Monday, January 30, 2017

Dealing with President Donald Trump

This was published on the ORF website on November 10, immediately after the US elections. (Posting it late as usual!).

As the shock of the US election result wears off, the reality of having to figure out how to deal with new President Donald Trump becomes imperative. The normal guide-posts that we would use to evaluate the foreign and security policies of any candidate for high-office are the candidate’s election programme or manifesto, statements made during or before the campaign or the candidate’s previous political record. Unfortunately, none of the usual guideposts are very useful in helping us wade through Trump’s worldview, policy preferences or priorities. Trump seems to make up policies on the go, and there are some contradictions in what he has said on foreign policy issues, though some analysts such as Thomas Wright have argued that there is some long-term consistency to Trumps foreign policy pronouncements.

The problem is compounded by Trump’s lack of any previous political or administrative
position of responsibility in the government or the legislature. Focusing on what Trump said during the campaign, the only other source of his thinking paints a mixed picture, for three reasons. The first is that some of his policies are internally contradictory: for example, he blames the Obama administration for ignoring American allies, but also blames American allies as free-riders who don’t pay their fair share of the defence burden. The second is that some of his policies will clash with other policies: he wants to cooperate with Russia in Syria in tackling the threat of the Islamic State but also takes a hard line on Iran, with which Russia is aligned in Syria. Finally, it is not clear whether his statements on foreign policy are personal ruminations or well-thought policy positions. His foreign and security policy agenda are somewhat thin on specifics, though some of his speeches provide some details.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

China and the Global Nuclear Order

I took part in a three-part debate in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, along with Hua Han and Gregory Kulacki, on China's role in the global nuclear order.  All three of my short contributions, as well as that of the my co-panelists can be found here.

India and NSG: It's Simply Power Politics

I wrote a brief piece for the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal (July-September 2016 issue) on what India should do about the Nuclear Supplier's Group (NSG).

Three basic realities have to dictate India’s approach to the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The most important is that India’s bid will be decided by power politics, not by the merits of India’s case. This simple reality has to determine India’s strategy in pursuing the membership. A second reality has to have an equally important consideration in India’s policy choices: membership of the NSG is important but not vital for India. Finally, though the US can help somewhat in supporting the Indian case for membership, it has so far not been able to overturn China’s veto. What this means is that if entrance to the NSG is considered sufficiently important for India, India will have to bargain with China, which is complicated by another imperative: that India must not let go of the moral high-ground that it has over China as a consequence of China’s unprovoked unfriendly act of blocking India’s membership in the first place.

The full essay is available here.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Follow Me on Twitter . . .

I have been on twitter for a little while and I am reasonably active.

If you'd like to drop by, I am at: @RRajagopalanJNU . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2016

India Now Controls the Escalation Ladder

Another essay published a couple of days back (October 5, 2016) by the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, on the consequences of the Indian cross-LoC strikes.


The deterrence game between India and Pakistan has changed dramatically with India’s
decision to conduct a military strike across the Line of Control (LoC). The Indian action was a
clear escalation that demonstrated that India has the upper hand to control escalation and
thus possibly deter Pakistan more effectively. This upends the escalation dynamic between
India and Pakistan because it was Pakistan that controlled escalation until now.

This change will not go unchallenged by Pakistan. Rawalpindi can be expected to probe and
attempt to undermine India’s new assertion of escalation dominance. New Delhi, therefore,
needs to be ready to cement this assertion by being prepared to play its much stronger hand,
especially in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Why New Delhi allowed a militarily weaker Pakistan to control the escalation dynamic for so
long is a mystery. The general consensus on deterrence and escalation in the region that was
focused much more on the constraints facing India than that facing Pakistan surely is one reason. This was the consequence of Pakistan’s effective use of the threat of nuclear
escalation and the fear, particularly among Indian decision-makers, that Pakistan was an
irrational actor whose nuclear threats needed to be taken seriously. This was reinforced by
India’s efforts to position itself as the more responsible player in the region, aimed at a global
audience, which might also have limited the willingness of Indian leaders to consider use-of-force options.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Why This Surgical Strike Across LoC Changes Indo-Pak Nuclear Red Lines

This was written a few hours after the Indian strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir was announced by the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) at a press conference in New Delhi on September 29, 2016.  I was already writing a piece for CNN News-18 on deterrence equations across LoC when I saw the press conference.  The result was this quick essay, published on the CNN New-18 website.

