K Subrahmanyam - A conversation on India and Geopolitics
A conversation with K Subrahmanyam
(July 29, 2009)
(July 29, 2009)
Shivanand Kanavi had a wide ranging conversation with K Subrahmanyam on a variety of strategic and geo-political issues: about India’s Nuclear Weapon Program, Indo-US nuclear deal, Af-Pak, India’s global ambitions and so on. Even though KS was already battling Cancer bravely, he gave undivided attention with excellent recall about the topics under discussion.
Krishnswami Subrahmanyam (1929-2011): IAS(1951)Tamil Nadu; Fellow in Strategic Studies, London School of Economics1966-67; Director ,Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (1st term1968-75, 2nd term 1980-87); Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee1977-79; Secretary(Defence Production)1979-80; Visiting Professor international relations St.John's Convenor, National Security Advisory Board 1998-2000; Chairman , Kargil Review Committee-1999
The interview appeared in Rediff in two parts.
Shivanand Kanavi: I want you to start with an over view of the history of Indian nuclear weapons programme.
K Subrahmanyam: If you go back to Nehru’s writings in the 40s he recognized that it may be used (as a weapon) and then India also must have it. But at the same time he was a man of peace he wanted international peace so essentially he was for development of technology. But he did not overlook the fact that it had a strategic dimension. It comes out very clearly that at one point in time in 1954-55 Homi Bhabha after presiding over the Geneva conference on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, came back with great enthusiasm and proposed to Nehru that India should amend the constitution and say that it would never go nuclear. Nehru wrote back to Bhabha that he should look after physics and leave the international relations to Nehru. We will think about these things when we reach that stage. So at one point of time it was Bhabha who was a peacenik, but as they saw the two major powers accumulating more and more weapons and developing newer weapons and China going nuclear, I presume that Bhabha got converted to the view that India should also go nuclear. The selection of CANDU reactor which would produce plutonium and deputation of Sethna to France to get reprocessing technology would all show that at least in Bhabha’s mind strategic programme was very much there.
Perkovich says Nehru all the time had it in mind but those who think of Nehru as essentially a man of peace would dispute it but it is difficult to say unless personal papers of Nehru are made available. On the other hand in 1964 a few months before he died, while inaugurating the reprocessing plant he also said “come what may, we shall not make these evil things”. Once the Chinese conducted the test Bhabha was determined that India should go for it. Krishna Menon opposed Bhabha.
Once Shastri took over, he was not familiar with all these things and the first time Bhabha came to Delhi to meet him I was told that he was made to wait three days to get an appointment. He was used to an indulgent treatment by Nehru and so he was a little put off. Then Shastri appealed to UK for a nuclear umbrella against the Chinese threat. In the early 60s there was a discussion in the US whether India should be helped to become a nuclear power to neutralize China. This was even before ‘62 as they realized that China was close to building the bomb. It was supported by Dean Rusk in the State Dept but was opposed by Pentagon and McNamara. In ‘64 Bhabha was able to persuade Shastri to sanction SNEP (Subterranean Nuclear Explosion Project). In early ‘65 there was a AICC session in Durgapur and there was pressure from some Congress members K C Pant who was a young MP who said that India should go nuclear. Shastri did not want to commit himself so finally he said ‘not now’. He did not rule it out. To some extent it helped Bhabha in getting the SNEP project sanctioned and it was under SNEP that Ramanna , Chidambaram, P K Iyengar were brought into Trombay. Then Bhabha died in the accident in 1966. Sarabhai took over.
