Saturday, May 19, 2018

A new space race in Asia, my article in East Asian Forum

The East Asian Forum of the Australian National University published an article of mine, titled, A new space race in Asia, which examines the new and evolving geopolitical context that has pushed India to become more active in strengthening space cooperative engagements with countries such as Japan, France and the US. Indeed, rise of China and the strategic consequences of its rise have been important contextualising factors for these countries to coordinate their space programmes and policies.




Asia houses three established space powers — Japan, China and India — with space exploration goals ranging from social and economic development to improving telecommunications and national security. But it is the national security drivers of Asian space exploration that are becoming more prominent, partly driven by the changing balance of power equations both within Asia and beyond.

China’s growing space capabilities are driving much of the space competition in Asia. For one, it has led to greater cooperation in space exploration between India and Japan. In September 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to put outer space at the centre of their bilateral relationship. They welcomed the ‘deepening of cooperation between the space agencies of the two countries in the field of Earth observation, satellite-based navigation, space sciences and lunar exploration’. Later in November 2017, the president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum announced that ‘India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia Pacific region’.

The Indian space program is more than six decades old, and until recently, New Delhi’s primary focus was in using space technology to improve social and economic conditions for its population. Before China’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January 2007, India appeared to think that security competition in outer space was confined to the big powers. The Chinese ASAT test awakened India to the kind of challenges it needs to confront in its own backyard and demonstrated that even areas of the global commons such as outer space are not spared from terrestrial geopolitical competition. The ASAT test gave way to new debates in India on the kind of counter-space capabilities that it must develop to protect its own space assets.

India says that it has the technological blocks for a successful demonstration of an ASAT capability, should the need arise. An Indian ASAT test would go against the grain of India’s decades-long stance that space must be used for peaceful purposes alone and must not be weaponised. This shift in rhetoric reflects India’s recognition that if it does not keep up with emerging trends in space, it stands to lose in a critical area of technology.

Similar deliberations are taking place in Japan and the new Japanese space policy highlights space security as a key focus area.

Yet space competition in Asia began well before the Chinese ASAT test. China’s first manned space mission in October 2003 — making China the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to achieve this feat — provided the initial spark. This achievement is part of China’s larger plan to carry out a human exploration program, which has as its final goal the development and operation of a Chinese space station in low earth orbit. At a time when the International Space Station will be winding down its operation, China plans to get its own station up and running by 2024.

China’s growing counter-space capabilities, including developing technologies such as the robotic arm, and the increasing number of close rendezvous operations of Chinese satellites are also raising concerns about the possible security implications of China’s military space program.

In response to China’s accomplishments in space, India and Japan initially looked at pursuing their own independent lunar missions. But so far they have not been able to successfully compete with China’s robotic exploration program. For instance, China’s Chang’e robotic lunar exploration program is considered technologically far superior to anything India or Japan could develop. The Chang’e 4 mission plans to land and explore the surface on the far side of the Moon, which no other country has done so far. Neither India’s ad hoc lunar and Mars robotic missions nor Japan’s exploration of the Moon and near-Earth objects come close to challenging China in this regard. India and Japan have instead decided to combine their efforts, outlined in the Modi–Abe statement.

India is also undertaking meaningful conversations with other space players, such as France and the United States. With China’s aggressive posturing in the South China and East China seas and its growing profile in the Indian Ocean, the use of space assets to achieve maritime domain awareness (an understanding of issues related to the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of a country) has the potential to emerge as a shared area of cooperation among India, the United States, Japan and France.

All of this suggests that a new space race is heating up in Asia that is compounded by the region’s changing balance of power alignments. Space is becoming yet another domain of competition among Asia’s great powers. It can no longer be seen as an innocent and cooperative arena of policymaking, and one cannot remain sanguine about outer space stability.

It is unlikely that the balance of power equation in Asia will stabilise anytime soon, which would suggest that the budding space race is only going to continue to intensify into the future.

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on drone regulations in India and why that Policy needs a rethink. New Delhi needs to think more about drone technology and its domestic, regional, and global implications.

Though India is beginning to deal with the impact of drone technology, unsurprisingly, the Indian government has been slow to understand the implications, both at the domestic and at the international level.



For the full essay, click here.



India has had military drones – or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – for many years and is also developing combat versions (UCAVs or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles). But the use of drones for civilian purposes remain underdeveloped, because regulations regarding the technology are not yet fully established. At the same time, India has not been as active as it could be in the international debate about global governance aspects of drone technology, which represents a lost opportunity for New Delhi.

The development of drones has had a significant impact in a number of ways. The obvious one is its application in warfare. A number of countries around the world use drones for military operations, for applications such as reconnaissance and surveillance, search and rescue operations, and border patrols, as well as combat. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden famously said that “Targeted killing using drones has become part of the American way of war.”

Of course, drone use now goes beyond military applications. Use of UAVs in the commercial and social sectors has increased. Many large corporations are looking at using drones for a number of different functions. For instance, Amazon stated in 2013 that it will use drones for delivery of packages and has been exploring its feasibility since then. It even did its first drone delivery in the university town of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in July 2016. Monitoring critical infrastructure such as ports, power plants, and infrastructure construction with drones are other important civilian functions that are being explored.

Given the multiplicity of functions both in the civilian and sectors, the use of drones and the market for drones is expected to pick up – a recent Goldman Sachs report said the global spending on UAVs over the next five years will be approximately $100 billion. A large chunk of this spending is likely to be on the commercial and civil sector. However, there are still several questions about the legal, regulatory, and policy aspects, both at the global governance and the national levels, that need to be addressed.

In India, the first true notification regarding drones came as a Public Notice issued by the Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s civil aviation regulator, on October 7, 2014. The document listed out the need for potential operators to take “approval from the Air Navigation Service provider [Airport Authority of India], defense, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other concerned security agencies, besides the DGCA,” onerous conditions that in reality means a near complete ban on drones. It also stated that the “DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonize those) for certification & operation for use of UAS in the Indian Civil Airspace.”

Two years later, in April 2016, the DGCA prepared another set of draft guidelines on the use of drones for civilian or recreational purposes and sought comments from different stakeholders for a period of 21 days. In October 2017, the DGCA produced another set of guidelines seeking once again comments from the stakeholders by December 31, 2017. However, the government is yet to formalize these draft guidelines into policy measures or manuals.

It appears clear that the Indian government is yet to comprehend the rapid changes taking place within the industry, and that the repeated draft guidelines are a reflection of the pressure they are facing from multiple stakeholders to develop an effective regime. It should worry New Delhi that despite a near complete ban on drones, there have been large number of drone sightings in Indian skies. Indian policymakers need to recognize that blanket bans do not work.

A new policy framework is needed, which must effectively address issues such as liability in case of drone-to-drone collisions and interference, regulatory, legal, and quality control and licensing requirements. For instance, a conspicuous lacuna is that the DGCA circulators do not mention anything about import standards, even though the majority of the drones in India are imported. The lack of a policy outline on quality control for indigenously manufactured- and built-drones is equally troubling.

At the international level, policy regulations for drones are still in the making. But New Delhi will be well advised to take an active part in the discussions because new global rules will surely affect its interests. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been the primary platform leading the global governance efforts. Though these efforts began in 2007, an outcome is expected only later this year. The ICAO has issued several rules in the form of circulars and manuals but for obvious reasons, these are stop-gap measures. Meanwhile, a few countries have established certain ground rules with regard to the use of drones. It may be useful for ICAO to consult these as well before coming out with its own guidelines.

