-21 in its inventory, at the opportunity cost of investing in the development of fifth-generation Russian designed T-150/PAK-FA[4].

A defence deal is unlike the other components of a framework of comprehensive strategic partnership, it is a seller-buyer relationship based on formal understanding of its working principle.

India’s choice of meeting its defence requirements D(r) from abroad has implications for its foreign policy F(p).

D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p

India has met this equation with a balance in its weapons procurement from multiple nations based on a mutual agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MoD) specific to each case and country. However it has mixed inventory of foreign supplied arms with skewed   imports from Russia. A sought of “paradigm shift” has occurred since the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union. Denial of key military technology and export of platforms designed by the West (NATO nations) met with Russian design bureau and government interest in enhancing its political power through sharing and transferring its technology with members of the third world countries which comprises of emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Vietnam and other non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations.

A defence deal is unlike the other components of a framework of comprehensive strategic partnership, it is a seller-buyer relationship based on formal understanding of its working principle. However as in the past, nations have experienced the exercise of the seller nations political will upon its free will to exercise the option to use force and defend its sovereignty. For example France backed out of a defence deal with Israel to develop its indigenously produced prototype of MIRAGE III delta wing multi-role combat aircraft Nesher in early 1960’s given its strategic objectives in the Middle East. Russia had concerns over the Chinese reverse engineering of its SU-30 aircraft, but has shared key technologies and platforms with China such as the RD-33 engines which has jointly produced JF-17/FC-1 with Pakistan with intention of export. JF-17/FC-1 is opined to be the excellent in its class for affordability and mission based performance.

India’s own initiative to indigenously produce combat aircraft in 1981 resulted in Indian Air Forced conducting final operational test of Tejas designed and manufactured by Aviation Development Agency (ADA), Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) and powered with engines imported from US. Pakistan’s initiative to design and produce its own combat aircraft in 1989 has resulted in the induction of two squadrons of JF-17 in Pakistan Air Force. In 1995 Pakistan joined China which began the development of next generation Chengdu Super-6 combat aircraft based on the design of Russian MIG-21.

Like Russia, France has projected itself as a favorable political partner to India with the Indian Air Force operating the Dassault design built five types of combat aircraft from Typhoon to the latest induction of upgraded version of Mirage-2000. The seller-buyer relationship is further vulnerable to the buyer given the duration of the defence deal which stretches from procurement to the decommissioning of the platform. The upgraded version of Mirage-2000 was inducted to the Air Force in 1998 with the capability to carry nuclear payload. Until the decommissioning of this platform in next two-three decades India’s capability in deploying this platform to War based on its free will is likely to be subject to hypothetical French disagreement over such an exercise.

During the Kargil conflict in 1999 over the high altitude mountain terrain Israel provided a key solution to India’s military problem to locate heavily armed intruders in hard bunkers…

The requirement for serviceability, training, upgradation and whole host operational-technical know how requires political will to be aligned for the platform to be efficiently used during the military options. During the Kargil conflict in 1999 over the high altitude mountain terrain Israel provided a key solution to India’s military problem to locate heavily armed intruders in hard bunkers on peaks by sharing its unmanned aerial vehicle Drone, enabling Indian Air Force to carry out precision guided ammunition attack. Without this crucial transfer the intruders enjoyed a battle superiority and inflicted heavy casualties to Indian infantry.

Israel on the other hand eradicated this equation by going for independent production of ceratin platforms which it procured from the West. For example the design and production of its prototype of French Mirage III from acquired blue prints after France arm twisted her in relation with the Middle East in 1960’s. In a speech delivered by Israeli Prime Minister to the US Congress on 03 March 2015 which invited without consulting the US Administration, Prime Minister thanked the US for its sale of Iron Dorm air defence system which helped Israel to develop and produce its indigenous Iron Dorm air defence system. Therefore a defence procurement is key factor in determining the foreign policy and national interest in safeguarding a nations sovereignty and limit or improve the application of power from land, air, sea, space, and cyber space while exercising its use-of-force option. For a seller too this equation is useful in influencing politics with the sale of its military platform for a period of time.

The new paradigm has seen an increased shift in procurement of India’s next generation platform from West previously denied for aligning with Soviet Union. For India the platforms acquired from US has been significant in value and performance over the last two decades. For example India and United States constituted a joint study group to help India absorb certain key technologies and operational benchmark for its indigenous development of Aircraft Carrier construction INS Vishal in January 2015. This assistance comes in the backdrop of the recent induction of Russian refurbished Kiev class Soviet decommissioned aircraft carrier Admiral Gokshov in Indian Navy. Indian Navy procured MIG 29 K for its Black Panther Squadron to operate on board R33 INS Vikramaditya. The 1984 MIG 29 Fulcrum is already operational with Indian Air Force with upgradation.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Sundaram Rajasimman

Dr. Rajasimman Sundaram teaches history, politics, and culture and a member of the BRICS Advanced Studies Institute at Sichuan International Studies University [四川外国语大学] (Chongqing, People’s Republic of China).

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2 thoughts on “Strategic Partnerships of the 21st Century

  1. The typical Fp formula. [ foreign policy F(p). D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p] is not all the true in Modi’s India case. There seems other vectors too in the frame work.

    However, A nice article, good mr rajasimhan. May please enhance in line with asia- centric factors too.

  2. The typical Fp formula. [ foreign policy F(p). D (r) – D (p) = Fp(0) when r = p] is not all the true in Modi’s India case. There seems other vectors too in the frame work.

    However, A nice article, good mr rajasimhan.

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