September 3, 2019

India Steps Up: Securing the Indian Ocean Region

The following article was published for the Indian Ocean Conference 2019 held in the Maldives on September 3-4, 2019. 

The Indian Ocean is important for India and for the world. It remains a major conduit for international trade, particularly energy trade, as well as the exchange of people and ideas. These reflect historical antecedents, including ancient and medieval trading networks that once linked Zanzibar to Muscat, Basra to Gujarat, the Coromandel coast to Aceh, and eastwards to Indochina, China’s Pearl River Delta, and Nagasaki. But in more recent years, regional linkages have assumed modern characteristics as the global economy has developed. The Indian Ocean littoral is now home to some of the fastest growing regions of the world, from South and Southeast Asia to East Africa and the Gulf. Additionally, the Ocean basin is an important source of natural resources, including mineral, energy, and fishing resources.

At the same time, the Indian Ocean is under-governed. It remains vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis. It has several weak and fragile states along its coast. It still witnesses dangerous activities by non-state actors, from smugglers and traffickers to terrorists and pirates. And the region’s institutional architecture, while much improved, is less well-developed than other maritime regions of the world.

It is amid this backdrop that the security of the Indian Ocean is undergoing significant changes to its security. The most significant change is the permanent entry into the Indian Ocean of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). As India’s previous Navy Chief Sunil Lanba said earlier this year:

Since 2008, there has been a permanent presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean region in the form of an anti-piracy escort force. The 31st anti-piracy escort force is presently in the Gulf of Aden. So at any given time there are 6 to 8 Chinese navy ships in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Also, two years ago they commissioned their first overseas facility, or base, in Djibouti.

The stated aim of this deployment is to protect their trade, which is flowing through this area, from piracy. That included deployed submarines for anti-piracy operations, which is the most unlikely platform to be used for this role. There is no doubt they are spending a huge sum of money in developing their military capability. They are modernising their forces, they are modernising the command structure. And in my opinion, no navy has grown so rapidly in the last 200 years as the Chinese navy. They’ve added 80 new ships in the last five years. So the Chinese navy is a force, and it is a force which is here to stay.

China’s Navy is not the only one to have increased its presence in the region. Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force now also operates actively in the Indian Ocean, as does the U.S. Navy, the maritime forces of several European powers, and Russia. The Indian Ocean is no longer just under-governed, it is increasingly contested. For regional navies, including India’s, this presents new kinds of challenges.

In response to these changes, the Indian Navy – the Indian Ocean’s most capable resident maritime force – has stepped up, especially since 2017. It has been assisted by other elements of India’s defence establishment, including the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, space and cyber assets, military diplomacy, defence industry, and civilian agencies. Moreover, it has benefited tremendously from partnerships with other countries: both resident Indian Ocean states and partners among the major powers. There are at least five ways in which India – led by the Navy – is attempting to better manage security in the Indian Ocean.

The first is that since 2017, the Indian Navy has stepped up its patrols in the Indian Ocean. Seven zones were identified for permanent patrols by armed surface vessels, submarines, or aircraft: the Straits of Malacca, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the northern Bay of Bengal, the Laccadive islands and the Maldives, the northern Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the exclusive economic zones of Mauritius and the Seychelles. These mission-based deployments are a departure from the past, when the Navy participated in flag waving, port calls, or periodic visits for surveillance or other missions. The current efforts include coordinated patrols with local forces, whether with Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia, or other patrolling and security efforts in conjunction with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles. Such operations are also bolstered by Indian humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), search and rescue, and evacuation operations. Over the past decade, India has executed or assisted in such operations in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Mozambique, and Yemen, among other places. The operational reach of the Indian Navy has also improved with a host of bilateral agreements signed over the last few years, including with the United States, France, Singapore, and others. From Sabang in Indonesia to Salalah in Oman, the Indian armed forces today have unprecedented access across the Indian Ocean region.

