Rama Krishna Sangem
Diplomatic relations between big countries are mostly dictated by trade deals in general and arms purchases in specific, if we go by the transactions of India for the last few decades. Though aid is offered as sop to poorer countries by the rich ones, it is indirectly influenced by long term commercial interests – if not immediate results. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four day tour to US next week – from June 21 – 24 – too confirms this pattern.
Though Modi as PM went to the US for about six times till now, this is his first state visit – means with full state honours by the state of US. The PM will be officially received by President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden with gun salute at White House on June 22, Thursday. Biden and Jill will host a state dinner at White House on the night. Modi will address the joint session of US congress, for a second time.
With this, Modi will join a select group of four world leaders to address the US congress for more than once – after British PM Winston Churchill, Israeli PMs – Benjamin Netanyahu and Yitizhak Shamir and South African president Nelson Mandela. PM Modi will also be hosted by US Vice-President Kamala Harris, an Indian origin at the helm of US.
Defence cooperation vital for ties
We will hear a lot of mutual praises and admiration from the leaders of both the sides. A new global order with the US and India is definitely evolving in 21st century. But, underlying feature of all this bonhomie is defence deals, usually called defence cooperation. We all know, India will be the buyer and the US will be the seller or supplier. We will be signing MoUs for acquiring GE 414 engines, 31 armed drones and other defence electronic items from the US.
Though the exact figures are not available now, it is estimated that the total worth of deals would be around 3 billion US dollars – Rs 25,000 crore. India has a shopping list ready for these items for some months. However, US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan and Defence Secretary Antony Blinken who came to India recently fine tuned the list – by adding more items and offering more concessions – of transfer of critical technology.
What we can claim as an achievement this time is the US is agreeing to transfer critical technologies to India, so that we can manufacture those 414 fighter jet engines here, by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited. Not just the US, any major arms exporter in the world usually won’t transfer technologies of their supplies. They offer only some minimum training to our staff for repairs and maintenance. This time, we insisted on tech transfer and we got it.
In the initial years of our Independence, or Cold War days, India hugely depended on Soviet Union for defence deals – right from submarines to tanks and missiles. Even for single repairs, Soviet engineers used to come to India to fix them. After US-India civilian nuclear deal in 2008, we started looking at US for defence imports, besides some European countries like the UK, France and Germany.
Of course, India is now exporting some defecne equipment to some smaller countries – more than a dozen of them. But, these exports are minor in nature ,like bullets, bullet proof jackets and spare parts of battle tanks etc. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh set a target of improving efficiency to our ordnance factories – 51 in total. But, it will some decades by the time India becomes self sufficient in defeance sector. Till then, we should continue to buy them.