Sarabhai coming from a Gandhian background was opposed to it. He argued that we did not have enough plutonium at that time and even by ‘67 if we had enough for one test then what would you do after wards. Thus he alienated the Trombay people. The result was they boycotted Sarabhai and did not share any information with him. But Sarabhai was a gentleman and a very astute man and over a period of time he changed his mind. Not many people know about it but he himself told me the last time we met in Aug 1971 while having dinner at Ashoka Hotel five months before he died. Then the Trombay people made Purnima the Fast Pulsed Reactor using plutonium from Candu. In 1967 Indira Gandhi sent Sarabhai and L K Jha on a worldwide mission seeking nuclear security guarantee for India. They went to Russia, France, US and UK. They wanted a joint guarantee. They did not get it. In 1965 when the NPT resolution was moved we were one of the sponsors. We propounded the balancing principle viz. no more proliferation but weapon powers should negotiate give up their weapons. When the matter came up in Geneva in 1967 our delegate V C Trivedi found that something else was going on. They wanted to prevent everybody else from going nuclear but on the other hand they did not want to have any limits on what they were doing. He made powerful arguments against this NPT and they are still quoted today. To some extent the P-5 found that India was a thorn in their flesh in Geneva. In 1968 when the matter came up regarding whether we should accede to NPT (it was not debated much in the cabinet) Mrs Gandhi and her close advisors like G Parthasarathy, P N Haksar were all against it. At that time I was the director of IDSA (Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis) and conducted a crusade against the NPT that India should go nuclear. At that time there were a group of parliamentarians called Young Turks who were leftist Congressmen like Krishan Kant who were for India going nuclear. Because of that we became good friends and I used to give Krishan Kant questions to ask in the parliament.
Sarabhai knew that Kant was asking ‘my’ questions. So in 1971 during dinner he told me “Subbu you can call off your blood hound (Krishan Kant), I am going to Mururoa Atoll to witness a French nuclear test”. The Gandhian of ‘67 had changed enough to go and witness the tests. So I said “Vikram, do I draw conclusions from this”. He said you do what you like.
However till he died there was no reconciliation between him and the Trombay group. Sarabhai anyway will be remembered as the founder of our space programme. Then according to the version given to me by Ramanna in 1972 October during the convocation of IIT Bombay, Mrs Gandhi summoned Sethna and Ramanna and gave the go ahead for testing. Then they started designing the test. Preliminary work had already gone on but Sarabhai had suspended it. But Purnima reactor had given them some ideas about the behavior of neutrons and plutonium etc. Between 1972 and 74 they worked on it. Ramanna has recorded that even in 1974 people like P N Dhar and Haksar got cold feet and it was Mrs Gandhi who told them to go ahead.
SK: Why were they hesitant, because of possible sanctions from US etc.?
KS: Yes. At that time US had become friendly to China and treated us as an ally of Soviet Union so they came down on us very severely.
SK: We already had a treaty with Soviet Union!
KS: Yes and also they could not forgive us for creating Bangladesh, a new country on the map which nobody had done after 1945! The sanctions started. That time we did not know that Pakistan had started its programme and was collecting money among the Islamic states.
When Janata government came in, Morarji Desai did not like nuclear explosion and did not like Ramanna (since he had led the test). He even denied that there was any nuclear test. He continued to hold that tonnes of explosives were buried and exploded!
SK: Is it because he thought Mrs Gandhi did it merely to over awe the domestic opposition and not for any strategic reasons?
KS: Yes. At that time US was trying to persuade us to adopt full scope safe guards—that is everything should come under safe guards. Mr Shankar who was Morarji Desai’s secy was in favour of it. So he told the Americans that we will examine it. So Americans were confident that India would accept it. Sethna was opposed to full scope safe guards. Morarji had said in the parliament that Americans are proposing it and there is nothing wrong in examining it. Actually I discovered through Sethna that the proposal was originated by Shankar and not Americans. So I got a copy of the note from the Americans to Sethna which called it “Mr Shankar’s proposal”. I got a photocopy of it and brought it to the Cabinet Secretary Nirmal Mukherjee that Morarji Desai can be cited for contempt of parliament since he had said in the parliament that it was an American proposal where as it was actually Shankar’s proposal. So the Cabinet Secy took it to Morarji.
SK: Was Shankar’s proposal for the cabinet?
KS: No. It was for Indians to discuss with Americans. Thus it was buried. Then Morarji went and made a speech in the UN General Assembly saying we will not conduct any more explosions. After he had read out that portion of his speech in the cabinet a message was sent through the then president Sanjiva Reddy to drop it from his speech. But inspite of that Morarji said it in the UN and he faced a lot of opposition when he came back. He tried to wriggle out saying I said an explosion and not test etc etc. At that time Ramanna was also taken out of BARC and put in as Scientific Advisor to Defence Ministry. Of course that did a lot of good to the Defence Ministry. But the Trombay team had been dismantled. Then in 1979 I produced a report saying Pakistan is going nuclear.
