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.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

India, China and NSG: A Response to Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s essay in the Indian Express yesterday outlined a critique of India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group at its meeting last week in Seoul meeting.  I was not surprised to find that I disagreed with almost every point he made there.  Mehta’s is an important voice in the Indian public policy discourse on a variety of subjects, a Liberal, erudite, complex and moderate one.  I find myself agreeing with almost all of his writings, save for that on Indian foreign policy and international politics, where his Liberal instincts and my Realist thinking part ways, as I have written on this blog before (here and here).  But his is an important critique, not just from a policy perspective but also a theoretical perspective and so it is even more important to engage with it.  [This essay was slightly edited on July 1, 2016, to modify a couple of harsh characterizations, which, on reflection, I felt were unhelpful to carrying forward a debate]

Before I get to my disagreements, a couple of points of agreement, even if they are relatively minor ones: I also thought the reference to climate change and Paris was unnecessary, and I agree with Mehta on the need to have the capacity to hurt the great powers if you want to take them on, a point also made by Praveen Swami.  And now to the disagreements. 

Mehta argues that there were three delusions in the discourse on India’s NSG membership bid.  The first was about whether an NSG membership was really worth “the political capital invested in this venture”.  He argues that the NSG waiver India got in 2008 takes care of most of our needs and any negative changes within NSG could have been prevented by having just one friend within the group (since the group works by consensus). 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

India's NSG Membership and China's Containment Strategy

This was published by Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, on June 24, 2016.

India’s NSG membership and China’s containment strategy

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul on Thursday (June 23) ended without any decision on India’s application for membership as a consequence of China’s refusal to accept India into the group. India’s chance of being admitted into the NSG were always slim because of China’s opposition. But that was not a reason for not trying. There were excellent reasons for making a high-profile push for NSG membership. Most of the criticisms about both the usefulness of NSG membership itself and about the need for such a high-stakes effort are misplaced. Though India did not get the membership, this will be policy failure only if India fails to respond to what is clearly yet another indicator of China’s determined effort at containment of India.
India does not need NSG membership in order to engage in nuclear commerce, of course. But the NSG makes the rules for such commerce and it is always possible that they can frame rules in future that will hurt India’s interests. There are already questions about some of the rule changes that NSG introduced in 2011 with regard to enrichment and reprocessing technologies, after India got a special waiver from NSG. India can protect itself best only if it is inside the tent. Additionally, India’s road to a partnership in global governance is ill-served if there are governance groups that explicitly leave India out.
Those arguing that India should not have engaged in such a high profile push are also mistaken. India’s choice was to either not apply at all or to make a determined push for membership. There was no middle path here. For at least three reasons, it was impossible for India to simply file an application and not make a serious effort to get in. First, the Indian application required convincing many friendly states who had legitimate concerns about NPT and the nonproliferation regime, concerns that were not motivated by any balance of power considerations (unlike China’s opposition). These countries are wrong to equate support for nonproliferation with just signature on a treaty rather support for the principles of nonproliferation as demonstrated in actual behaviour. But this still required an argument to be made and making this argument to a number of international partners meant that this could no longer be a low-profile effort.

China Containment Strategy against India

This was published in Economic Times on June 12, 2016.

As India's Power Grows, China's Containment Strategy Will Get Frenetic

China's decision in Vienna to object to India entering the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) should not come as too much of a surprise. China has been uncharacteristically open about opposing India's membership. This also makes it unlikely that it will change its view in the next 10 days, before the NSG meets in plenary in Seoul on June 24.

China's action has little to do with NSG, but is simply the latest indication of China's containment strategy against India. Understanding this reality is the first step to finding an appropriate strategy to managing India's relations with China.    

The NSG membership is important for India but not so much for any material gain. Its importance is mostly that it strengthens the legitimacy of India's nuclear programme and permits India to have some say in making the rules of the global nuclear order, all without joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since the NSG, under American pressure, had in 2008 already permitted India to engage in nuclear commerce with other countries, what China's veto does mostly is hurt India's pride but not much more.

Future of India's Nuclear Doctrine

On April 25, 2016, Pugwash India conducted a discussion on the future of India's nuclear doctrine, chaired by Ambassador Satish Chandra, former Deputy National Security Advisor.  Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal, former head of India's Strategic Forces Command, and I were the panelists.  Pugwash India has kindly posted a summary of the discussions here.  I might copy that and post it here at a later date, but for now, you'll have to follow the link. 