For New Delhi, there are both domestic and international imperatives for paying greater attention to this critical issue. But whether Indian bureaucracy’s glacial pace and coordination problems will permit this is anybody’s guess. Thus far, the record does not seem encouraging in this respect.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Quad Reborn, my article The Diplomat Magazine

The May issue of The Diplomat magazine was a special issue on the quad. A decade after it was first proposed, the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia are getting the squad back together. I wrote the Indian perspective for this essay.



For the full essay by five authors, click here.

The idea itself is rather simple: the Indo-Pacific’s four most prominent and powerful democracies engaging directly on the basis of shared security interests and mutual geopolitical concerns. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the Quad – is an idea whose time came and passed quickly a decade ago and seemingly has arrived again. In this month’s cover story, we aim to present the perspectives of the Quad countries on the concept, its rebirth, and its future. As the following four perspectives show, the United States, Japan, India, and Australia share as much as they differ and the reborn Quad continues to face challenges in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

Jeff M. Smith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, charts the re-emergence of the Quad concept, a decade after it was first proposed, and why it has come back to life at this particular moment in history.

Yuki Tatsumi, co-director of the East Asia Program and Director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, then takes up the case of Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the originator of the Quad in his first term as prime minister back in early 2007, has a unique stake in its success this time around.

I laid out India’s perspective in the essay. In the years since the first Quad failed to take wing, India’s relationship with China has deteriorated. This informs New Delhi’s revived interest in the concept, which would link India to a wider security network in Asia.

Rory Medcalf and David Brewster, head of college and senior research fellow, respectively, at Australian National University’s National Security College, present the view from Australia. For Australia, they write, the revived Quad is “a natural reflection of an evolving Indo-Pacific strategy of creative balancing and adaptive diplomacy.”



Type rest of the post here

Friday, May 11, 2018

What Does Trump’s Iran Deal Withdrawal Mean for India’s Security?, my weekly essay for The Diplomat, 12 May 2018

My this week's Diplomat column focused the Trump's Iran nuclear deal deal and what it means for India's security. Though the decision itself may not have been surprising, the consequences could be serious for New Delhi’s security. In fact, the United States pulling out does create more than a few uncertainties – for regional security, for nonproliferation, and for American credibility more generally.



For the full article, click here.



On May 9, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly called the Iran nuclear deal. While the decision itself may not have been surprising, its consequences could be serious for other regional actors, including India.

The JCPOA, meant to stall Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, was finalized in July 2015. The deal was concluded between Iran and the P5 (United States, Russia, France, China, and United Kingdom) plus Germany and the European Union. The deal was controversial in the United States, and Trump had promised to get rid of the deal even during his election campaign. So, his decision itself was not a surprise.

Nevertheless, the United States pulling out does create more than a few uncertainties – for regional security, for nonproliferation, and for American credibility more generally. There could also be potentially serious consequences for third countries such as India.

Typifying its usual balancing act, New Delhi issued a statement following the U.S. pull out, saying, “All parties should engage constructively to address and resolve issues that have arisen with respect to the JCPOA.”

In reality, even though India was not party to the deal, India supported it. New Delhi had watched the growing tensions between Iran and the United States before the deal was reached with some trepidation because a war could have had multiple negative consequences for India, including threats to the very large Indian expatriate population, disruption of oil supplies, and being forced to pick sides between Iran and the United States, to name just a few. Thus, India was quite happy with the nuclear deal because it eliminated the probability of immediate war.

Now, with the future of the deal in doubt and increasing tensions in the region, India has reasons to be concerned and cautious. Some officials have sought to promote calm: Commerce Secretary Rita Teaoti, for instance, stated that the U.S. decision to pull out of JCPOA will have limited impact. She said that the Obama administration’s partial easing of sanctions did not lead to larger trade between India and Iran and that the “trade with Iran has remain at even levels.” Therefore, she argued that the reinstatement of sanctions will not have a significant impact on India-Iran ties. There is an element of truth to this: India’s Iran projects were not exactly progressing with any great speed in any case.

A bigger concern is regarding India’s energy security. Iran is the third largest supplier of oil to India, supplying 18.4 million tons (mt) of crude from April 2017 to January 2018 and 27.2 mt in 2016-17. Iran’s acting ambassador in India, Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi, attempted to reassure New Delhi, stating that “oil trade with India will not be affected.” But it is quite apparent too that he was attempting desperately to keep India engaged with Iran, arguing that given the strategic importance of the Chabahar port to India, no political issues should come in the way of developing the port.

Rahaghi went on to suggest that the India and Iran must therefore find ways to “immunize” the relationship and keep it “sustainable and durable.” India-Iran relations tend to shift in terms of who holds more of the leverage depending on how troubled Iran is: now, with Iran potentially facing isolation, New Delhi clearly is in a better position.

The second concern is about Chabahar port. Development of the port has been delayed by several years, although it appears to have gained new momentum following Modi’s visit to Tehran in May 2016. According to Nitin Gadkari, the national minister of roadways, the port will be operational by 2018. There is fear that U.S. sanctions could affect this timeline and delay the handing over of the project further.

But New Delhi is likely to make a strong case with Washington for Chabahar by highlighting the connectivity that will be established through the port. The port will create direct links with Afghanistan, which India believes is vital for New Delhi as well as Washington, in addition to becoming the gateway to Russia and Central Asia for India. More critically, if India fails to complete the project, China could step in, which would be a double blow to India.

A broader concern is about the general stability of the region. If the increasing tension in the region should ignite into a full-scale war, India faces a number of challenges. Millions of Indian expatriates live in the Arab states of the Gulf, and they would be in the direct line of fire. And politically, it will become very difficult for India to continue playing the balancing game between Iran on one side and Israel, the Arab states and the United States on the other.

Finally, India will also have to balance its other interests with the developments in the Gulf. Important as Iran might be, there is little comparison between Iran and the United States when it comes to protecting India’s larger national security interests, which heavily concerns China. If India is forced to choose, it is likely to decide that it needs Washington more than Tehran. This would not be unprecedented: India sided with the United States against Iran in critical IAEA votes when New Delhi was negotiating the U.S.-India nuclear deal. If the push comes to shove, India’s choice is likely to be no different.

India, Malaysia Kick Off Military Exercise, my column in The Diplomat, 4 May 2018

In May, my first piece for The Diplomat was on the latest round of India-Malaysia military exercise held in Malaysia from 30 April - 13 May. The essay published on 4 May looked at the strategic rationale that is driving both countries to cultivate and nurture deeper security ties.


The Indian defense ministry, in a statement, said that the exercise is aimed at “bolstering cooperation and coordination between the armed forces of both the nations and to share the expertise of both the contingents in conduct of counter-insurgency operations in jungle terrain.” The 4 Grenadiers Battalion of the Indian Army and 1 Royal Ranjer Regiment and the Royal Malay Regiment from the Malaysian Army are participating, and, with a focus on tactical operations in jungle warfare, the two sides will engage in joint training, planning and executing a series of training activities in the dense forests of Sengai Perdik, Hulu Langat, Malaysia.

These exercises will refine and sharpen the operational counterinsurgency tactics of both the armies, but the larger aim is clearly to boost the strategic partnership between the two countries. Though this is not the first joint military exercise in this series, New Delhi has claimed that “(T)his is the first instance wherein a joint training exercise of this magnitude involving Indian and Malaysian soldiers is being organized on Malaysian soil.”

