Monday, 8 August, 2022
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Days of soft power are over. Defence is the new diplomacy tool for India around the world

As India focuses on more bilateral and multilateral military exercises, it's pushing for hard power when it comes to striking defence deals.

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Last week, three Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter jets along with two C-17 aircraft and 57 Indian Air Force personnel landed in Egypt to participate in a tactical leadership programme at the Egyptian Air Force Weapon School. At the same time, INS Satpura, a 6000-tonne guided missile stealth frigate, entered Pearl Harbour in Hawaii to participate in a RIMPAC-22, an exercise in which 26 other countries are also participating. Incidentally, the Army has also been hosting its counterparts from Australia and discussions on promoting defence cooperation have taken place.

As I write this, the Navy sent inputs that INS Tarkash has been deployed for five months during which it will make 14 port calls in eleven countries in Europe, South America and Africa, even as INS Talwar made a port call to Bahrain. Not to miss out on the INS Aditya, which is making a port call at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who visited Vietnam earlier this month, is all set to visit the United Kingdom next in July and held parleys with his Malaysian counterpart this week, pitching for a stronger partnership, especially looking at the possibility of exporting the Tejas fighter aircraft.


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Defence over soft power

Traditionally, diplomacy has always been about diplomats steering the country’s interest, be it for India or anyone else. However, given the fact that plain civil diplomacy has failed to reign in China, or for that matter, Russia, over the past few years, defence has emerged as a key foreign policy instrument.

And India is not shying away. It is now focusing on defence and hard power capabilities equally as the traditional soft power. Government sources that ThePrint spoke to about changing defence dynamics say that military cooperation has emerged as a key component of diplomacy and building relationships.

Even as India focuses on more bilateral and multilateral military exercises, it is seriously pushing forward its hard power when it comes to striking defence deals. India is in talks with both Malaysia and Egypt to try and sell the Tejas fighter jets. It has already struck a deal with the Philippines for the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and is also in talks with some other countries, including Vietnam, for more such possible sales.

Sources point out that there are detailed talks being held within the defence establishment to fine-tune a proper policy that will allow the export of defence equipment through, not just direct purchase, but also through the extension of credit lines or discounts. They say that the market for Indian defence equipment is very clear. While China has managed to make heavy inroads into Africa, India will focus on its immediate neighbours and those who have a running problem with China—Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and ASEAN.

Moreover, they also say that Africa is still an open field because countries there have realised that Chinese products might be cheap but not dependable. “China might give you huge loans and cheap products but it is like a python’s grip which gets stronger every second till one is left balling for breath,” a source explained. They argue that the way forward for India is focusing big on defence opportunities to create and cement relations with like-minded countries.


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Case for PSUs

ThePrint had reported last year that the Narendra Modi government has taken a decision that it will be making a serious effort in presenting itself as an “alternative to China” when it comes to providing quality defence items. This, the sources had then said, will not only help New Delhi check China’s policy of encircling India but also bolster its image as a security partner for friendly countries.

As part of the process, India has already come up with a list of over 150 items that are available for exports. It has also set up an aggressive target of $5 billion worth of defence exports by 2025. Sources said that while the focus has been on defence PSU-manufactured goods, there needs to be a bigger focus on handholding the private sector when it comes to exports.

“Be it the US, French or the Brits, they have always pushed for their private firms to get deals. This is what the Indian government should also do. Why just push for Defence PSUs? Why not private firms who are making quality items that are now being used by the Indian armed forces,” a source in the Indian defence industry said.

The sources said there has been a positive change as far as the government’s push for them is concerned but more can be done.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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