India was hesitant about projecting naval power. Now he’s been pushed away from the Indo-Pacific
Washington’s announcement that the United States, United Kingdom and Australia will form an alliance against China is a resounding slap in the face to the Indian foreign policy establishment which is trying to ride two horses simultaneously. News that Australia will receive nuclear submarine technology has further humiliated the Foreign Office and added salt to the wounds of the Indian Navy. Delayed by neglecting to be allocated just 14% of the defense budget, the Navy has been hit hard by news that US nuclear submarine technology – the best in the world – will not be upgraded. available to Australia. Canberra has reaped the rewards of an unwavering friendship with the United States and of accepting the punitive tariffs imposed by Beijing on Australian agricultural exports to China. These tariffs were imposed by a vengeful Xi Jinping for Australia’s refusal to abandon its American ally.
Stuck in a continental perspective, Delhi did not understand that the Indian army of 12.50,000 men, despite its valiant service, had no offensive capacity against the smallest PLA, numbering 975,000. The geography is against us in the Himalayas, where China has lateral connectivity of four- to six-lane highways to move acclimatized troops. The Navy remains the only service capable of any punitive action against China. With nuclear submarine technology, Australia is now being catapulted into a frontline state against Chinese aggression, something India with a population of 1.3 billion and a GDP approaching 5 Trillion dollars can only dream of. Australian nuclear submarines can quickly enter the South China Sea through the Indonesian Strait and threaten China at its doorstep.
Despite a lack of support from PMO and MEA, many Navy veterans, during their visits to Washington, approached key figures in the US establishment about nuclear submarine technology for the Indian Navy. . The answer has always been the same: the US Navy is against the transfer of technology to an unaligned state. India’s efforts have been crippled by a lack of funding and the inability to access the highly enriched uranium cores for the propulsion reactor. With the introduction of the Quad, we had the opportunity to operationalize the coalition and set up a Quad secretariat in India. Suggestions and advocacy with the MEA and PMO have fallen on deaf ears, concerned as they are with further failure in the Himalayas and ignoring the Navy. Now, a country of 27 million inhabitants and a GDP of 1.4 trillion dollars has become a power that can influence the choices made in Beijing.
Naval strategists and sympathizers have often been mystified when trying to answer questions about who does foreign policy in Delhi. Although the charter exists with the MEA, insiders are adamant that the PMO has the final say. Thus, the thinking public is unlikely to understand why we must remain unaligned when our neighbor competes with the United States to be the world hegemon – a rogue hegemon. Beijing has armed the Pakistani Navy and Air Force to the teeth, has bases in Gwadar and Djibouti, supports the Taliban in Afghanistan, is a strategic ally of the Burmese junta.
Does this reluctance come from shyness or Chanakyan’s misplaced sense of cunning to successfully befriend the United States without upsetting China? It is time for Delhi to realize that the regional power will not come from a million men to thread across the Himalayas, but from a navy, supreme in the Indian Ocean and commanding the bottlenecks of ‘access to international trade. At the very least, an operationalized Quad would have given us information dominance in critical areas, if Navy concerns were taken into account. But by using the Quad for diplomatic and political purposes, without naval representation, we have lost what little influence we might have had.
The great American thinker Andrew Marshall said that one should not write a strategy without first defining the scenario to which it applies. As a result, the US Net Assessment Office defines the evolutionary scenario every four years in a file titled “Global Futures” as a guide for the government. We don’t have such a document, but our scenario is fairly predictable, dominated as it is by the rise of a rogue Chinese hegemon. So why does our foreign policy still hope to “appease” Beijing by denying India a blue water navy – the only instrument that gives us a punitive capacity against Beijing?
Menon, former Rear Admiral, is the author of four books on maritime and nuclear strategy