The Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Adviser have asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to give its comments on having more defence attachés in Indian missions abroad. With defence diplomacy increasing, missions being understaffed and India positioning itself as an arms-selling market to smaller countries, the need for an increase in defence attachés is being felt.
India has missions in 140 countries abroad, in which there are consulates in other cities, besides embassies in capitals, thereby totalling up to 165 missions. Out of these 140 nations, defence attachés are only in approximately 90 countries, coming to a two-third of the missions. All countries do not have a dedicated defence attaché as there are not enough personnel. One attaché looks after more a cluster or group of countries. For example in Latin America, India has missions in 19 countries, but just two defence attachés looking for all of them.
Former Navy chief Admiral (Retired) Sureesh Mehta, who has been ambassador to New Zealand for three years, told this newspaper, “Our missions are under-staffed, so having a defence officer would bring in some stability. A defence attaché would be of help in matters of foreign policy. In defence matters, it depends on the criticality of the region or of the country in question.”
A senior diplomat in MEA told this newspaper, “There’s no pressing need as of now, but when it arises, it will be looked into, but yes it helps if you have a senior defence officer.”
Certain countries have shown interest in indigenously manufactured Indian products like the advanced light helicopter (ALH). Whereas some other countries have also showed interest in having joint defence exercises with India, which can be coordinated by defence attachés with ease.
For example in October last year, for the first time, Indian and Malaysian armies engaged in a table-top joint army exercise to validate fighting in a built-up area (FIBUA).