What Happened to the Modi Doctrine?

Posting this really late . . . this was published by Economic Times, May 15, 2016.

Modi Sarkar @2: The Modi Government is Following an Old Template of Foreign Policy

When the Narendra Modi government took over two years ago, there was some hope that his experience in running a state government and his distance from New Delhi might give Indian foreign policy some freshness. There was even some talk of a new Modi doctrine to guide India's policy towards the outside world. Almost halfway into his term, we are still waiting. If there is a Modi doctrine, it appears to be the Manmohan Singh doctrine, but with a pulse. India's external policy is clearly a lot more energetic and self-confident. But in both good ways and bad, it is mostly following the path that the previous governments had laid.

There is nothing inherently wrong with following an existing template and, indeed, the main criticism of the UPA government's external policy was not about its logic but that it was too timid in following through. Modi changed that, moving with greater assurance on both the regional and global scene. At the regional level, his dramatic gesture in inviting all South Asian leaders to his inauguration and his equally dramatic stopover in Lahore to visit prime minister Nawaz Sharif are illustrations of this. 

On global policy, again, Modi moved with greater vigour to establish closer strategic ties with those who share India's worry about China's increasing power and assertiveness, even as he sought to deepen economic ties with Beijing. The Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, joined her counterparts from the US and Japan to hold the first trilateral meeting at the foreign ministers' level last year, which was soon followed up with Japan joining the Malabar naval exercise off the Indian coast. Japan had joined it only once previously, in 2007, but was not invited subsequently because of fear of Chinese criticism. In addition, New Delhi has moved firmly towards signing some of the so-called foundational agreements to smoothen US-India military cooperation, something that the previous government refused to do, not because of the merits of the issue but more out of fear of adverse reaction, especially from within the ruling coalition.     

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Lessons from the Dolkun Isa Visa Fiasco

I wrote a brief essay that was published by Observer Research Foundation on the Indian government first granting and then withdrawing visa for Mr. Dolkun Isa, an Uyghur activist.  Posted below in full:

Lessons from the Dolkun Isa Visa Fiasco

The Indian government has rightly come in for a significant amount of criticism for backtracking and withdrawing the visa it had granted to Mr. Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, after the Chinese government complained.  While there is almost universal condemnation of the incompetence of the Indian state in efficiently managing something as simple as granting a visa, opinions about the strategic consequences of the Indian government’s actions are more divided.  Much of the commentary has been highly partisan.  Still, this episode also raises important questions about how Indian foreign policy and security policies are managed.
We do not yet know, of course, the real story behind why an Indian visa was granted to Mr. Isa or why it was later withdrawn, or why many other Chinese dissidents were also refused visas to attend a conference that presumably relevant government agencies had already approved.  Early press stories suggested that New Delhi granted the visa to Mr. Isa apparently in retaliation for China blocking India’s efforts to place Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist group, on a UN terrorist list established by the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.  (China had claimed that India’s application did not “meet the requirements”).  The consistency in these stories suggest that the story was based on briefing by senior government officials.  Indeed, some reports quoted “top sources” as saying that this decision was taken at the “highest level” in the government.  This is useful to keep in mind because once the government decided to withdraw the visa, the story became one of an inter-departmental snafu between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).  It is also possible that the visa was granted by mistake because Indian officials did not realise Mr. Isa’s name was on an Interpol red corner notice.  Still, the government took no steps to deny these stories in the first two days, before the visa was retracted, suggesting that something more than an interdepartmental issue was at play.  Some reports have even suggested that India and China had worked out a quid-pro-quo on the Masood Azhar issue, but this appears highly doubtful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Considering Trump and New Delhi

C. Raja Mohan wrote a typical thoughtful and thought-provoking essay yesterday in the Indian Express on why New Delhi should take Donald Trump seriously, despite his contradictions.  Now that Trump looks like the presumptive Republican nominee after his impressive win in the Indiana primary, Raja Mohan's points are even more critical.  He is a typical populist politician, one whose support is based on ideas or ideology or even simple consistency but on just the strength of his personality. Raja Mohan is right to point to Trump's larger worldview rather than the specific policy points regarding India.  As he put it: "The significance of Trump for Delhi’s diplomacy may not necessarily lie in the few stray comments he has made about India. Nor do his occasional remarks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons suggest a definitive shift. Although Trump’s overall attitude towards India has been positive, it’s his larger worldview that will have a great bearing on India’s strategic choices."

