Kenneth R. Weinstein, President and CEO of Hudson Institute, says India should seriously rethink the S-400 purchase deal with Russia.
Kenneth R. Weinstein is President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hudson Institute, the Washington-based policy organisation dedicated to promoting a secure, free and prosperous future through US leadership and international engagement. Weinstein joined Hudson Institute in 1991, and was named President and CEO in March 2011. Under Weinstein’s leadership, Hudson Institute has grown significantly, developing close ties with officials and opinion leaders in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Weinstein serves as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the oversight body for US government civilian international media, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. During his recent visit to India, he spoke exclusively to The Sunday Guardian on a host of issues related to the India-US defence relationship, Indo-Pacific security and the Middle East. Excerpts:
Q: How important is India-US defence relationship in the new world order?
A: The India-US defence partnership—officially now “a major defence partnership”—is critical to both countries. India and the US are like-minded democracies, which respect freedom of speech, pluralism and other democratic principles. There is, moreover, great affection between our two peoples. The solid foundation on which this major defence partnership lies gives it strength to face the unique set of geostrategic challenges China poses.
A good India-US defence relationship is, therefore, crucial, not only for India and the US, but for the fate of freedom in the entire Indo-Pacific. India and the Indian Ocean, in turn, have become so important in US strategic thinking that the Trump administration renamed our Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command. We have adopted the strategy, first developed in Japan, to focus on promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road strategy.
The increasingly important trilateral India-Japan-US partnership—embodied in the trilateral summits between leaders of our three countries at the last two G-20 summits, and through increased coordination and cooperation—has come about because of increasingly shared strategic mindsets on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific.
The US thinks that for India, the era of non-alignment should be over. Both the US President and the Indian Prime Minister were eager to enhance our defence relationship so that the two nations could become major defence partners. One only needs to look at how China and Pakistan have been behaving in recent times: they worked hand-in-hand in the United Nations on the debate over the revocation of Article 370 by India. China openly backed Pakistan on the issue. China’s hypocrisy on Kashmir should be disturbing to all Indians: China emphasised the need to block new residents from coming into Kashmir, but has been flooding Xinjiang with Han Chinese in its efforts to eradicate Uighur culture in China. And Russia is China’s near-ally on a wide range of critical issues; China and Russia engage in major defence exercises and seem to be on track for some kind of defence convergence.
Q: Do you think India’s S-400 deal with India is an obstacle in the India-US defence relationship?
A: The purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system is a major impediment to deepening the India-US defence relationship. If anyone in Delhi doubts this, look at the tensions with Turkey, a NATO ally, which went ahead with its purchase of the S-400. With that purchase, Turkey was excluded from the F-35 fighter jet programme and now faces the risk of CATSAA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions. I would like to urge India to seriously rethink the S-400 purchase deal, which might even open India to CATSAA sanctions, which are aimed at Russia, not India. But the purchase could undermine some of the significant progress we have made as major defence partners.
We have made progress on the question of industrial security in India, which is key to opening India further to defence cooperation with the US. American defence companies need to be engaged for the Indian market, including for moving production further into India to bring India into the democratic nation defence supply chain, which would be critical to India’s industrial base, especially as hi-tech platforms proliferate in the future. The S-400 purchase could be a major roadblock here as well.
Q: Why is it that India is still not ready to look beyond Moscow?
A: Delhi looks favourably towards Moscow because of the Cold War legacy of the India-Russia relationship. Those days are long gone; there is far greater strategic convergence with the US today as a growing number of serious strategists in India recognise. Non-alignment makes no sense in the face of the China challenge.
Q: What is your opinion on India’s two foundational military pacts with the US, which have already been signed, while the third pact is in the pipeline?
A: The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) are critical to promoting greater defence cooperation and allowing India access to critical defence equipment. We need to go further and try to wrap up the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), especially in an era when high technology, precision weaponry and persistent surveillance are essential.
The high technology security challenge is very critical to India as the China challenge goes well beyond the infrastructure challenge posed by the Belt & Road Initiative, which seeks to encircle India by giving China critical access to strategic chokepoints. China is seeking to build domination of the information sector as well. Pakistan, which is now a dependency of China, has become a laboratory for the Chinese surveillance state, which uses technology to protect governments from their people.
China, we should keep in mind, wants to gain access to data around the globe for its strategic advancement and is spending massively to attain it. Huawei, for example, has been found by intelligence agencies to pose a major security threat. It pretends to operate like a normal commercial enterprise, but its real mission is to bring countries into China’s data orbit so that information can be mined by artificial intelligence and other advance systems to give China dominance in the information sphere. That is why the government of China so heavily subsidizes Huawei. Once you accept Huawei’s 5G systems, it will be difficult to escape this unique challenge to Indian industrial security and national security.
Q: What kind of role do you see for India in the Midde East?
A: We have differing perspectives on the Middle East. You view it as West Asia, and as home to millions of Indian citizens, especially in the Gulf. Although our Middle East engagements are deep, President Donald Trump has signalled his desire to lessen our footprint in the region. The US, moreover, is gradually moving away from energy dependence on the Middle East, as we develop our massive energy reserves. India, like the other Asian nations, remains heavily dependent on Middle East energy and should come to do more to protect the flow of resources through the Persian Gulf. India has an immense strategic advantage in terms of personnel and can come, over time, to play an important role in the security of the region. We in the US should do more to make sure that India has access to the kind of naval equipment it would need to assume more responsibility.
We are especially concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions for hegemony. Iran is spreading tentacles in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as in parts of Africa. Iran seems intent on developing its nuclear capabilities. India has a long and historic relationship with Iran, but it should look at the challenges Iran poses to the stability of the region, which pose a threat to the Indian citizens also in the Gulf. India should be frank about Iran, at least behind closed doors.