SK: How did you reach that conclusion?
KS: We got intelligence information. We knew about A Q Khan coming back and starting Uranium enrichment etc. I told the cabinet secretary to take it to the five-member Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs. He did it and there was a discussion. I was not present but Nirmal Mukherjee told me since I had to write the minutes, that the decision to resume the programme was taken but it was not unanimous. Three had voted for it and two had opposed it. He asked me to guess who were the two that had opposed the programme. I said one was Morarji and that was correct but I could not figure out who was the second. It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee! H M Patel, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram were for going ahead with our nuclear programme.
Then the Morarji govt fell and Charan Singh came. Sethna said he can manage the whole programme himself. In fact he was trying to fill up director’s post in BARC so that Ramanna will not be able to get back but that was prevented. But when Mrs Gandhi came back she posted Ramanna back to Barc and he held both the posts. Then the programme was restarted by 1983 we were again ready.
SK: Was it for weapon testing?
KS: Yes for weapons. The shafts were sunk in Pokharan but at the last moment the Americans found out through satellites and put pressure on us. Mrs Gandhi told them to stop it at the last minute. In fact it was those shafts of 1983 that were used for tests in 1998!
In 1984 we got involved in “six nation five continents” initiative.
SK: With Rajiv Gandhi..
KS: It started with Indira Gandhi and after her assassination it continued with Rajiv Gandhi. Essentially we ourselves were advocating CTBT.
SK: But it also involved some graduated disarmament along with ban on testing.
KS: Yes. We were in the fore front of it. When Rajiv took over, in 1985 Rajiv had a very intensive discussion with a group of us and I was also involved in it. He was at that time very much opposed to our going nuclear and he was very much in tune with the 6 nation initiative.
SK: Why was he opposed to it? Was it for economic reasons of sanctions etc.?
KS: No. He was new to politics and I think he was temperamentally a man of peaceful intent. He genuinely believed that if we can avoid it then we should avoid it. For one year I had arguments with him and at one point in time I told him that “PM sir, if you won’t take this decision, one day your defence expenditure will go through the roof”. So he asked the others present about it. Some agreed and others did not. Adm. Tahiliani was also present representing the Chiefs of Staff. He said we will give you a very serious quantified answer to this. PM said OK. The committee consisted of Abdul Kalam, R Chidambaram, Gen K Sunderji (Chmn) Adm Nayyar, Air Marshal Green. That group produced a report and for the first time it said a minimum credible deterrent of about 100 war heads can be developed in about 7 years and it will cost about Rs7000 crores. Only one copy of the report was prepared and delivered to Rajiv personally by Sunderji. We don’t know what happened to it afterwards.
SK: By that time were there no reports of Pakistani programme?
KS: Yes they were there but I was not in the government so I did not know about them. Thus he essentially stopped it. For some reason his relations with Raja Ramanna also deteriorated and he did not accept Ramanna’s recommendation of making P K Iyengar his successor. He selected M R Srinivasan, who had nothing to do with the weapons programme. So at that stage it was obvious that Rajiv was not interested in pursuing the weapons programme. He went to US he had a successful meeting with Reagan there was an agreement on science and technology but I do not think he was given any promise regarding civilian nuclear reactors. He was hoping for reactors from Russia and at that time Koodunkulam was under discussion.
However I am told that research went on and Rajiv did not stop it and then in 1988 he came out with his disarmament plan and put it before the UN and then to his horror he discovered that no one took any notice of it. He came back a disillusioned man and on the day of Air Force demo at Tilpat outside Delhi he said let us go ahead. Thus in ‘89 March or so he sanctioned the weapons programme.
SK: There is also a rumour about Operation Brass tacks and some message delivered by Pakistan during that exercise that they have the bomb etc..
