Moving itself from an era of "non-aligned" to "poly-alignment" India has emerged as a regional military power and is inching towards becoming a global one, a US military think-tank has said.
The paper "India's Strategic Defense Transformation: Expanding Global Relationship" by Brian Hedrick of Strategic Studies Institute of US Army Department of Defense, was released oN Wednesday, takes a global view of India's rise as a regional and future global military power.
"India's defense establishment is undergoing an unprecedented transformation as it modernises its military, seeks strategic partnerships with the United States and other nations, and expands its influence in the Indian Ocean and beyond," writes Douglas Lovelace, Director SSI. "This transformation includes a shift from an emphasis on the former Soviet Union as the primary supplier of defense articles to a western base of supply and an increasing emphasis on bilateral exercises and training with many of the global powers," he said.
Military Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia at the State Department, Hedrick, who has served earlier in the US missions in India and Bangladesh, said that India's interests have changed over the past decade or more, taking it from a path of nonalignment and non-commitment to having specific strategic interests on a path of "poly-alignment".
"Since 2000, India has increased the number of countries with which it has defense-specific agreements from seven to 26 by the end of 2008. Bilateral and multilateral exercises are also an increasing feature of India's expanding defense relations as it seeks to find new technologies to transform its military from Cold War era weapons to 21st century capabilities through such opportunities. Through this new policy, one of the goals of New Delhi is to become a regional power across the Indian Ocean basin and secure agreements from partners in this region that support this goal, while building up expeditionary capabilities in its navy and air force, it says.
"At the same time, it continues to modernize its army to deal with potential threats from its immediate neighbors and internal insurgency groups, and to fulfill its goal of being a global leader in UN peacekeeping," the paper says. India is also developing "strategic partnerships" with countries perceived as leaders of a global, multipolar order and seeking modern military capabilities from many of those countries. This includes modern weapon systems as well as the technology and licensed production associated with those weapon systems, it said.
New Delhi wants to secure or maintain ties with smaller countries globally, many of which are members of the NAM, that can provide support in international fora as well as provide potential markets for its own emerging defense industry, said Hedrick, a graduate of the Indian Defense Services Staff College and the US Army Command and General Staff College.
Hedrick said many of the recent changes in India's global defense relationships represent a vast departure from pastpolicy and practices. Given that the Congress Party and its United Progressive Alliance coalition received a strong electoral mandate on its reelection in May 2009, these changes are likely to continue and perhaps will see bold moves to further develop and deepen strategic relationships around the world, he noted.
The report says there is new opportunity for tens of billions of US dollars in defense-related sales to India. "Because many of the US defense technologies have important applications in domestic counterterrorism, these sales also expand opportunities well beyond the two defense establishments into law enforcement and border control issues," it said. However, the report cautioned that as an extension of its NAM policy, India will continue to view its relationship with the United States through the lens of multilateralism, preference for a multipolar global power structure, and the impact on its bilateral relations with other countries.
"India will continue to forge new defense relationships around the world, increasingly with a view to exporting defense material from its own developing industry. However, it will likely begin to shift its energy towards deepening many of the relationships it has established todate," it said. Also India will increasingly assert itself as a regional power in the Indian Ocean.
"Occasionally India's interests may diverge with US (such as Indian support to Mauritius' claim to Diego Garcia), creating potential irritants in the relationship," it said. Further, India will likely emphasise balance in its defence relations, especially with the larger powers of the United States, Russia, the EU, UK, and Israel. This balance will often be reflected in defence
procurement decisions, as these are enduring symbols of the bilateral relationship.
"Most bilateral and multilateral military exercises will not be affected with considerations of balance, with the exception of larger, more visible exercises," it said.