The second area has involved improvements in maritime domain awareness (MDA). India has signed white shipping agreements – for sharing information about known commercial shipping – with over thirty countries. It recently established an information fusion centre – the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) – in Gurgaon, with the intention to link with similar centres in both Singapore and Madagascar. This would give a real-time and all-encompassing picture of the presence of vessels and other developments across the Indian Ocean. MDA coordination mechanisms with other countries – the Maldives, Mauritius, and the Seychelles – continue, and India has benefited from the acquisition of new platforms, such as P-8i maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which bring down the cost and efficiency of MDA activities.

A third major development has involved a host of new strategic coordination mechanisms, as well as the gradual development of new institutions for governing the Indian Ocean region. The evolution of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) are well-known. But these are being buttressed by a network of bilateral and trilateral dialogues. These include configurations such as India-U.S.-Japan, India-Japan-Australia, and India-Indonesia-Australia, as well as quadrilateral conversations. Such coordination mechanisms extend to strategic assessments, working level information sharing, and infrastructure coordination activities.

A fourth development has been growing interoperability between the Indian military and others. This is reflected in a large and growing number of military exercises involving armies, air forces, and navies. Today, India holds regular exercises of different scales and frequencies with almost every Indian Ocean littoral state, as well as the United States, Russia, Japan, China, France, and the United Kingdom. Breakthrough exercises with Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Australia are but some of the new changes reflected in this area. Such exercises have moved beyond basic passing exercises (PASSEX) to more sophisticated anti-submarine warfare and mid-air refuelling. 

The final element of India’s step-up in the Indian Ocean involves capacity building. This is reflected even in an area such as equipment, despite India’s poor capabilities in that department. India has provided coastal radar systems, transport aircraft, and offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to a number of smaller countries around the Indian Ocean basin. Training too has increased, particularly for South Asian and African countries; in Southeast Asia this extends to combat aircraft pilots and submarine sailors. And there is also the development of military and civilian infrastructure. Among other projects, India has helped develop a container port in Chabahar in Iran as well as a port in Sittwe in Myanmar, with the objective of linking these ports to north-south connectivity infrastructure. Additional infrastructure projects are being negotiated with other countries in the region, including island nations.

Taken together, these developments reflect a significant change in India’s presence and activity in the Indian Ocean, driven by both the traditional and non-traditional security dynamics that are changing the region’s landscape. These efforts are largely cooperative in nature, based on transparency, sustainability, and consent. They are part of a broader effort to preserve the Indian Ocean as a free, open, and inclusive zone, one that witnesses dampened – rather than heightened – security competition.

August 8, 2019

The Indigenisation of India's Defence Industry


The following report was released by Brookings India on August 8, 2019. The full report can be downloaded here.

Executive Summary

An indigenous defence industry is a vital objective for India given its security environment and strategic objectives. India has a large and growing defence budget and a long history of defence industrial production. However, the country remains heavily reliant on defence imports, particularly for major platforms, while its own exports are extremely meagre. Although several high-level committees have been established to address the problem of defence industrial indigenisation, very few of the necessary steps have been taken. In part, this is because India faces a number of dilemmas in trying to reform its defence industry: the normal rules of market economics do not apply; ideal objectives of quality, cost, and timeframes cannot be achieved simultaneously; defence budgets remain susceptible to cuts; the nature of defence supply chains is changing; and little heed has been paid to policies to maximise technological absorption. Moreover, major stakeholders confront their own challenges: India’s powerful defence public sector faces conflicts of interest and is resistant to change; the armed services provide unrealistic qualitative requirements; the Ministry of Defence lacks specialisation; the Finance Ministry discourages long-term spending; and the political leadership lacks expertise and is reluctant to make decisions due to political perceptions. To address these diverse challenges, efforts should be made to ensure predictable long-term requirements and create a more level playing field between the public and private sectors. Further, a mechanism must be found to ensure predictable capital expenditure, in order to incentivise investment. Without such steps being taken, India will continue to struggle in its quest for defence indigenisation.


Read the full report here. 

July 31, 2019

From the iPhone to Huawei: The New Geopolitics of Technology


The following article originally appeared in Order from Chaos on July 31, 2019 and was republished by Lawfare on August 1, 2019.

