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'There are issues with India, but can't ignore it'

November 06, 2010 11:42 IST

Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution, is considered the doyen among South Asian experts in the United States.

Cohen has extensively researched South Asian political and security issues and has authored numerous books on India and Pakistan. These include The Idea of Pakistan and India: Emerging Power, and his latest, Arming without Aiming: India's Modern Military Modernisation, in which he argues that it is unlikely that India will acquire advanced weapons system. 

The book comes at a time when India is at the cusp of military modernisation and India's defence ministry is not keen to sign any major weapons agreement in haste. In fact, this is one of the main issues facing the two countries during US President Barack Obama's visit. 

Stephen Cohen interacted with rediff.com readers on November 6 about the political and security issues in the subcontinent, and much more. Here's the transcript...

d asked, Hi... why America is giving money to Pakistan? even you know what Pakistan is all about...where is what! 

Stephen Cohen answers, Good morning everyone, pleased to be with you from New Delhi. I'm in Defence Colony at my daughter's place, she's establishing a branch of her company in India--I first came to India in 1963 and lived in Defence Colony off and on; it's changed a great deal, as has India. As for Pakistan please see my writings, notably two books and a major posting on the Brookings website about the future of Pakistan.


reader asked, How about discussions on the nuclear deal, where will it go from here.

Stephen Cohen answers, The ball is in India's court as Parliament has not taken the next step to ensure justifiable legal protection for US firms; I'm sure this will be the subject of the talks here.


Peter asked, How can USA shut their ears, close their eyes and not see what is happening in Kashmir. Seems blood of teenagers in Kashmir is not important but US export to India is important and that is why Obama will speak about ways to increas export to India and will avoid resolution of Kashmir which is most important factor in the stability of South Asia. 

Stephen Cohen answers, See the book by Amb Howard Schaffer on American efforts on Kashmir--mostly failures. There's some revived interest in Kashmir, notably a passionate piece by Steve Coll in the NY Review of Books; it is a chronic catastrophe, but American leverage is very weak; I've been urging quiet American engagement for years, and it may be going on; meanwhile injustices continue on all sides, but there are problems taht are not amenable to American or even international engagement. The question to ask is whether it might make things worse. I like the work of the Kashmir Study Group, but that has not had traction with the governments (India, Pakistan, US, others)


Saurabh asked, Stephen, do you think this visit by President Obama is the ideal time for India to seek advanced weapons and technology that the US has been shy of giving in the past. This thought comes to my mind giving the state of the US economy and the pressure on Obama to shore up exports and create jobs. The quickest way to increase exports is to export weapons & technology. What are your thoughts?

Stephen Cohen answers, I know that this is one of the leading issues that will be discussed, there may well be agreements on changing this already, we are bound by our own laws, but interpreting these can be influenced by the larger political context, which is now very favourable.


indian asked, Hi Stephen , what makes you think India will buy US aircrafts against ever reliable Russian Aircrafts ?

Stephen Cohen answers, Ah, a non-spoofer. Price, quality, and linking up to the US -- but India will probably split the purchase of the airplane buy between a few countries. Meanwhile, India is going American in some other areas, notably ships, what it really needs is better production technology. Just published a book on this, "Arming without Aiming: India Modernizes its military" with Sunil Dasgupta. There's now also an Indian edition, published by Penguin.


Sanjay asked, Over the past decade, US arms imports have been going down steadily while arms imports from India have tripled. With the US economy in shambles, Wouldn't it make sense to export more to both India and Pakistan thus maintaining the balance and helping create more jobs in US while US enjoys monopoly in this market for some more time.

Stephen Cohen answers, Trying to balance India and Pakistan militarily is not a good idea, and impossible given that both have nuclear weapons--big armoured battles are not going to happen for fear of escalation to a nuclear war. Each needs weapons for specfic purposes, Pakistan notably to do counterinsurgency better than it has in the past, and India needs to improve the quality of training and equipment for the police and paramilitaries who are up to their hips in countering Naxalite activity


logic1 asked, Dear Stepen Every empire has a shelf life. British empire, roman, Greek etc. they eventually fall. How long do u think will the American dominance last in our world

Stephen Cohen answers, I wouldn't bet against America; our dominance is in the realm of ideas (liberty), advanced technology, and education. Our economic standing might slip--but in fact others are rising. We have rebuilt our country several times already. Let's see what happens before pronouncing our demise.


karthik asked, India is building a Fifth Generation fighter aircraft in partnership with Russia. Is US concerned with development and wants to push F16 vipers sale to prevent India from developing its own Fifth generation fighter for next few years

Stephen Cohen answers, India needs a platform to launch precision attack weapons for COIN and other purposes, not to push the edges of aircraft technology; huge waste of money, little outcome; Ed Luttwak has written about this. We discuss the choices of platforms in Arming without Aiming, but the IAF is dominated by a fighter pilot mentality.


Deboprio asked, Hi Stephen, good to be able to talk to you today. I have keenly followed you over the years. My question for you today is, is there a possibility that the US will make some exceptions in its "extremely" intrusive weapons sales policy for India. They did it once for Israel?