For the full essay, click here.



In the face of unprecedented uncertainties in the Indo-Pacific, mostly driven by China’s rise, India’s outreach efforts to ASEAN has accelerated. The effort has included an increased number of security consultations, political dialogues, and joint military exercises with Southeast Asian countries.

All 10 ASEAN leaders were in India for the 69th Republic Day celebrations, a first. The usual pattern has been to invite one foreign leader for these celebrations. The invitation was indicative of the importance India attaches to the strategic engagement with the ASEAN countries.

Now, in another indicator of India’s stepped up outreach to the region, India is holding another iteration of a large joint military exercise with Malaysia. The military exercise, titled “Harimau Shakti,” is being held in Malaysia from April 30 to May 13. The joint combat exercise is meant to create greater synergy and interoperability between the two armed forces.

The Indian defense ministry, in a statement, said that the exercise is aimed at “bolstering cooperation and coordination between the armed forces of both the nations and to share the expertise of both the contingents in conduct of counter-insurgency operations in jungle terrain.” The 4 Grenadiers Battalion of the Indian Army and 1 Royal Ranjer Regiment and the Royal Malay Regiment from the Malaysian Army are participating, and, with a focus on tactical operations in jungle warfare, the two sides will engage in joint training, planning and executing a series of training activities in the dense forests of Sengai Perdik, Hulu Langat, Malaysia.

These exercises will refine and sharpen the operational counterinsurgency tactics of both the armies, but the larger aim is clearly to boost the strategic partnership between the two countries. Though this is not the first joint military exercise in this series, New Delhi has claimed that “(T)his is the first instance wherein a joint training exercise of this magnitude involving Indian and Malaysian soldiers is being organized on Malaysian soil.”

The two sides have had a history of military cooperation, and became strategic partners in 2010. In the defense arena, the two sides have engaged in exchange of information on training, maintenance and technical support for Su-30 fighter aircraft, in addition to the establishment of a “Systems School” for the fighters at the Gong Kedak airbase. The Indian Air Force had also stationed a team in Malaysia between 2008 and 2010 as Malaysia was inducting and starting the operation of the Su-30 MKM fighter aircraft, which they had just procured. Earlier in the 1990s, the Malaysian Air Force had sent its pilots and technicians to India to train on the Mig-29 Fulcrums.

Bilateral naval cooperation has also remained strong, and the Indian Navy regularly participates along with other external partners in the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition in Malaysia. Port visits by Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships are also of significance especially in the context of the increasing Chinese naval footprint in in the Indian Ocean. India and Malaysia have also established a mechanism for information sharing information for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and white shipping.

The relatively increased emphasis on the defense domain in India’s ties with Southeast Asian states including Malaysia bears watching from a historical perspective. When India’s Look East Policy was announced in the early 1990s, India’s focus was limited mostly to economic and trade issues, and Singapore was the focal point within ASEAN. The economic focus is still important, including in India’s ties with Malaysia. Najib during his trip to India in 2017 noted that Malaysia had not tapped into realizing “the full potential of the bilateral relationship” but “is belatedly showing interest in the Indian economy to some extent.”

But the strategic aspects of the relationship have also clearly become more important over time as “Look East” has begun to be translated more into “Act East.'” Ties with individual countries in the region such as Indonesia and Malaysia are gaining greater traction and visibility. Malaysia and India, for one, have emphasized their commitment to maintaining open seas and freedom of navigation, on the basis of the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The two have also reiterated their call to all claimant parties to avoid using unilateral measures and find peaceful solutions to disputes involving sovereignty and territorial integrity. As China becomes increasingly active in India’s backyard in South Asia, New Delhi can be expected to focus equally on China’s backyard in Southeast Asia.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Does the Modi-Xi Summit Mean for Sino-Indian Relations?, my this week's column for The Diplomat

"What Does the Modi-Xi Summit Mean for Sino-Indian Relations?," my this week's column for The Diplomat published on Thursday, a day before the informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Though the interaction between the two leaders is notable, there is reason for skepticism and managing expectations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to travel to Wuhan in central China for an “informal summit” with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit comes against the backdrop of nearly two years of friction between India and China over a whole host of issues including the Doklam standoff, India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

What will the summit between the two leaders produce? Of course, there is no set agenda and it may be a fairly free-wheeling conversation. Given the deep hostility that exists and the anti-India rhetoric that was on display last year during the Doklam crisis, it is not certain that such negative sentiments can be brushed under the rug that quickly.

For the full essay, click here.



The bilateral relationship plummeted to an all-time low in the wake of friction on multiple fronts. But in December last year, two high-level visits from China suggested the need for a fresh review of the relationship. Within a few weeks of each other, both the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councilor Yang Jiechi visited India.

Since early February this year, there have been efforts from the Indian side too – the cancellation of the Dalai Lama’s events in Delhi marking the occasion of 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama, was the first indication of the Indian outreach to China. In a note to Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said it is a “very sensitive time” in India’s bilateral relations with China and therefore, it is “not desirable” for government officials and other leaders to take part in the celebrations of the Tibetan government in exile.

Several weeks later, it was reported that the Indian government had actually informed China about this before advisory was sent out. Informing China appears to have been undertaken to earn some brownie points with Beijing. India’s overtures to China seems like a one-way process as yet, because China is yet to take any reciprocal steps.

The idea of an informal summit was first floated during the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale to China on February 23. Modi agreed to the summit in principle when he called Xi to congratulate him on the extension of his tenure in March. Since then, there have been visits by other officials, including India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who have fine-tuned various details in preparing for Modi’s summit in Wuhan. In fact, it was Sushma Swaraj, in a joint press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who announced that Modi will visit China. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou too travelled to India in April to finalize the summit details.

Even though Modi will be traveling to China for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit on June 9-10, the Indian leadership took the bold decision to make another earlier visit for the summit. The idea of an informal meeting is not to have a set agenda and engage in a free-flowing conversation between the two leaders. The conversation could include the domestic political and economic climate in both the countries, regional developments like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and international ones such as the U.S.-China trade war. While it is impossible to predict the outcome of this meeting, the importance and consequence of the state of Sino-Indian relationship for Asian security and stability cannot be ignored.

There is disquiet in New Delhi because China has not demonstrated any reciprocal efforts to pacify India. On the contrary, China has engaged in additional efforts to boost its military forces in the Doklam area, as well as in other areas along the disputed Sino-Indian border. Construction of a new road and military posts (at least two) in Shaksgam Valley, north of Siachen Glacier, in the past few months also raises concerns. Shaksgam Valley is located in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and was ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963, although India does not acknowledge this and treats the Valley as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

This may not yet pose itself as a direct threat to Indian armed forces deployed in Siachen Glacier, Nonetheless, the Chinese action was described by the former Indian army Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. DS Hooda as a “provocative” step.

There is thus considerable skepticism in India about the summit. Progress on the bilateral front will be judged on whether Beijing shows some sensitivity to Indian concerns on the BRI and CPEC, on India’s NSG bid, and on terrorism. China’s rising influence and growing footprint in South Asia and Indian Ocean are of concern to India and China has not acted to reassure India about China’s long-term intentions.

Nevertheless, China appears to believe that India has agreed to the Wuhan summit because New Delhi has recognized the follies of the so-called Indo-Pacific partnership with the United States and Japan and the ill-effects of that strategy on Sino-Indian relations. Some Chinese analysts suggest that many of the frictions in India-China relations are a result of “lack of trust” or “Western instigation.”

