Sunday, October 8, 2017

Leveraging defence diplomacy

K J Singh, blogs.timesofindia

K J Singh image from article

As India re-defines her regional standing with military robustness coupled with diplomatic sagacity at Doklam, there is a disturbing reality that we lack even the basic instruments to engage in military diplomacy. India’s emerging profile notwithstanding, we have barely 70 Defence diplomats posted in 44 countries. We somehow managed to cover 91 countries through multiple accreditations, which is a sub-optimal compromise.

In contrast, 113 countries have their Defence attaches or DAs in New Delhi. The diplomatic world is governed strictly by the quid pro quo approach but with no matching reciprocity from India, how long will 60 countries retain their attaches in India is a moot question.

Comprehensive National Power (CNP) has to be built and projected utilising the whole range of instruments.

The primary catalyst, foreign service, remains grossly under staffed and is still stuck in the outdated Nehruvian mould. Mercifully, the old order is beginning to shed the sermonising and patronizing culture, which has resulted in our neighbours walking into the Chinese orbit. The need is to transform and adopt smart and inclusive diplomacy with focus on core interests and geo-economics.

Americans have experimented with a sort of revolution in diplomatic affairs on the lines of the revolution in military affairs by shedding the ‘citadel mentality’ characterised by large embassies and reaching out through small, informal teams to exploit public diplomacy.

On the other hand, we have refused to utilise our DAs beyond routine protocol functions. Our defence delegations, training teams and UN missions have also not been leveraged fully due to the misplaced belief that diplomacy is a complicated ‘Brahaminical’ practice and cannot be risked with soldiers. I am reminded of the interaction in 2007 with the high commissioner in Sri Lanka, as head of the Higher Command delegation.

A relevant and topical question on ‘String of Pearls’, drew an unexpected rebuke, “you seem to imagine ghosts where none exist”. Ironically, Gotabaya Rajapakasa, Secretary, Defence (an ex-Sapper officer), was more open and lamented that India has not shown any interest in his constituency of Hambantota, why blame Chinese? In our non-accountable system, worthy expert would have got a series of promotions and in all probability may now be even heading a think tank.

The first and foremost requirement is the acceptance of defence diplomacy as a potent tool and meaningfully integrating it in the MEA matrix. India needs to increase its defence diplomacy footprint to at least 106 countries identified in a study, which has been under endless examination for a long time.

We should rationalise and spread our representation to the emerging continent, Africa. While very marginal re-location from traditionally popular European countries may be possible, accretions are inevitable.

It is time to think of a military diplomatic corps, a specialised cadre, which can induct Colonels and equivalent in the early 40s, train them in languages and then utilise them for two decades. After all, one can join regular cadre up to 35 years. The envisaged cadre should have performance based retention, including probationary clause to weed out non-performers.

We should also consider involving veterans to run training teams and retrofitting/repair missions on contractual basis. Of course, this requires hand holding. These measures have to be complemented with responsive structural framework and functional interfacing between MOD and MEA.

India has a formidable reputation in teaching and glorious record in training teams yet now we are conspicuous by their absence, while others are usurping this space. Indian peace keepers are envied in countries like Angola but it is the Chinese, with no contribution to peace making, who have cornered peace building despite Goa sharing a common legacy of colonial past under Portugal.

The same story has been repeated in Nigeria, Mozambique and Liberia, just to name a few. MEA has to realise that peace keeping is not mere deployment of troops but extends to peace building.

‘Make in India’ can only succeed if we go beyond ‘Making for India’. Our record in this is disturbing as Pakistan seems to have stolen an edge over us. It exports armaments and munitions to 40 countries and is slated to export JF-17 to Myanmar.

Like string of pearls, countries in our neighbourhood have string of Chinese armaments. Their repair and retrofitting is an emerging opportunity, which is being outsourced to Pakistanis, giving them a permanent presence in these countries.

However, we can also stake a claim as they are akin to our Russian origin equipment. Lack of economic agility in military diplomacy resulted in Israel cornering some of the best production lines, including tank ammunition manufacturing from erstwhile extended Russian military industrial complex, on its collapse despite India being the largest consumer.

It is time to think of co-producing guns, tanks, aircraft, missiles and ammunition for emerging economies, building on the recently launched shared satellite for South Asian nations.

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