In meetings in various international capitals this summer—from a gathering of defense ministers in Singapore to a meeting of economic policy heavyweights and CEOs in Paris—discussions frequently revolved around the impact of technology. Of course, technological developments have long had implications for the global economy and international security, whether the advent of gunpowder or the railways, or the mastery of radio or nuclear fission. But with the “return of history” we may also be witnessing a return—after an anomalous period of positive-sum progress—of the geopolitics of technology. The scale and speed of this technological change makes it difficult to completely internalize the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the world’s major powers.

Essentially, different approaches to technological development, and specifically the use of data, threaten to divide the world and shape the contours of geopolitical competition, contributing further to the securitization of technological competition. Instead of a “clash of civilizations,” we could be in for a “clash of automations.”

The iPhone Era 
The past two to three decades may well have been an aberration. They were marked by an acceleration of globalization: the faster, cheaper, and more efficient flow of goods, people, capital, information, and energy. This period witnessed rapid advances in broadband and satellite telecommunications, accelerated microprocessor speeds, more efficient energy use, the evolution of global financial markets, and the dispersal of manufacturing supply chains. The apotheosis of this world was the iPhone.

But there was an inherent compromise at the heart of the iPhone era of globalization. The United States and other advanced economies remained world leaders in innovation, deriving benefits from the resulting intellectual property and their marketing power. Meanwhile, actual manufacturing of these products shifted to lower income countries, notably China, and also parts of East and Southeast Asia. Lower cost services—software development, research, and back-end work—were outsourced to places like India. The global economy grew and everyone benefited, even if some—such as China, the United States, and India—benefited more than others.

The Next Wave of Technologies 
But the new era of technologies, many of which are already emerging, may not simply build upon these developments—rather, in counterintuitive ways they may in fact undermine the globalizing effects of earlier breakthroughs. To date, many new developments are simply buzzwords to most consumers, so it is important to break down what the new set of technological developments will encompass. They can be grouped into six broad areas. The combinations of these technologies may well form the basis of what some have described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

  • Computing and storage, both of which will increasingly migrate to remote servers (the “cloud”), bringing down the cost and increase the scale of data storage. This could have potential implications for security and communications, especially features such as distributed record-keeping (blockchain) and new developments in data storage.
  • Telecommunications, specifically the developments of a fifth generation (5G) of infrastructure, which may operate up to 20 times faster than existing systems, with low latency (delay in data communication). This will enable a vast array of applications, including driverless cars and machine-to-machine communications.
  • Artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, which involves fast and accurate pattern recognition by feeding vast troves of data to computers in order to “teach” them. This can then be applied to language, visual imagery, and other domains to resemble a form of intelligence.
  • Automation, including the online integration of physical objects: cyber physical systems (CPS) or the “internet of things” (IoT). Think health monitors, remotely-managed factory robots, or internet-enabled security systems.
  • Manufacturing, including in materials, optics, sensors, and additive manufacturing (“3D printing”).
  • Energy, particularly renewable and mobile energy sources and smarter management systems.

When combined, these changes are already beginning to affect every aspect of globalization. The emerging sectors in which this will be felt directly by consumers include social media for information, financial technologies (“fintech” e.g. digital payments) for capital flows, e-commerce (both wholesale and retail) for goods trade, e-services (including peer-to-peer businesses, automation, and digital identification) affecting mobility and social services, and changes to the sourcing and management of energy. Most “unicorns”—start-ups valued at over $1 billion—would fall in one or more of these domains. Consider QQ, Stripe, Rakuten, Oyo, or Tesla. Today’s tech giants are already investing heavily in future technologies from which start-ups are benefiting: Google in machine learning, Samsung in 5G, Amazon and Alibaba in automation, and so forth.

Three Approaches to Data
Underlying most—although not all—of these changes will be a simple philosophical choice: Who will own, control, and manage users’ data? Access to data will ultimately determine the quality of products and market share. Decisions on whether private companies, the state, or users themselves have ownership over individuals’ data will have tremendous implications for the future of the global economy and for geopolitics.