But so far, there is also little indication that India will bend. For instance, on the BRI, India has officially stated that “the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement continues. “We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality, and must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Indeed Sushma Swaraj reiterated this at the SCO Foreign Minister’s meeting and stated: “Connectivity with SCO countries is India’s priority. We want connectivity to pave the way for cooperation and trust between our societies. For this, respect for sovereignty is essential. Inclusivity, transparency and sustainability are imperative. India has cooperated extensively with the international community for enhanced connectivity.” India has once again refused to endorse the BRI.

All of this, as well as the efforts on both sides to lower expectations, suggest that not much should be expected out of the informal summit. Indeed, beyond some general and temporary stabilization of ties, it is not exactly clear what either side will get out of this meeting.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How India Can Beat China in Nepal, my essay for The Diplomat, April 12, 2018

How India Can Beat China in Nepal, this was my essay for The Diplomat published on April 12, 2018, where I analysed Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's visit to India. The visit comes in the wake of a troubled phase in the last couple of years. The recent visit provides an opportunity for India to begin delivering on its bilateral ties with Kathmandu amid growing competition from Beijing.

Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, in keeping with tradition, made his first foreign trip to India last week. Considering that he is generally considered “pro-China,” this must come as a relief to the Indian government.

Moreover, going by his press briefing after his return, it appears that the visit went well, which is yet another surprise. He said that the visit “has increased confidence between India and Nepal and bilateral relations will move forward in a new direction on the basis of equality, mutual respect and interest and enhance cooperation.” He also claimed that the visit has “helped in clearing misunderstanding and mistrust and strengthening mutual trust and understanding.”

The optics during the meeting were also suggestive of a successful meeting. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, congratulating Oli on the successful elections in recent months, said that his principle of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Together with all, development for all) and Oli’s vision of “Samruddha Nepal, Sukhi Nepal” (Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepal) were complimentary in nature. Modi went on to say that, India will cooperate with Nepal in its journey towards greater prosperity but also thoughtfully added that such cooperation “will be based on the priorities and requirements set by the Government of Nepal.”

For the full essay, click here.



New Delhi must be hopeful that this successful visit will undo the damage done by the “unofficial blockade” of 2016. The multi-month blockade resulted in significant hardships for the people of Nepal – it affected everything from petroleum to medicines and earthquake relief material, leading to huge price rise for basic commodities in Nepal. The Indian government, taking up the cause of Madhesis in an aggressive manner and asking Nepal to amend the constitution, created huge resentment towards New Delhi.

Complicating this complex relationship is the China factor. In the face of rising anti-India sentiment, China has only been too happy to step into the role that India played earlier. Further, Nepal’s support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative widened the trust gap between Kathmandu and New Delhi.

Nevertheless, Oli’s visit may be the first step towards repairing the damage generated in the last few years. Oli’s second tenure in office is also seeing a far stronger leader who has been able to consolidate his power, although traction was initially gained on an anti-India platform. Since coming to office, he has taken some populist and smart decisions that affect the people, for instance on the power situation within the country. Parts of Nepal used to witness 16-20 hours if power cuts everyday, but Oli was able to take action on this and improve the situation. If India wants to win over Nepal and let it not slip into China’s grasp entirely, this is the time and Oli might be the man to deliver, despite his alleged pro-China leanings.

Unlike Oli’s previous visit to India when no joint statement was issued, this time around, not only was one issued but it outlines a bilateral cooperative agenda across three key sectors of rail connectivity, developing inland waterways, and agriculture. There were three separate joint statements issued on each laying out in detail the tasks ahead. Cross-border rail connectivity in particular will be significant in strengthening people-to-people and economic linkages between the two countries. During Oli’s visit, the two prime ministers decided to construct a new electrified railway line, linking Raxaul in India and Kathmandu in Nepal. India has agreed to finance this project.

Similarly, the agreement on inland waterways is vital in establishing access to sea for the landlocked Nepal. The joint statement specifically noted the two prime ministers’ agreement “to develop the inland waterways for the movement of cargo … providing additional access to sea for Nepal.” The third key sector, agriculture, also offer big promises, with collaborative ventures in a number of areas. The two sides have also agreed to encourage exchanges between the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC).

New Delhi is clearly concerned about China’s growing clout in Nepal. It must be noted that Beijing has also focused on regional connectivity and hydropower projects in its dealings with Kathmandu, and therefore India’s ability to deliver on the three key sectors will be assessed against those of China, however fair or unfair that might be. China’s involvement for a couple of decades in mini hydropower projects is noteworthy.

To China, Nepal is a strategic buffer. Nepal’s importance to China comes more from the thousands of Tibetans living in the country and therefore, “controlling Tibetan activism there is a priority for Beijing.” The India angle comes as a close second political objective, even though it is often presented as a singular or the dominant one.

Oli’s visit offers India an opportunity to repair the damage it caused in recent years. India has to focus on implementation and delivery on the three key sectors identified during the visit. That means India must rectify the terrible track record that it suffers in project implementation. The four Integrated Check Posts (ICP) on the India-Nepal border is a case in point. Several problems from both sides may have caused the delays, but India’s overall record in completing projects does not bode well. If it wants to truly address growing competition from China in its neighborhood in general and Nepal in particular, India will have to perform better this time around.

India's Evolving Strategic Response to China, my presentation at the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, I spoke on India's Evolving Strategic Response to China at the Institute of Chinese Studies' Wednesday Seminar. I focused on the following issues: Why India worries about China and these include China’s increasing military budget, lack of transparency around its military spending as well as the strategies, impact of this military spending on the military balance between India and China, especially on the Sino-Indian border, China’s nuclear force deployments in Tibet and China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean region. This was followed by India's evolving posture and response -- its evolving nuclear posture, its naval policies, strengthened strategic partnerships with the US, Japan, Australia, India outreach to Southeast Asia. While dealing with China, India has so far adopted a twin policy, it appears that focuses on beefing up its defence capabilities and diplomatic manoeuvring that would result in certain deterrent capability against China.

Clearly, the shifting balance of power in Asia and beyond is an important reality. Given this changes including in Asian military balance, there is a renewed emphasis on hard power. Other important contextualising factors include the declining US power, North Korea’s nuclear and missile advancements and future Japanese reactions, Internal factors in each of these power centres - but different for each power. The implications of all of these are difficult to predict but certainly of strategic consequence.

As for the way ahead, here are some of my thoughts:

1. China’s rise a source of significant concern and its aggressive behaviour over the last decade intensified these concerns
2. Hedging is no more a strategy; open balancing
3. US remains a critical factor; all else put together will not have the capacity to balance China without the US
4. India – building up its military strength incl. strategic capabilities and engaged in diplomatic manoeuvring
5. Troubling phase in Asian strategic matters – phase of competition, rivalry and conflict cannot be ruled out – land and maritime spheres



Type rest of the post here

What Does India’s Satellite Trouble Mean for its Space Ambitions?, my essay in The Diplomat, April 4, 2018

I missed posting a couple of my recent articles and other updates but hoping to catch up...

Here's an essay I wrote for The Diplomat on April 4 on the failure of the Indian communication satellite, GSAT 6A. Losing communications with the satellite - how serious is the problem and what does it signify? Clearly, the reported problems with the new communications satellite have once again placed New Delhi’s space capabilities under scrutiny.

