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HVK Archives: Change of protective gear

Change of protective gear - Telegraph

Aabha Dixit ()
March 19, 1998

Title: Change of protective gear
Author: Aabha Dixit
Publication: Telegraph
Date: March 19, 1998

Unique situations demand unique solutions. The 12th Lok Sabha
elections threw up results which did not give a working majority
to any single political combine. In peculiar circumstances, the
right wing Bharatiya Janata Party is to form a tenuously placed
government. In the art of building and working coalitions,
foreign policy issues will prove to be least problematic for the
new government for two reasons.

One, there is a general consensus in India on the broad
orientation of foreign policy objectives. Two, the smaller
alliance partners are regional in their outlook and are unlikely
to be interested in foreign and defence policy decisions. This
allows the BJP an opportunity to provide new directions to
India's security policies, especially in its relations with
Pakistan, China and the United States. More significant changes
will be expected in the areas of defence and nuclear policy.

The foreign policy section in the BJP election manifesto was
probably the most detailed in comparison with those of other
political parties in outlining the party's vision on several key
issues including the nuclear option. The nuclear stance was a
matter of concern for Western diplomats in New Delhi. The implied
warning of the US ambassador, Richard Celeste, about the possible
"consequences" of India's going overtly nuclear raised a storm
during the election campaign.

But the nuclear question is unlikely to be a top priority for a
fragile government. But it remains to be seen whether the BJP
government will take the quantum step and "exercise the option to
induct nuclear weapons" if it proves durable. India demonstrated
its nuclear weapons capability with the 1974 explosion in the
Rajasthan desert. Since then, Western intelligence estimates have
categorized India as a threshold power, capable of overt
nuclearization in a short period of time. During the
comprehensive test ban treaty debate in 1996, the BJP had fully
supported the United Front's decision to resist the passage of
the treaty in Geneva. India's refusal to sign the treaty in its
present form is also supported by the BJP in its manifesto and in
all likelihood will remain government policy.

Overt nuclear capability will bring accolades from nationalist
forces. But the larger issue of the possibility of Western
countries targetting India through ad hoc export control and
technology denial regimes like the missile technology control
regime, Australia group and ----------- arrangement and by
slowing foreign investment could force the new government to
temper its programme for overt nuclear weaponization.

But on defence and national security matters, the BJP will be
expected to put its own distinct impress. The party has
consistently called for the reversal of declining defence
budgets. A strong lobby of ex-generals exists in the BJP and
could demand defence spending be increased. Another area for
proactive measures is defence planning. The new government is
expected to improve co-ordination between different wings through
a new mechanism. Within the armed forces, it is expected to
undertake the first ever strategic defence review which will

and analyse the security environment and make appropriate
recommendations to cover all aspects of defence requirements and
organization". This review is expected to give a boost to at
least three different areas of defence matters.

First, the government is expected to hasten the integrated guided
missile development project by "expediting the development of the
Agni series of ballistic missiles, with a view to increasing
range and accuracy". The Agni missile was initially conceived as
a technology demonstrator for intermediate range missiles. A
couple of successful test flights led to demands to further
develop it with a view to inducting it into the defence forces.
The indigenous missile programme, widely hailed as proof of
India's technological prowess, has been held back for political

The BJP has been cautious by not being explicit about any
induction of the missile. Instead it has sought further
development. According to defence research and development
organization sources, an additional four to six development
flights would be needed if the range of the Agni 'is to be beyond
2500 kilometres. The Agni has been tested three times in the past
nine years, the last time in 1994.

The BJP manifesto is silent on the short range Prithvi missile,
which has completed extended test flights and is ready for
deployment. A public declaration of its deployment could become
one of the government's first decisions, especially in the
context of the Ghauri missile.

While such a posture would attract adverse reaction from Pakistan
which has claimed the Prithvi is Pakistan specific, the decision
to deploy would appear consistent with the BJP's overall foreign
objective of giving "India a role and position in world affairs
commensurate with its size and capability".

Presently, allocated funds for indigenous defence research amount
to $ 400 million. Allocations to the DRDO, an outfit with 50
establishments, have been measly. More focus is expected on
increasing defence research spending, especially on high profile
projects like light combat aircraft, the main battle tank
"Arjun", electronic warfare systems, the nuclear submarine
project and development of force multipliers such as
battlefield surveillance systems and air to-air refuelling.

Towards this end, the new government will be committed to the
creation of a national commission to "study and analyze the
trends in defence technologies and appropriately advise the
government on the development and induction of advanced weapons".
This task should be taken up with the highest priority so that
the government has a report upon which it can decisively act.

If the BJP remains true to its election manifesto on foreign and
defence policies, it will make an unmistakable break from the
past in the operation of foreign and defence strategies. Unlike
earlier governments save for brief periods under Indira Gandhi in
1970-71 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1985-86 power projection in the
south Asian subcontinent has not been hinged on defence strength.
India's relatively large size, development of a large economy and
availability of resources have been instruments through which its
preponderant position was envisaged.

In the new government, a shift towards a holistic picture of
these factors under the rubric of national security could well be
attempted. The defence sector will be expected to play a larger
role, in terms of assessing and preparing for threats to national

According to defence analysts, this approach will hinge on a
three pronged strategy. First, by reversing the declining trend
of defence costs, the government will signal a changed intent.
Second, by placing its faith on indigenous research, larger
allocations to the defence sector will be backed up by pressures
on scientists to meet their deadlines to develop equipment. This
would indirectly force defence production units to undertake
introspection with a view to making them commercially viable by
international standards. This, in turn, would mean a greater
thrust on defence exports and cooperation.

Third, the BJP's economic manifesto refers to swadeshi - made in
India. In defence matters, preference would be given to
indigenously developed products and equipment. Such a strategy
would lead to minimum purchase of foreign equipment. There is
already a controversy over the purchase of Su-30 MK II which
critics claim is still on the drawing boards in Russia, the first
prototype expected in 1999. It is alleged the Su-30 MK I
presently supplied by the Russians, are Su-27 PU aircraft. Though
the BJP did not object to the Sukhoi deal in 1996-97, reports of
kickbacks and wasteful expenditures for the aircraft is likely to
lead to some inquiry.

Since the end of the Kuwait war and the ushering in of the
liberalization era, DRD0s have been tightened up through closure
of projects showing no signs of early completion. In a BJP
government this trend may be further focussed on a select few
items which bring visible political advantages.

In search of a shift of emphasis in its foreign and defence
policies, will the next prime minister develop a doctrinaire
approach or will he be content with operationalizing envisaged
changes with the minimum of fuss?

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