I think this is a point that not just New Delhi needs to keep in mind but most of US allies -- and US adversaries.  Even if Trump does not win the Presidency -- this is by no means certain, as some Democrats like the political commentator Van Jones is trying desperately to tell their party -- he is quite likely to move the entire conversation to the Left on critical issues such as (as Raja Mohan pointed out, correctly) on trade, but also on US commitment to its allies because, as Trump has pointed out, US allies don't pay their fair share of the burden of the common defense.  This is an old issue within US alliances, but what Trump forgets is that old Spiderman quote: with great power comes great responsibility. Or may be it is greater responsibility.  Still, Trump's focus is likely shift domestic argument, and Hillary Clinton -- assuming she is the Democratic nominee -- is also likely to agree that burden-sharing needs to be revisited.  This should be serious worry for all US allies -- and for countries like India which, though not a formal US ally, depends on the US to help balance China in Asia.  Much of the discussion of unipolarity and the post cold war international system has focused on calculations of material power to assess polarity.  But they have rarely considered the willingness of the US to carry the burden of managing and maintaining global order.  And Defensive Realists, who have repeatedly called for the US to reduce its global footprint with an off-shore balancing strategy, do not consider the consequences of such a posture for regional stability and its consequent impact on global order.  If Trump wins in November, and if he carries through with his promise, India and other Asian powers will find that the biggest problem will be to convince the US that it has to play a role as a balancer in Asia.  This raises unpalatable choices for India and other Asian states -- either acquiesce in a China-dominated Asia or expend a lot more effort in trying to balance China.  It might become difficult to find a hedge to perch on then. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The JNU Free Speech Controversy-1

The controversy over JNU and free speech leaves me somewhat bemused.  The hypocrisy on all sides of the debate is truly astounding.  What is common to all sides is that their idea of "free" speech is not so about any principles but about "convenient" speech.  For all sides in this debate, the only "free" speech they recognize is their own right to speak, the only speech they will defend is speech they agree with and all sides will oppose any "free" speech that disagrees with their orthodoxies.  A good example is a recent essay by two of my colleagues that I have responded to in a companion post, immediately following this post.  [I wanted to include it here but as it was getting a bit long, I split it into two posts]. Read these posts together. 

As for the political parties, the less said the better.  BJP leaders haven't exactly covered themselves in glory with their ill-advised statements and actions.  The BJP is today the only politically relevant centre-right political voice in the country and this episode once again demonstrates the crying need for a center-right alternative to the BJP that will be based on libertarian principles of limited government and freedom rather than the religion-based conservatism that the BJP represents.

And then we have the Congress, which has spent the better part of its several decades of rule banning anything that any section of the population had any objection to, now suddenly masquerading as a defender of free speech!  As for the Left parties, that they can even mouth "free speech" without bursting into flames is a wonder.  It would all be comical if it weren't so tragic. 

The JNU Free Speech Controversy-2

This is a continuation of my previous post about free speech in JNU.  As I mentioned there, Happymon Jacob and A.K. Ramakrishnan, both colleagues at the School of International Studies, JNU, wrote recently in the India Express about threats to free speech in Indian universities.  They argued that what was happening to JNU was part of a pattern and that the very idea of the university was under attack.  This was rich, I thought, considering that the Left has hardly a great record as defenders of free speech.  I wrote a response to their essay and send it to the Indian Express immediately but since Indian Express has not published it, I am posting it here in full. 

JNU and the Myth of Academic Freedom

Two of my esteemed colleagues from JNU argued in these pages a few days back (Happymon Jacob and AK Ramakrishnan, “There’s A Cop in My Class”, February 27, 2016) that the very idea of the university is under threat from the BJP government, that the attack on JNU is part of larger attack on “academic spaces and intellectual freedom”.  I hold no brief for the BJP government, and I fully support the right to free speech, especially when it is speech with which I disagree (such as some of slogans that were shouted in JNU on February 9). 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Change Pak army terror calculus by supporting domestic rebels in Pakistan

The terrorist attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force base once again highlights the problematic nature of India's 'talk-no talk' strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan.  I had written about this earlier too, in 2008 in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack, and in August 2015, in the aftermath of the Gurdsapur attack and pressure on the Indian government to cancel NSA (National Security Advisor)-level talks. My views on the subject have remained fairly consistent: to respond to Pakistan's transgressions, India needs alternatives to simply calling off talks.  Calling off talks is usually a foolish gesture.  India needs to develop military and covert measures to deter and punish the Pakistan army's use of terror against India. 