India’s space organization, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), launched its heaviest communication satellite, the GSAT 6A, on March 29. The satellite was carried on GSLV-F08 rocket from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota in South India.

GSLV-F08 rocket itself was on its 12th mission, and the sixth using an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. Putting the satellite into the right orbit (a geosynchronous orbit above 36,000 kilometers) was to take place subsequently in what is called an “orbit raising operation.” The first of the three such operations took place on March 30, and the second operation was successfully conducted on March 31.

But then the ISRO confirmed on April 1 that it had lost communication with the satellite, four minutes after the second orbit raising operation. Even several hours after losing the communication with the satellite, ISRO officials maintained that they may still be able to reconnect, saying that they know the “approximate location of the satellite in space by using other satellites and other resources.”

For the full article, click here.



It is suspected that the loss of communications links is due to a power failure. This could have been something like a short-circuit, leading to what the experts call “‘loss of lock’ or loss of contact with the ground station.” The Chairman of ISRO, Dr. Sivan, too, pointed to a recent similar incident in Russia, when the Russians lost links with a communication satellite that they were launching for Angola (Angosat-1).

To be sure, this is not entirely new: there had been a number of incidents in the 1980s and 1990s where Indian satellite launches have experienced power failures. Since then, however, the ISRO appeared to have fixed the problem.

The latest incident with the GSAT 6A suggests this might not be the case. This is not without consequence. Reports suggest that if ISRO is unable to establish communication links with GSAT 6A, it could end up floating in space as debris but fully loaded debris, with fuel for its orbit raising and for its full life cycle of 10 years.

The GSAT 6A satellite, built at a cost of 2.7 billion Indian rupees ($41.5 million), was to last 10 years and was meant as a backup for the GSAT 6, which was launched three years ago. GSAT 6A is a communication satellite meant to offer mobile communication for India with multi-band coverage facility – five beams in S-band and one in C-band.

There were high hopes placed on GSAT 6A. With a 6-meter unfurlable S-band antenna, the biggest used yet by the ISRO, GSAT 6A was supposed to offer better capacity and thereby strengthen the communication system. The satellite was also to help mobile communication throughout the country, particularly in India’s remote areas. Beyond this, the satellite was also important for the Indian military, which was hoping to enhance its own communication network.

This launch itself was also important because it tested the ISRO’s modified, High Thrust Vikas booster engines, which generated about six percent more thrust than previous Vikas engines. This time, the new Vikas engines were used only in the second stage; in the future, the four first stage booster engines will also be the high thrust boosters.

How significant is this failure given all of this?

Media accounts have noted that this is technically the second major failure in the last six months, and the first since Dr. Sivan took over as the ISRO Chairman. The launch was certainly scheduled prior to his taking office. The previous failure involved a PSLV C-39 carrying India’s navigation satellite, IRNSS-1H, due to a problem with the heat shield. The next navigation satellite IRNSS-1I, the eighth satellite to join the NavIC navigation satellite constellation, will be launched on April 12 as per schedule.

The deeper question, beyond the one of blame and individuals, is whether the failure of the GSAT 6A will have a longer-term impact on ISRO’s credibility as a reliable satellite launcher. Considering that there do not appear to have been any problems with the launch itself, or the new high-thrust Vikas booster, the ISRO can salvage something even if they are not able to re-establish communication with the satellite. Hopefully, this will mean that the GSLV can achieve the kind of reliability that the PSLV has achieved, which has made the latter a tried and tested workhorse of the ISRO.

This failure, however, is not without its costs. The first part of this is the simple reality that the ISRO, which itself works on a shoestring budget, cannot afford failures. Beyond that, the Indian military will also now have to wait longer to upgrade its communications. But most of all, failures like these hurt the ISROs reputation as a credible space agency that can launch satellites in a cost-effective manner. That is what will worry it the most.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Is Japan in Its Military Push Under Abe?, my column for The Diplomat this week...

In this week's column for The Diplomat, "Where Is Japan in Its Military Push Under Abe?," I write about Japan's efforts in building up its capabilities as it confronts regional security threats.

Amid continuing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and China’s rising power and aggressive behavior, it is no surprise that Japan has been taking a whole host of steps to boost its own military capabilities over the past few years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership. While the most often cited manifestation of this is Abe’s effort to reform the Japanese Constitution, there is also a wider range of measures being undertaken both in terms of what Tokyo is doing on its own as well as what it is doing with allies and partners.



The past few weeks have offered indications of where Japan is on a couple of these fronts. Just last week, Abe spoke about constitutional revision at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) annual convention in an effort to develop the required consensus to take this process forward. After the speech, the LDP decided to follow Abe’s direction to amend Article 9 and include “an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces.” This step has been seen as a requirement; several constitutional experts have called the SDF unconstitutional because “it violates the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.”

Abe went on to add that the proposed amendment will bring about clarity to the SDF’s status under the constitution but “it will not alter in any way Japan’s national security policies.” Also, in an effort to secure broader public support, Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera asserted that civilian control over military will be maintained “based on prewar lessons.”

Following these deliberations and the continuing threats from China and North Korea, Japan has also undertaken a major organizational revamping of its Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF) with the creation of a centralized command and amphibious forces, which we have been hearing more about of late. The reorganization constitutes the largest since JGSDF was formed in 1954.

Instituting the new Command for the GSDF is meant to create abilities to undertake seamless and flexible operations across the country whereas the amphibious forces are meant for defending remote islands, particularly relevant in the context of China’s assertive maritime posturing.

In the face of the North Korean threat, a unified command for the GSDF will bring about greater synergy and coherence among the five regional armies. The defense minister, while addressing the media, stated that there will be situations in the future where the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces have to coordinate nationwide in a quick reaction against ballistic missile launches, attacks on islands, and natural disasters.

The GSDF Command, headquartered at Camp Asaka in Tokyo, will be headed by Lt. Gen. Shigeru Kobayashi, former head of the GSDF’s Central Readiness Force. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will be headed by Maj. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, who was the former deputy chief of staff of the Western Army.

The naval and air wings of the SDFs already had a central command center, and now, with all the three services having their own central commands, the defense ministry believes that there will be better coordinated joint operations among the three arms of the SDF. This could also possibly create better communication linkages with the U.S. military based in Japan.

While both North Korea and China are major threats to Japan, Beijing’s aggressive policy in the maritime domain has been of particular concern to Tokyo. Japan has been mindful of the kind of tactics China employed in the South China Sea to alter the status quo. Thus, the amphibious brigade that has been created will have an important role in retaking islands if they are unlawfully taken.

The brigade will cover southwest, from Kyushu to Taiwan, and will include Miyako Island, about 210 km from the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. This is an area that has seen increased Chinese military activity in the recent past – the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has become particularly active in the airspace between Okinawa and Miyako Islands. Additionally, Chinese naval vessels have been frequenting these waters, increasing tensions there.

But amid the hype around all this, it is worth noting that the amphibious brigade is still being set up, and it could be some time before the full capacity is in place. For instance, there is uncertainty around the deployment of the U.S.-made V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which will be key in transporting troops. The government’s plans to deploy 17 of the newly procured Osprey aircraft have not gained local approval.

There are broader uncertainties too. Amending the constitution is no easy task. Even as LDP lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda has developed consensus on the revisions on the constitution, other members of the ruling coalition are not entirely happy. Junior coalition partners like Komeito are not entirely on board with Abe’s plans, and since a two-thirds majority is required in both houses of the Diet to make these constitutional changes, the math means that LDP likely needs the support of Komeito in the Lower House and the support of other smaller opposition parties in the Upper House to effect these changes.