KS: I will come to that. Even though the weapons programme was sanctioned only in 1989 the missile programme was sanctioned in 1984-85. In fact Indira Gandhi had sanctioned it and Kalam had been brought in specially from the space programme. In 1987 when the Operation Brass tacks took place, A Q Khan gave an interview to Kuldeep Nayyar and said, “you people be careful, we have got the bomb”. During the Kargil committee hearing Mr S K Singh who was the High Commissioner in Pakistan in the 80’s told me that in Jan ‘87, he was summoned by the Minister of State of Defence of Pakistan, who told him that if India takes any action then ‘we are in a position to inflict unacceptable damage’, which is a code to say we have the nuclear weapon. Rajiv knew all that but he still tried very hard and finally in ‘89 the same man sanctioned the weapons programme. By 1990 we had not assembled many weapons but Americans came to us and said that Pakistan is threatening to use nuclear weapons against India. This was in May 1990 but in Feb ‘90 Gen Yakub Khan came to India when Kashmir was on the boil and he told I K Gujral, “if you people use too much of force in Kashmir, there will be fire from the sky and rivers of blood will flow”. I K Gujral took him to V P Singh and he repeated the same thing. He would not look people in the eye but recite it as if he has been instructed to recite it. It was interpreted by India as a nuclear threat. In May US sent a mission led by Robert Gates, the present Defence Secretary to Pakistan and they told the Pakistanis ‘be careful do not try any adventure’ (according to US version) then they came to India. Here they did not say anything but to the rest of the world they said, “we diffused a nuclear crisis between India and Pakistan”.
However in a new book two American scientists have claimed that on 26th of May, 1990 actually the Chinese conducted a nuclear test for Pakistan. So they had come to dissuade Pakistan from doing it. Instead they put out the story about India-Pakistan. So Pakistan actually had a tested nuclear weapon by 1990 and not in 1998.
SK: That test was done in Lop Nor?
KS: Yes in Lop Nor. P V Narasimha Rao continued the programme. During NPT review conference in 1995, NPT was extended indefinitely and unconditionally. PV knew that we will be left out so he wanted to conduct a test. Preparations were all made but again the Americans discovered it and they put pressure to stop it. That is a fact.
SK: How did they find it?
KS: Through satellites. So PV could not conduct the test. When Vajpayee took over PV sent him a note saying ‘I could not do it, you do it’. Vajpayee acknowledged it after PV died. In 1998 however we were able to hide it. Both sides conducted the test.
SK: There is a claim that in 1998 we conducted a thermo-nuclear test as well.
KS: That is what R Chidambaram says. The problem is 1998 tests were done in shafts that were sunk in 1983. They were capable of taking only 60-70 kilo tons. It is also right in Rajasthan which may be sparsely populated compared to rest of India but it is still populated. So there is no way you can conduct a megaton test. Chidambaram says he did at 45 kilo ton but there are lots of people who question it.
SK: Post 1998 how did this inclusion of India into the club take place? The French have claimed that they were responsible for it.
KS: Within two years even the Americans started being friendly to us. We realized that US was not hostile to us during the Kargil war, when Clinton did not side with Pakistan but sided with us. Then in 2000, Clinton had a very popular visit to India. To that extent the relationship with US started improving.
There was always a feeling among the major powers of the world, excepting China, that India was not an irresponsible power that it had already conducted a nuclear test in 1974 and had not rushed to build a nuclear arsenal. The Russians, French and even the Americans knew the China-Pakistan connection. How China had helped Pakistan develop nuclear weapons etc. The Indian compulsions were known.
The French president’s advisor did tell me that they took the initiative but that was after George Bush took office. Chirac rang him up. Russians have always been well disposed towards India. I have a feeling that during Bush—Vajpayee interaction they had already started developing the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. We were asking the Americans to show progress in three things: nuclear, space and hitech. Those discussions were going on. The American administration at that time, with Colin Powell as Secretary of State, were not so favourably inclined to take such a major quantum jump. That came about in Bush’s second term, when Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State. They had in mind China’s dominance in Asia and the need to have some balance in Asia so when Man Mohan Singh met George W Bush in Oct 2004 during UNGA, they had a discussion but it is not quite clear whether Man Mohan Singh made any request regarding this or not. But definitely by 2005 March when Condi Rice came to India the Americans had made up their mind that they would help us in this respect. I would give a lot of credit for this to Bush and to a lesser extent to Condi Rice. These two really brought this about. Personally they were influenced by their idea of balance of power in Asia. They were not doing it because they liked us, but they were doing it for their own purposes. They could of course count on the help of France, Russia and Britain.