Though I argue that India should not discontinue talks, I also argue that continuing talks without responding to terrorist attacks and other outrages by the Pakistan army is equally foolish -- and unsustainable.  Since this essay was published a few days back, other analysts, who are far more knowledgeable about Pakistan, have pointed out that much of the supposed 'action' that Pakistan is taking against the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists is the usual drama they have engaged in many times before, without any real effort at curbing these terrorist organizations, in essence a farce to placate foreign leaders.  This is eminently understandable because the Pakistan army feels no pressure to take any real action, and as I point out in the essay, it is a high-benefit, low-cost and low-risk strategy.  If, as seems likely, the talks were to continue, we should expect more attacks, unless India can develop options to change the Pakistan army's calculus.  My essay, published by the Observer Research Foundation, is reproduced below.

Suspending talks is surrendering to Pak Army strategy

In the aftermath of the terror attack in Pathankot, the pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suspend dialogue with Pakistan is mounting.  Even if he resists the pressure this time, the India-Pakistan dialogue will constantly be at risk because the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) can sponsor more terror attacks until it becomes politically impossible for the Modi government to continue the dialogue.  As long as India’s only response to terror attacks is to suspend talks, the Pakistan Army will hold the upper hand.  Suspension of talks does not impose any cost on the Pakistan army; indeed, it is what they seek.  India needs to develop alternate counter-measures so that it has options other than suspension of talks.  Indian decision-makers need to understand the Pakistan army’s support for terrorism as a rational and usually effective strategy if India is to develop such counter-measures that increase the costs and reduce the benefits to the Pakistan army in using terror as a strategy.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Structural Consequences of China's Rise

I wrote an essay on "The Structural Consequences of China's Rise" for a conference on "the US Rebalance and the Asia-Pacific Region", organized by the Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. The papers have now been put together by CPPR and is available as a book. My essay, more a brief and slightly abstract think-piece, is pasted below.  
I have tried to explore the impact of China's rise from a Structural Realist perspective.  One of my concerns with Structural Realism is its focus on just great power politics.  Though Kenneth Waltz and other have their justification for such a focus (that great powers are more consequential) I think it is time that Structural Realists, and other Realists, started focusing more on regional politics. This is one among a few of my early explorations of how this might be done, so comments are very welcome.   
The Structural Consequences of China's Rise
Rajesh Rajagopalan

China's rise, over the medium term, can lead to three possible structural consequences,

depending on different permutations of Chinese and US economic growth rates. These are (in random

order) a continuation of the current unipolar order; a bipolar system with China joining the United

States (US) as a polar power; and a multipolar system in which China and one or more powers join the

US as polar powers. Over the long term, there are other possibilities such as a non-polar order or a

unipolar system with China as the unipole, but these are not considered here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

India's Unrealized Power

This is being posted a bit late but . . .

I wrote the India chapter in the NBR's (National Bureau of Asian Research) latest annual edition of Strategic Asia.  The volume titled Foundations of National Power in Asia, was edited by Ashley Tellis, Alison Szalwinski and Michael WillsIt involved trying to measure national power through a complex set of quantitative and qualitatives indices that Ashley Tellis et al has originally proposed in a RAND study in the 1990s.  In my chapter "India's Unrealized Power", I argued that though India was growing richer and more capable, its relative power vis-à-vis some key players such as China has actually gotten worse.  India, I argued, is being held back primarily because of the inefficiency of its state structure and particularly its bureaucracy.  I am somewhat pessimistic about India's future prospects, though I would expect that India would continue to grow at a reasonable pace.  But India has been extremely inefficient in converting its various resources -- natural and human -- into military power. 

The volume was released on November 18. Though I could not be there for the launch the audio and video of the launch is available at the NBR site.