Stephen Cohen answers, problem is on both sides. India has not trusted the US as a weapons supplier; in the 1960s we were very unreliable. This is changing, and India has made a few major purchases; interestingly, Israel was the channel for US technology for some time, America may be competing with Israel to be India's biggest source of military technology.


Harvinder asked, Stephen do u think that Pakistan will implode in the near future? 

Stephen Cohen answers, Not soon, but there are deep problems. See the "Bellagio Pakistan Papers" on the Brookings website for a comprehensive overview, looking ahead five years.


harpreet asked, Is the US willing to sell and give F35 planes and also willing to transfer tachnolgy knowing India has a policy of self reliance. The problem is teh past history and record of the US is not good.We never know when the US stops supllzing the parts when they are needed most. 

Stephen Cohen answers, The Indians will ensure that they have enough spares so a cut-off won't affect them; more importantly, India is trying to be part of the production system so the US will be dependent on Indian production!!

Clever idea, might ensure reliability in the future, but we also need to think of the contingencies that might stress US-Indian relations. I'd say that the biggest would be another India-Pakistan crisis. See the book I wrote with Indian and Pakistani colleagues, "Four Crises and a Peace Process" for a discussion of likely crises. WE did this just before Mumbai.


mgs asked, Why US is not wiping out terrorism from Pakistan totally & handing over a new terror free Pakistan to the people of Pakistan, so that they can have a real democracy in Pakistan.

Stephen Cohen answers, Why isn't India doing these things? Or China? Outsiders have little leverage over a state of 180 million people, with nuclear weapons, and deep political and identity problems.


logic asked, I think instead of getting into just Arms sales deals, India should look for deals with nations that can partner with India on developing arms. I think Indian government should put forth a project, just like the UID project....but this should be for research and development in defence. Indian should put more and more money into that. America and UK invested $2 bn to develop the nuclear bomb during WWII ...which made it have the upper hand. we need to do something like that and stop depending on foreign technology. 

Stephen Cohen answers, Indian policy is, and has been recently, to get the technology and to do major offsets when purchasing weapons from abroad. it needs to get the private sector involved in this, and reform the DRDO. But the services also have unrealistic goals, and there are very few politicians with defence expertise.


vas asked, Hello Mr Cohen, how are you? Do you think India should handle the problems regarding Pakistan terrorism by itself like Israel instead of depending on US

Stephen Cohen answers, The states supporting terrorism in Israel are not nuclear-armed, this makes a difference in the calculations regarding responses. The Indian military has been trying to find a way to deter such attacks, one problem is that the Pakistani state itself may not be able to control activities on its own territory. It is a very tough problem, I would not be surprised to see more crises, and even the US is in a similar position--what would we do if there were a successful attack on the US from Pakistan and the Pak government was not involved??


Shanky asked, Do you think that earlier US foreign policies and covert operations have already created the existing chaos in South Asia including the creation of B Laden? Should there not be a change in approach? Such as openness instead of 'counterbalancing' by playing one country up agaist another when one of the countries get out of synch with US - such as with India, Pakistan, China etc???

Stephen Cohen answers, The way we supported the Mujahideen eventually backfired, but the USSR was brought down, and that was the goal at the time. The US disengagement from Afghanistan after the Soviets left was a major mistake, but caused by engagement in the Balkans. NO good deed goes unpunished.


VijayGowda asked, Your book title is Arming without Aiming. What in your opinion is really wrong with India's military?

Stephen Cohen answers, Ah, read the book. There is much good about the Indian miltary, notably its non-involvement in politics, we pinpoint the absence of informed civilian expertise as one of the major problems, plus a lack of coordination among the services and an absence of a mechanism to develop military and security strategy


singhisking asked, Mr Cohen, what do you think will be the major outcome from this visit?

Stephen Cohen answers, I've been saying here that US-Indian relations are so good that they can't be spoiled by a presidential visit. a joke, with an element of truth. The symbolism is VERY important, notably Obama staying at the Taj in Mumbai. I was there a month ago, it is creepy staying in a room that had been burned out by the terrorists-- There will be important economic announcements, and perhaps something on military and nuclear cooperation, but the symbolism is very important.


Jignesh asked, What is the US objective behind this state visit. What all are they looking to gain from this? What is there in it for India?

Stephen Cohen answers, Final answer, then I have to get back to some other media obligations, it's been interesting doing this. When I wrote "India: Emerging Power" in 2001 I noted that India was becoming a country that the US had to work with, and consult with, not ignore, and this as come true. Every president will have to pay attention to India, even though there are problems with India from a US perspective. Basically, many of the world's problems, including global warming, terrorism, equitable growth, eradication of poverty, arms control, nuclear proliferation, etc. cannot be dealt with without Indian cooperation, and US-Indian cooperation on these issues is an American national goal; further, support for good ties to India is bipartisan, it crosses party lines in America. Both countries have hangups from the past, and there are real differences over Afghanistan and Pakistan, but working together on these and other problems is the way to go. Thanks for the questions, check out my latest pubs and blogs on the Brookings website. Steve Cohen