SK: Did Russia help us in the nuclear submarine? After all we have not designed even a conventional submarine so far.
KS: Yes they helped us with the design of compact nuclear reactor that was necessary. They are also giving us a hunter-killer nuclear sub on lease. Earlier they leased another one during Rajiv’s time. So there is no doubt there is Russian help. The PM has also publicly acknowledged it.
Our nuclear establishment is very small compared to other major powers. The Indian approach can be characterized as what we say in Tamil Nadu as that of Tirupati barber. When people take their children for tonsure at Tirupati, the barber clips a few locks of one child and goes to the next one because now he has “booked” this child…Then he will take his own time to do all the things. So whether we design aircraft at HAL or this, it is the same. The only people who are a little different are the space department. Everybody else say yes to everything when they have one design team.
SK: Even the missile programme has not delivered what it promised…
KS: Yes in 1985 I asked Kalam, “with the number of people you have, will you be able to deliver this in this time frame?” He said yes, yes we will.
SK: There is one project which has never been talked about openly called “Surya”, which is an ICBM, what is its status?
KS: People have been mentioning it, but does India require an ICBM? India needs a missile which reaches Beijing and Tientsin. That is about 4000-5000 km missile. If you start designing an ICBM beyond that range, you will make the Americans wary. Are we likely to go to war with Americans? Our people talk about our submarines going to the Pacific to target China. But there is no need for it. Your submarines can be in the Bay of Bengal and with a missile of 4000-5000 km range you easily target Beijing and China.
SK: After the cold war, the Russian weapon supplies have become uncertain. Then there is objection to American end user arrangements etc. Should we focus on domestic defence production rather than imports?
KS: People should be realistic. Even the LCA has an American engine. In short the answer is: in the world’s arms market the demand is shrinking since the cold war ended. There is not going to be a war between major powers of the world. There may be wars between say US and Iraq or Afghanistan etc even they would be only after a short duration. Therefore the armaments demand has come down. There are only three centres of armament production: US, Russia and Europe. They can incur the R&D cost and production costs only if they have a market. The right thing would be to get into co-production arrangements with Russian companies etc. The Chinese do not have access to US market, we have an advantage. Chinese can have only Russian weapons. So why don’t we build up on this advantage. To build up defence R&D and production capacities like them, would take us many years and decades and resources. We have so many other demands for resources. So commentators should have balanced idea of these things.
SK: Now that Obama administration has many non-proliferationists what do you think India should do with NPT review conference and CTBT and FMCT coming up?
KS: NPT review conference coming up. We are not going to be invited since we are not members of NPT. You might get everybody into non-proliferation regime as El Baradei has been talking about but not in the treaty, otherwise it will unravel. Others will say you are rewarding India, Pakistan and Israel for not signing up. If Obama succeeds in signing CTBT then we will be under pressure to sign it.
SK: Was it wise for Vajpayee to say in the UN that if US, China etc sign it then India will not come in the way?
KS: He had to as he was under pressure. I have a question. Under what circumstances would we need to resume the tests? If there is such a grave deterioration in the international situation at some point in future then anyway before you others would have resumed testing.
SK: Or if your weapons become obsolete..
KS: There is not much chance of weapons becoming obsolete. The scenario of you alone being called upon to resume testing while the rest of the world does not is farfetched. I cannot visualize it.
SK: There is also computer simulation and sub-kilo ton tests to improve weapon design. Do we have the capacity for it?
KS: If we do not have it then we should develop it. You have to look at your man power and how many weapons you need. You should be prepared to sign up if finally US and China ratify it first. That is not going to be tomorrow or day after. With regard to FMCT we have said we will agree provided you have a verifiable agreement. That is going to take quite some time. Are we short of plutonium? Or is the constraint in reprocessing and fabrication? In which case don’t blame the FMCT for that.