As for the support from the public, different surveys have produced different results, but those variations in and of themselves suggest that public perception is a variable that ought not to be left out in this discussion. A survey conducted by Kyodo News revealed 48.5 percent of respondents against the constitutional changes whereas 39.2 supported the amendments. Another survey conducted over telephone had shown only 33 percent of respondents supporting Abe’s moves and 54.8 opposing the revisions. These numbers certainly look better than a few years ago, but Abe still faces many challenges in terms of public perception, whether it is linked to defense issues or other domestic concerns.

There is opposition also within some parts of the bureaucracy. Media accounts have already surfaced citing sources from the defense ministry who criticized the move as “useless,” saying it will only delay the decision-making process that is required to get things done on the defense side.

Beyond these internal challenges, there are also external concerns as well. Among those are how these moves, including constitutional changes, may be perceived by China and South Korea, which have their own respective concerns about a militarized Japan.

Despite all this, Abe shows few signs of easing on his military push for Japan. That is no surprise given his own personal commitment to this goal as well as the regional trends that are impacting Japan’s security. Whether or not that will change, and to what extent all this lasts once he leaves office, remains to be seen.



India Changing Tack on Space Policy, my essay for AsiaGlobal Online Journal

Here's an essay of mine on the changing strategic dynamics in Asia including the outer space domain and how India is responding to that, published by the AsiaGlobal Online Journal.

India is scheduled to launch the lunar rover Chandrayaan-2 in 2018, an emblematic sign of the country's will to step up its space policy. Its efforts in this arena include a revival of international partnerships and a change in its position on space militarization. In the absence of an adequate global governance regime, such activity extends geopolitical tensions to outer space.

India has one of the oldest space programs in the world — in operation for more than five decades — and is considered an established spacefaring power. Today, the country is gradually reorienting its space program towards national security. This new approach is driving India to forge partnerships with countries such as Japan, and revise and strengthen old links with partners like the US and France. India’s changing tack towards a more security-driven space program is spurred by new geopolitical realities. But could this changed stance on space policy also spark further geopolitical competition?

For the full essay, click here.



Before we delve into the substance of India’s new space program, two points need to be made. First, India’s space program remains overwhelmingly focused on civilian initiatives, and the new and developing attention on the security utilities of the program will not fundamentally change its civilian orientation. The development of new capabilities that help address India’s national security concerns is an addition to, and not a replacement of, existing capabilities.

Second, India’s interest in developing these technologies is somewhat reactive, driven by the development of such capacities in other countries: China, for example. There is little to suggest that India’s expansion of the scope of its space program is being driven by purely domestic political interests or technological imperatives.

Japan and France, New Strategic Partners

The larger geopolitical developments in the region constitute a critical factor. The India-Japan strategic partnership, which has been steadily growing over the past decade, is a testament to the new geopolitical realities in the region. It is worth recalling that for decades, these countries had rather cool relations. Not anymore. China’s rise affects both, and they have reacted together. Space is one of the many arenas where this new strategic cooperation can be seen.

Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), stated, “India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe further elevated India-Japan space cooperation in September 2017, when the two leaders underlined the importance of their bilateral collaboration “in the field of Earth observation, satellite-based navigation, space sciences, and lunar exploration.” Emphasizing the significance of the countries’ joint lunar mission in November 2017, Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), stated, “India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Just a few weeks ago, India entered into similar engagements with France. French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to India saw surprisingly strong statements of deeper strategic cooperation between the two countries. So dramatic is this intensification of the relationship that some noted commentators have even suggested that France could be as important an ally for India as Russia has been.

India and France will be collaborating on a range of issues in defense and security. Their agreements on space and maritime security in the Indian Ocean, in particular, stand out in terms of the actionable agenda that New Delhi and Paris are working on. As is the case in collaboration between India and Japan, India and France are driven by shared global and regional security concerns, including maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight, and respect for international law, among other issues. The two sides are planning on employing space assets to develop effective maritime domain awareness (MDA), given their increasing concern about maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

As with France, India’s relationship with the US is also undergoing a strategic deepening, with the two countries sharing political and strategic goals in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the Road to Space Militarization?

This new focus on using space for security purposes has not come easily for India. India has traditionally been opposed to using space for security-related functions. In fact, from early on, India played an active role in pushing to keep outer space beyond interstate conflicts. In one of the first articulations on the issue at the United Nations, Indian representative Krishna Rao argued in 1964 that outer space was a new field, so “there were no vested interests to prevent the international community from embarking on a regime of cooperation rather than of conflict.” As he saw it, space fortunately did not have any regimes in place, so the questions were “not those of modifying an existing regime but of fashioning a new pattern of international behavior.” This had consistently been the Indian position: that space should only be used for peaceful, cooperative purposes.

In accordance with this position, India was stridently opposed to the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the 1980s. In 1985, Muchkund Dubey, India’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, criticized the SDI and “called for negotiations to prevent an arms race in outer space.” This policy stance continued even after the end of the Cold War.

This had consistently been the Indian position: that space should only be used for peaceful, cooperative purposes.

But over the last decade, there have been signs of change in India’s space policy orientation, especially its position on space militarization. For example, India supported the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, though this did not result immediately in any specific changes in Indian space military capabilities or even programs. This can be traced, partially, to larger political objectives.

A Response to China’s Geopolitical Positions

Real change in India’s space policy orientation came after January 2007, when China conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test. This was compounded by changing geopolitical alignments and the shifting military balance in Asia. All of this is now driving new races, including in outer space. Though the primary competition is between the US, Russia, and China, there is a second rung of competition involving, among others, India because of China’s growing capabilities and the ambiguity of its policies, as well as the aggressiveness of some of its postures.

India has come to acknowledge that space may not remain a purely civilian domain.

China’s ASAT test in January 2007 is particularly important in this regard. China may have been responding to the capabilities already developed by the US and Russia during the Cold War, but its ASAT test was an eye-opener for New Delhi with regard to the kind of threats India must be ready to confront right in its backyard. Since then, India has nuanced its position on space militarization.

India has come to acknowledge that space may not remain a purely civilian domain. The implication of this is that if India does not improve its own capabilities, it may be left lagging behind in a critical area. Thus, India has set up an “Integrated Space Cell” within its Ministry of Defence, and has been discussing other administrative reforms.

There is, of course, little doubt that others, including Pakistan and China, will respond to the growing sophistication of India’s capabilities. There is little that India can do about this; what is clear is that the growing geopolitical tensions in Asia are going to reach outer space.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Behind the gender gap in IR and Security Studies

In this piece, Behind the gender gap in IR and Security Studies, published by the ORF, I focus on the gender citation gaps that continue to be widely prevalent despite the fact that there are more number of women entering IR and security fields.

Gender balance and gender distribution in international relations and security are not new themes. A decade ago, Daniel Maliniak, Amy Oakes, Susan Peterson, and Michael J. Tierney brought out some stark numbers to reflect the ground reality in the field. In their essay, “Women in International Relations,” the authors noted that despite higher number of women receiving degrees in political science, their representation in faculty position is way below in comparison to other disciplines. The authors noted that “[O]nly 26% of the 13,000 political science professors in the United States today are women.” A 2006 Teaching, Research, and International Politics (TRIP) Survey found that women have “an even smaller proportion of IR (International Relations) scholars.” On top of it, the women in IR usually belong to the junior stream and most did not have tenure track positions.

