By Ahmad Adil
CHANDIGARH, India (AA) - In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's maiden visit to India on Monday, Pravin Sawhney, editor of Force, the top news magazine on India's national security and one of India's foremost strategic writers, spoke to Anadolu Agency on defense ties between the countries.
Anadolu Agency (AA): How do you look at India-U.S. defense relations?
Pravin Sawhney (PS): The India-U.S. defense relations have to been seen in the context of national interest. The question we need to ask is how much compatibility is there in the national interests and geopolitical strategies of the two countries. The Americans are clear what they want out of the relationship with India. India does not seem to be clear about what it wants from the relationship with America. Starting 1991, when the bilateral ties were initiated, Americans have taken all the initiatives. Not a any single initiative has been taken by India. It has merely reacted to what the Americans have brought on the table. The clear inference is that while the U.S. knows what it wants in terms of security and defense ties, India is neither clear nor has articulated its bilateral roadmap.
AA: Does it impact India's ties with Russia?
PS: I don’t think it impacts at all. After the Cold War, there have been geopolitical alignments in order to create a new balance of power. Each major power is doing this. While both Russia and America are suspicious about India’s relationship with the other, they understand that India has adopted a hedging policy, perhaps as a deterrence against China. India is clear that Russia so far remains its biggest source of technology.
AA: Which are the areas of common interest in defense for both Delhi and Washington?
PS: For the Americans, they want a tight geopolitical embrace of India. Even as India is outside NATO and is not a military ally, they want India to become a pivot for their operations in the Indian Ocean region. They see India as a possible junior partner in the Indian Ocean region for their military requirements. As far as India is concerned, India appears unclear, except harboring a belief that America will help it become a major power as a counter weight to China.
AA: Do you expect a major defense deal during Trump's visit?
PS: Absolutely, if not during the visit, after the visit that is possible. The reports are coming that Lockheed Martin’s MH-60 Romeo helicopters and additional Apaches will be signed soon. There are a couple of other things in the pipeline, which are likely to come by the FMS [Foreign Military Sales] route. But all this does not automatically translate into deeper defense or security cooperation. For the latter, a clarity and consensus is needed on the end-state or what exactly the cooperation is expected to achieve. To my mind, the relationship has not reached there yet.
AA: About U.S. air defense system; when India has already gone ahead to receive the Russian S-400, what is needed to get another air defense system from the U.S.?
PS: As far as India and its defense establishment in concerned, they are of the opinion that they want a two or three tier air defense system. The CDS [Chief of Defense Staff] Gen. [Bipin] Rawat spoke about the need for air defense command. In my opinion, he would be looking at a three or four tier air defense system where the Russian S-400 could be the outermost tier with the American NASAMS [National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System] becoming the innermost one to protection of vital installations or areas like the capital city of New Delhi.
AA: The U.S. had taken strong exception of Turkey purchasing S-400, because Turkey, as NATO ally, has U.S. armaments. Will that not apply to India as well?
PS: Where does Turkey fit into American scheme of things, their strategy, their grand strategy, will be different from how they see India [...] The two templates can’t be compared. What happens there, may not necessarily happen here.
AA: What is the difference between Russian and American missile defense systems?
PS: The single most difference is that S-400 is an anti-ballistic missile system, whereas NASAMS is not an anti-ballistic missile system. It can only kill cruise missiles and aircrafts etc. This is the biggest difference.
AA: In order to realize full defense potential with U.S., India had to sign three foundation agreements -- Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). What is their status?
PS: All of them have been signed expect BECA and to my mind, BECA will not be signed. BECA is the most sensitive of the lot. Sensitive, because we may have to give access of our satellites to Americans. Satellites are important for various reasons, one of them being for use of our ballistic and cruise missiles and precision systems. India believes that by signing BECA our IRNSS which is a constellation of seven satellites, expected to get operational by 2021 may get compromised. I don’t see BECA agreement happening any time soon.
AA: And what they mean for both countries?
PS: If all U.S. foundation agreements are not signed, then complete interoperability for combat missions between the two countries will not be attained.
AA: What are safeguards that agreements like CISMOA and BECA will not result in a breach in Indian security system?
PS: There are no safeguards anywhere. You can sign an agreement and you can step out of the agreement. Any agreement is in mutual trust. Countries stay in agreement because both need something positive out of the agreement. If one party thinks, I get nothing out of it, they can walk off. Safeguards are as good as mutual trust.