SK: We have stockpile for another 80-100 weapons.
KS: Yes we do. Americans and Russians are planning to bring down theirs to 1500. Then what do we need? So we have to have clear ideas on that.
SK: What is your view of what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
KS: There is no way Americans can leave Afghanistan and Pakistan.
SK: Don’t you think the current Af-Pak policy is actually an exit policy?
KS: Yes but the main problem is they are trying to make Pakistanis fight the war in their own country.
SK: Some people say US is outsourcing IT to India and war to Pakistan…
KS: Yes but Pakistanis are also trying to play all sorts of smart games. In the process what is going to happen to Pakistan and US-Pakistan relations is very difficult to predict. When Hillary Clinton was here she made a statement which was not picked up by media. She said in the interview to NDTV that 9/11 plot was hatched in Pakistan. And the plotters are still there. All that Obama has said is that we will go after them. Pakistanis may think, like many others that Americans will tire out and go away and then they can resume their games. What they do not understand is if Americans start tightening up saying if you fight there will be money and if you don’t fight then there will be no money then what will happen, we have to see. Their economy is in shambles. So the question is how Americans will manage that aspect. Secondly Pakistanis are finding that the chaps who they raised are turning against them. It is the nature of these Jihadi organizations that they have to be against somebody or the other. They will say that Pakistani state is on the side of the Americans. So Pakistanis will have to face that too. So they cannot play a double game for too long.
SK: You think they have made the choice?
KS: They are trying not to make the choice. At present they have taken on the Pakistani Taliban and even in that there are serious questions regarding the seriousness of the fighting. They go on saying we have killed so many and still they have not got any leaders. They seem to have displaced a lot of civilians and how long can that continue? They have been very short sighted. Americans have already arranged an alternative supply line with the Russians and they are listening to the conversations of these people quietly, just as they did during 26/11. So they know what is going on. The question is who is going to outsmart whom.
SK: What do you think about what Man Mohan Singh has started?
KS: I have a feeling that you might have peace and stability with all other states: Bangaldesh and others and even with China but I doubt very much you will be able to do that with Pakistan. They are not a rational state. For them hatred of India is over powering.
SK: Don’t you think that at least in a section of people; youth, businessmen etc in Pakistan that there is feeling that peace will mean sharing prosperity on both sides etc.?
KS: That kind of middle class is not very large in Pakistan, neither has it been allowed to grow.
SK: Musharraf’s proposals looked actually reasonable.
KS: Musharraf’s proposals can be looked at even though his idea of joint management is vague, through which he wanted to tell his people that now he can control Indian Kashmir also etc. On the other hand we would say we will also have say on your side and between the two systems let us see where Kashmiris on both sides would go. But the main point is still even among the middle class the hatred of India is still very strong. So they are not ready to condemn LeT. They have subliminal sympathy.
SK: Is that because of Kashmir?
KS: No that is not because of Kashmir, in fact Kashmir is because of two-nation theory, jihadi mentality etc. I have also interacted with Pakistanis. Javed Jabbar who used to be a minister who was born in Madras, (his father was commissioner of police). He once told me, there will be no peace in South Asia till India breaks up into constituents. First of all they convinced themselves that Islam alone will unify and Hinduism cannot. It is a difficult and troubled state.
SK: If India has to become a major power it has to have economic strength and reasonable relations with its neighbours. Even China has not achieved reasonable relations with neighbours yet.
KS: What is our problem with the neighbours? So long as our relations with China and US were troubled, our neighbours took advantage of it. If you improve relations with China and US you will find that all your neighbours will adjust themselves.
SK: But is that possible? Chinese look at us as some sort of surrogates of US.
KS: It is possible. China is going to grow unless there are problems internally in China and the system changes. India will also grow. China will catch up with US in over all GDP even though they may not have per capita income. Americans want to keep up their pre-eminence in terms of military, economic and technological power. China is an aging country. US and India are not yet aging, at least for another 30 years.
SK: The issue however is: America can continue its pre-eminence only if it aligns strongly with India. Only then it will have access to man power, innovation, technology etc.