Maliniak et al. notes: “Only 17% of political science professors and 14% of professors are women.” These numbers had gone up marginally by 2010: 40% assistant professors, 30% associate professors and only 19% full professors in political science. This data, of course, pertains to the US: the situation is probably far worse in the developing world. On the other hand, the academia is a global community, and these issues affect women in the IR and security studies irrespective of where they are based.

For the full essay, click here.



What is the story behind these numbers? While there are a number of factors that go to determine why women are under-represented in faculty positions, one of the parameters is citation — how often your work has been cited by others. The citation bias has a long history, starting from the time women enter universities. The syllabi set by professors are possibly the first instance where these biases are developed. If you were in the universities even in the 1990s and 2000s, the readings in the syllabi most likely were typically men. How often do professors recommend a woman scholar’s work unless it was something specifically on feminism? This bias is further carried forward in PhD programmes, and publications in peer-reviewed journals. Men are again seen referring to and citing other men than women in their works. Is it because there are lesser number of essays authored by women? No. Daniel Maliniak, Ryan M. Powers and Barbara F. Walter in a paper on gender gap in citations noted that “A research article written by a woman and published in any of the top journals will still receive significantly fewer citations than if that same article had been written by a man.”

And this has a big impact. Citations have become important tools in undertaking professional evaluation. Fewer citations have come to mean “less good candidates to be hired, promoted, and supported.” There have been studies done to understand this phenomenon. According to one study, “the average number of citations of articles authored by men alone was about 25 while it was about 20 for articles authored by women alone. This may seem like a small difference, but the average article in the humanities and social sciences hardly gets cited at all — on average, less than once a year — so even these small numbers strongly impact the perceived quality of the work.” According to the study, this is the case “even after controlling for the age of publication, whether the author came from a (top research) school, the topic under study, the quality of the publishing venue, the methodological and theoretical approach, and the author’s tenure status.”

At the 2013 Monkey Cage gender gap symposium, Prof. David Lake, a well-known scholar, co-editor of the journal International Organization, the president of the International Studies Association, was asked to speak on the subject of the symposium. He started by narrating his own experience where he was asked to correct his citations to rectify the yawning gender gap in his references. Having rectified it to an extent by broadening the literature that he consulted, he said, “Expanding the range of citations made the paper significantly better, engaged more communities, and strengthened the argument.”

Why is that academics has such biases? As Prof. Lake says, it is next to impossible to read every single article or book that comes out, even if they are related to one’s own specific research subject. He says that at least in his case, he is somewhat more inclined to read articles/ books of people he knows or at least he is personally acquainted with: “For a book or article to get onto one of my reference lists, I’ve usually had to absorb the work in some deep way — and this takes time. Personal connections lead to deeper readings, which lead to more citations and, likely, more personal connections.” Prof. Lake now acknowledges he was “guilty of citation bias for many years in many publications.” Citations on its own don’t matter as much as who and where it has been cited, leading to further popularisation of the work.

This possibly leads to what Prof. Lake referred to as gendered personal networks. He said that the citation bias that exists today is possibly due to gendered personal networks in fields such as political science. The gendered personal network factor may be an even larger issue in sub-fields such as international relations or security studies, which are mostly dominated by men. And it is even more pronounced in non-western societies. It is a particularly steep climb for women from developing countries in Asia. Among the women in Asia (and India), most are asked to focus on so-called softer aspects of security like health, trade and economy or at worst, human security than hard core international security issues such as military, space or nuclear security issues (which is true in the US as well).

In India, the number of women in international politics and security studies is still a small number. Within academia or think tank spaces, this is most conspicuous in the all-male panels or ‘manels’ at seminars and discussions on IR and security debates. Though this does seem to be changing with younger women entering the field however this appears to be largely limited to Delhi. As the density of women in international security increases (marginal as of now), one can only hope that some of these may change.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

India’s Military Budget Challenge, this week's column for The Diplomat

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on the continuing woes of the Indian military, which was the focus of last week's Parliamentary Standing Committee report. It is no secret that India continues to face the sober reality of both rising threats and serious resource constraints. Despite the rising security threats it faces, India’s defense budget now stands at the lowest since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, leading India’s Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand, to lash out in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense last week about the difficulty this causes the Indian Army. The Parliamentary Standing Committee report highlights the continuing deficiencies that the three services face in terms of military modernization, including the “Make in India’ initiative. The Army vice chief, in his unusually candid comments, made a case for capability upgrades by emphasizing the changing threat perception within the country as well as in the neighborhood. In his statement, Chand pointed to increasing “external strife and internal dissidence,” including Doklam. “China has become increasingly assertive,” he stated. On the western border, he pointed to the increased cross-border firing as well as terrorist attacks, asking that defense forces should therefore “get their due.”

For the full essay, click here.


The Army vice chief noted that capability development is almost impossible with the current capital expenditure outlay because the budget allocation does not cater to the scale of military modernization that is urgently required for the three services. In the army’s case, the budget allocated 268.16 billion Indian rupees ($4.14 billion) for modernization against the Army’s demand of 445.73 billion rupees, which is barely 60 percent of the requested funds.

The picture is similar with the other services as well. The navy wanted 356.95 billion rupees but was allocated only 200.04 billion rupees. But the air force had it the worst with projected figure of 776.95 billion rupees slashed down to 357.7 billion rupees. General Chand added that “the marginal increase in BE (Budget Estimate) barely accounts for the inflation and does not even cater for the taxes.”

While much of the public attention in India focused on the Army’s comments about the budget, the allocation for the Air Force and Navy (and the resultant modernization) deserves equal if not more attention. The Indian Air Force is down to 31 squadrons (despite wanting 42), while the Navy also faces significant shortfalls of ships and submarines as well as modernization of naval bases and facilities.

These deficiencies become all the more problematic because of the increasing tensions with China, from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. In addition, application of military power on the border areas will depend on the physical border infrastructure, which has remained pitiful on the Indian side of the border. China on the other hand, has a state of the art infrastructure relatively speaking – roads, railway networks, oil and logistic depots, in addition to a number of military and civilian airports. All of these indicate the far greater Chinese capacity to not only quickly mobilize forces on the border but also sustain them on the border areas for a relatively longer period of time.

The shortfalls in Indian defense budget allocations become even more serious when compared to China’s military spending. Earlier in the month, China announced its defense spending for 2018 at around 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion). Though that is almost certainly lower than the actual defense budget, India is spending less than one third of even this, at a time when India is claiming to be confronted with two and half war fronts.

It is going to be very difficult for India to match the Chinese defense budget, and it would be foolish even to try. But India could potentially attempt to generate greater military power by using its much more limited financial capacity more wisely. For example, India today has the world’s largest standing army, whose pension and salaries alone are sinking the Indian defense budget. India has to consider reducing the size of its army so that it can build a smaller but more capable force.

Of course, this runs into some problems considering that much of this large army is devoted to the ‘half war’: counterinsurgency operations in various parts of the country. The army and the government should consider alternate means of fighting such half wars, possibly by improving the large central paramilitary forces or even the state (provincial) police forces. What General Chand’s presentation demonstrated more than anything is that it is high time the political and military leaders took a hard look and make some hard decisions about how to manage India’s military security.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on the visit of the French President, examining two facets that gained particular traction in India-France security relations. The essay titled, "From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation," examined why and how outer space and maritime security had come to feature prominently during the French president’s India visit this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron was on a four-day visit to India earlier this week, with both sides trying to elevate the India-France strategic relationship. The bilateral partnership covers an entire gamut of issues from defense, civil nuclear, and space to climate change, clean energy, and urbanization, and India and France signed 14 agreements. But what was of particular importance on the defense side were those on outer space and maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

For the full essay, click here.