The Indian decision to conduct a strike against terrorist bases across the Line of Control (LoC) has important implications for nuclear deterrence and Pakistan's so-called nuclear 'red lines'.  

Though full details of the strike are still awaited, the fact that India publicly announced it and stated that the Indian Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) had informed his Pakistani counterpart about the attack reinforces India's decision to challenge these nuclear red lines. Irrespective of whether Pakistan responds or even how it responds, the nuclear deterrence game between India and Pakistan has changed.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How to Deal with the Next Uri -- or Mumbai

The latest Pakistani terrorist outrage in Uri has led to a predictable debate about why and how India should react.  I am a bit tired of this debate because it has been clear for quite a while that India's "strategic restraint" is neither effective nor logical.  But the usual excuse of lack of preparedness, a nice football that the military and politicians keep kicking to each other endlessly, is also frustrating.  So here are a few thoughts, not so much on how to respond to the current crisis, but the next one.  I suspect we will be as unprepared the next time as we were this time, and that's enormously frustrating.  But this is all that academics can do: at the least, no one (politician, bureaucrat or military officer) will be able to say later that they didn't receive any advice! This was published by ORFOnline two days back. 

How to deal with the next Uri -- or Mumbai

These are early days yet, but it is still difficult to overcome the impression that the Indian
system was not fully prepared to meet the Uri contingency. This is unfortunate and
surprising. Considering that Prime Minister Modi has been a strong critic of India’s lack of firm
response to Pakistan’s attacks on previous occasion, one would have thought that the Indian
system would have deliberated and decided on India’s options under various contingencies,
including such a predictable terrorist outrage. But even if India is unable to respond to the Uri
attack, there is still time for the Modi government to recover. Pakistan, after all, is not about
to stop terror attacks against India. Immediate preparation will allow the government to be
ready to respond to a future attack. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why the new Balochistan strategy is the best option for India

Prime Minister Modi's Baloch initiative has garnered significant amount of comment, a good part of it critical or at least concerned.  I am much more optimist about the utility, though I am also concerned that this might simply stop at the rhetorical level, which will end up doing more harm than good.  My essay was published by ORF on August 22, and is reproduced below in full.


Only time will tell if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his
Independence Day speech was a carefully thought out strategy or just an expression of his
personal frustration at two years of fruitless effort at dialogue with Pakistan. Hopefully, it is
the former because there is considerable strategic logic for India to exploit whatever
vulnerabilities Pakistan has in Balochistan. But this logic requires the Modi government to go
beyond simply rhetorical nourishes to develop and implement plans that can impose
significant cost to the Pakistan Army.

The Prime Minister’s reference to Balochistan was clearly a rhetorical shot across the bow to
deter Pakistan’s continued support for terrorism targeting India. In this case, that Prime
Minister Modi felt the need to outline the threat so openly suggests two conclusions. First,
that it is an escalatory policy to deter Pakistan’s support for terrorism against India, with his
speech being the first step in that escalation. If this assessment is correct, if Pakistan does
not heed the warning, then the speech will be followed in time by more significant steps on
the ground. The Prime Minister cannot have been unaware that making such an open threat
carries a commitment and responsibility because there will be an expectation of a follow
through. This is one reason why governments — and defnitely leaders — do not often make
such open threats. Even though a deterrence strategy requires communicating a clear threat,
such communications can be delivered in a number of different ways such as through media
leaks, through subtle actions such as meetings (in this case) with Baloch rebel leaders, as well
as through greater and more visible material support to Baloch rebel groups. Making such an
open threat suggests a pre-commitment to follow through with the threat if the threat does
not lead to the desired change in behaviour. At least, one hopes so.

Monday, August 22, 2016

India's Nuclear Doctrine Debate

As usual, I am posting this very late.  I wrote a paper on India's nuclear doctrine debate for a Carnegie-MacArthur project on "Regional Voices on the Challenge of Nuclear Deterrence Stability in South Asia".  The papers were posted on the Carnegie website in late June.  The project included a number of interesting papers from a range of Chinese, Pakistani and Indian analysts.  All papers are available here.  My paper can be found here.  As always, comments are welcome.