KS: You are quite right. That is why US needs India and India needs US. What would be the Chinese reaction to this alliance? China and US are not going to fight with each other. It is a rivalry for the top position in the world. I have seen many people say, why should we choose Americans why not Chinese after all we have a 5000 year old relationship etc etc. So I tell them, “Don’t worry about yourself but ask your son and grandson where they want to go to China or US and you will have the answer!”
Some say Harvard or Beijing. I would go even a step further. Where would you be able to build a Balaji temple or a Meenakshi temple in China, which you can in US. Democratic, English speaking and so on. Regarding China, it should be ‘if you are not friendly to us we will intensify our relationship with US. We are prepared to balance our relationship with both of you. But if you are not going to be civil to us we will intensify our collaboration with them’. So ultimately it has to be a three power game in the world. After all Russia, Japan, Europe are all aging. Even Chinese are now thinking of authorizing a second child. The kind of stupidities they have done are amazing! India does not have to worry about its rise.
Whether it is Obama or George Bush, US is not giving up ambition to build up an unrivalled military force in the world, which no single power or a combination of powers can challenge. They will always have that goal. Today 50% of the world’s military expenditure is incurred by the US and more than 50% of R&D expenditure of the world. On that I don’t think there will be any slack. I think Obama feels that dealing with all these nations, engaging them is a better strategy than confronting them. It is a sensible strategy. He is not doing it because US is overstretched. After all the reserve currency of the world is dollar. Rouble was never the reserve currency of the world!
The Americans rightly claim that they are also a soft power.
SK: Some say, perhaps the only other country that can rival US in soft power in terms of culture, movies, religions etc is India.
KS: In due course. You have the potential that is the reason why the two countries getting together is an event that is long overdue and is taking place now. It has nothing to do with Obama or anybody else, it is a natural process.
SK: So far Indian military has been quite defensive but it looks like it is modernizing now for force projection into Indian Ocean, Africa etc to defend Indian investments abroad.
KS: The Americans do not send their expeditionary force into all those countries where they own property or have business interests. They try to do it by influencing various groups in those countries. Therefore when we talk of our expansion etc we should also expand our ability to influence events in those countries. We should be able to befriend various parties, groups and interests in most of those countries. In future force projection by way of going and occupying a country is going to be less and less. Because you can defeat an army but the real problem is how do you occupy a country, as Iraq and Afghanistan show its futility. You could do it in 18th and 19th century, you could do it upto Hitler but not after that. Therefore people who talk about force projection don’t know what they are talking about. We are expanding our Navy for the security of shipping lanes, maritime terrorism, piracy etc it is not to threaten anybody.
But your economic power, your technological power commercial power those are things that make up real power. When the depression happened and America collapsed, it did not matter to China or Japan but today when American banks fail the Chinese are seriously affected. If the dollar goes down Chinese are worried. Not only that even if somebody catches flu in the US, the world has to be put on alert! That was not the case before.
There is no doubt that Americans are not only dominant but they think they are a power that can dictate terms to the rest of the world and that is objectionable. Of course that is not working. Increasingly countries are defying the Americans. We should not try to copy the “ugly American”. Already we have a reputation of doing that in our neighbourhood. That needs to be corrected. A day should come when Nepal. Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka (I am still leaving out Pakistan) would be able to have a common market even something like European Union.
SK: In fact one country which seems to be neglected in that respect is Bangladesh. In fact it is very crucial for the development of North east, Burma and our whole Look East policy.
KS: That is right but they were very nasty to us. Only now we have a new government and we should also not forget that basically it is still East Pakistan. It will take time. Most importantly India should look after her people their food security, health and education then India will automatically become a major power.
SK: Thank you very much for giving me such a lot of time despite your health. You should write books. Why should we read Stephen Cohen or George Perkovich etc as authoritative accounts on Indian affairs?
KS: Unfortunately our government does not declassify archives like Americans do, moreover when these guys come here, all our politicians, bureaucrats etc talk to them. They get much greater access to people in power than us. Besides, they also have access to the American declassified documents.
SK: Thanks for your valuable time and insights.