On outer space, the two countries identified nine specific areas in the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation of which a few including high resolution earth observation, space domain and situational awareness, satellite navigation, space transportation, and human exploration, stand out. Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and high resolution earth observation are especially relevant in the context of the growing concerns around maritime security and the Indian Ocean.

The two countries have shared concerns on a number of issues, including, as they framed it, “maritime traffic security, especially in the Horn of Africa; respect of international law by all States, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight; fight against organized crime, trafficking, including in weapons of mass destruction, smuggling and illegal fishing.”

Recognizing the need to develop a joint action plan, the two sides signed a Joint Strategic Vision for Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. A practical joint action in the area of maritime surveillance around Indian Ocean waters would at the very least call for a clearer understanding of the maritime environment that they are operating in and this has pushed both India and France to increase sharing of information on the emerging maritime scenario in the Indian Ocean.

The MoU signed between the two space agencies foresees them joining hands to design and develop “products and techniques, including those involving Automatic Identification System, to monitor and protect assets in land and sea.” This, the two sides believe, will significantly boost maritime domain awareness in the region. Given the growing reliance and vulnerabilities that exist in the outer space domain, the two space agencies also agreed to develop a cooperative agenda that will protect their space assets, by also developing infrastructure that is necessary to create a broader engagement on SSA.

Underlying all these practical steps is the shared strategic vision, particularly driven by the strategic uncertainties around China’s rise and its growing assertiveness. The two share a common strategic objective of “establish[ing] an open, inclusive and transparent cooperation architecture, with the aim of delivering to all associated with the region, peace, security and prosperity.”

Modi, during his meeting with Macron said that both sides believed in the importance of the Indian Ocean for the global community, while Macron in his own remarks acknowledged the importance of the Indian Ocean for the stability of the entire region. Most significantly, India and France agreed to reciprocal access to each other’s naval facilities to military facilities. France has facilities in the island of La RĂ©union, Mayotte, and the French Southern and Atlantic Lands. Indian access to French military facilities will help India spread its reach and influence, especially in western Indian Ocean.

This is similar to the understanding that India had earlier reached with the United States with the signing of LEMOA. That agreement occasioned a lot of criticism in India, with commentators suggesting that India was bargaining away its precious “strategic autonomy.” Indeed, that agreement was delayed for years precisely because of the fear of such criticism.

But the agreement with France has largely received a positive reception in the Indian media. The difference between the treatment of these two agreements indicates a clear evidence of the continuing opposition among sections of the Indian elite to any closer ties with Washington. Indeed, precisely for this reason, France may be a good supplement to India’s strategic partnerships. It should also be remembered that France has generally been supportive of critical issues of concern to India, including India’s nuclear weapons program (before it acquired its current level of legitimacy).

On the other hand, the limitations of the partnership should also be kept in mind. If France has not received as much importance in New Delhi as some others such as the United States, despite France’s well-acknowledged sympathy for India’s strategic concerns, the reason has been mostly due to France’s relatively limited capacity. The current bonhomie overlooks this old and unchanged limitation: though France can help India, its own remaining weakness will likely not allow Paris to become a major source of strategic support to New Delhi. But in these troubled times, one more supporter is surely welcome.

China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, my article in The Diplomat

I am beginning to slow down in updating my blog but I am trying to keep up. I wrote on China's defence spending in my second essay in March for the Diplomat. The essay, "China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries," argued that Beijing’s growing might continues to stoke regional anxieties.

On Monday, China announced that its defense expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion). In a speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, “Faced with profound changes in the national security environment, we must … firmly uphold the guiding position of Xi Jinping’s thinking on strengthening the armed forces as we develop national defense and the armed forces.” He added that China will advance “all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

This year’s defense budget marks an increase of 8.1 percent from last year. This is slightly more than 7 percent hike seen in 2017, but possibly the largest spending in the last three years.

This appears to be part of a wider trend where China, after the decade-long double-digit increases in its defense spending, now seems to be settling down for high single-digit hikes. Earlier, China’s defense budget increase rate was 10.7 percent in 2013, 12.2 percent in 2014, 10.1 percent in 2015 and began to come down to single digit growth rate from 2016 onward with 7.6 percent in 2016.

China has justified its defense budget by arguing that its defense spending is less than 1.5 percent of its GDP, but that argument is not going to go down well with its neighbors. Given the size of China’s economy, its defense spending in absolute terms is quite high.

For the full essay, click here.



Chinese experts have suggested that what China does with its defense spending is quite normal and standard given its ambitions. Guo Xiaobing, the deputy director and research professor at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), outlines a range of threats that China’s military will have to counter including “protection of maritime tights,” counterterrorism, disaster relief operations, international peacekeeping, and “escorting in the Gulf of Aden.” Guo also argues that China is transparent about its military expenditure, referring to the report of the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China which identifies the military goals of China.

While this may all sound reasonable to Beijing, China’s neighbors, particularly Japan, Taiwan, India, and Vietnam, will have many concerns about the impact of such defense spending on the military balance in the region. They worry that China’s increasing military might may make it even more prone to aggressive moves in the region.

The recent signs are not comforting for some of these regional states, including countries such as South Korea that maintain friendlier ties with Beijing relative to some of China’s other neighbors. To take just one example, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff recently reported that a Chinese military spy plane, a Y-9, crossed into South Korea’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) without warning last week, one of several such crossings into the Korean ADIZ in recent months.

This is not an isolated incident. It comes on top of other developments including China’s actions in South China Sea over the last few years which suggest that Beijing is changing the status quo in a way that raises questions about its long term objectives. Similar strategies have played out in the East China Sea as well, though with less success.

Chinese state media, for its part, has unsurprisingly continued to rebut such concerns. For instance, China Daily has asserted that “accusations of China’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas… is a denial of the truth, as China is merely trying to stand up for itself and its rights.”

Among China’s neighbors Japan in particular, has raised the lack of transparency as a major problem in China’s military spending. Reacting to the increase in military spending, Yoichi Shimada, professor at Fukui Prefectural University, said that “it is an open secret that China’s military spending is far bigger than their government will ever admit.” He added that in addition to the quantum of funding, it is the increasing sophistication of the Chinese military that is alarming.

The United States has also raised similar concerns about the non-transparent nature of China’s military spending. Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, commander of the Asia-based U.S. Seventh Fleet, referred to the lack of transparency as an issue that causes angst in the region which “is potentially disruptive to security and stability and the free flow of commerce and trade.”

Though it is unlikely that there will be much of an arms race between China and its neighbors – for most, China is already too large to compete with anyway – anxieties around Beijing’s defense spending can exacerbate security dilemmas and generate behavior that could leave the region less peaceful and prosperous than it could otherwise be. Especially worrying in this respect is the fact that Beijing at times seems far too quick to dismiss the concerns of its neighbors rather than listening and attempting to allay them.

All this suggests that even as we keep getting new numbers around what China spends on its military, the old concerns around what Beijing does with its rising capabilities are unlikely to go away anytime soon.