Broadly, three different approaches to this issue have emerged. In the United States, major companies like Facebook, Netflix, Google, and Amazon retain access to vast amounts of consumers’ data which they have successfully monetized. This reflects a culture in which private sector-led innovation predominates, with a focus on research and development, design, and marketing. This model has allowed the U.S. tech sector to retain its international competitiveness (the five most valuable publicly traded companies today are U.S.-based tech firms), although often at the expense of consumer rights and privacy.

A second model is embodied by the European Union, in which citizen and consumer rights are given priority, even at the cost of companies’ competitiveness. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which gives individuals control of their personal data, best captures this ethos.

The biggest change, however, is the emergence of a third model in China, defined by a form of state-backed technological competition in which the government has greater access to citizens’ data. When combined with a protected market and significant financial resources, Chinese firms such as Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba, ZTE, and Xiaomi are now able to compete with U.S. and European tech giants. In certain areas, digital payments and 5G, Chinese firms have surged ahead of competitors from other countries.

Although all three models reflect a tendency to promote national champions—based on the comparative advantages of U.S., European, and Chinese societies—the dynamics that underpinned the iPhone phase of globalization is fraying. The likely outcome is a more fractured and competitive technological landscape. This could well mark the emergence of what one European economist recently called the “Huawei phase” of globalization: a phase that could in fact witness globalization’s retreat.

The Re-securitization of Technology
The geopolitics of these emerging technological developments are already being felt. China continues to project the benefits of its model. Beijing is no longer content to restrict it to its own territory: For the continuing success of a firm like Huawei, it will have to be able to compete in the global marketplace.

This is resulting in a backlash. Europe is opting to double down on its approach, and regulate tech companies into submission. By contrast, the United States has adopted a more confrontational attitude, including cracking down on exports of technology in 14 critical areas. 5G telecommunications—an area in which U.S. firms are non-competitive—has become a priority political issue for the White House, which has explicitly targeted Chinese companies such as Huawei. This is motivated less by concerns about spying, but rather by the belief that 5G will soon underwrite a wide array of critical infrastructure—port management, transportation fleets, and electrical grids. Consequently, giving a foreign state-backed company access to the backbone of one’s economy is a non-starter. Other countries, such as Japan and Australia, have reached similar conclusions. As these decisions are already making clear, the re-securitization of technology is underway.

July 24, 2019

Four hurdles to brighter India–US relations



The following article, excerpted below, originally appeared on East Asia Forum on 24 July 2019. The full text can be accessed here

India has denied US President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he had been asked to be a ‘mediator or arbitrator’ in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. India’s position has long been that the issue has to be resolved bilaterally. So it is no surprise that the media reaction in India has been critical, much as it was when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited New Delhi in June and Trump met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka.

But the state of commentary masks a number of important realities in the India–US relationship. One is the generally positive views of the United States in India. Only 9 per cent of Indians had an unfavourable view of the United States in a 2017 survey, the lowest among the 37 countries polled. A 2018 survey indicated that 75 per cent of India’s strategic community believed the United States to be India’s most important partner on global issues.

Although relations appear to be getting more transactional in the ‘America First’ and ‘India First’ era, the primary structural impediments to an India–US strategic partnership have eroded over the past two decades. Most notable is the removal of US sanctions on India after 2005 for its nuclear weapons program. The United States has become the second largest defence equipment provider to India by value after Russia and has supported India’s membership in major international organisations.

The trade relationship, which has grown from US$64 billion to US$88 billion over the past five years, underestimates the interconnectedness of the two economies. Nearly 2000 US-based multinational companies now operate in India, many conducting important research and development. US-based multinationals are major job creators in India. Indian investment in the United States has risen almost ten-fold over the past decade. For US tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon, India often represents their largest or fastest-growing user base.

Furthermore, in contrast to US relations with adversaries such as China and Russia or allies and neighbours such as Germany and Mexico, US ties with India have remained on an upward trajectory despite the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration. Cooperation on counterterrorism, maritime security in the Indian Ocean, infrastructure coordination, defence technology and energy has deepened. There are also hints of some convergence on future telecommunications technology.

Both countries have become more vocal in their support for freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea. They both have concerns about China’s Belt and Road Initiative and share similar views about the normative basis of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific as an underpinning for regional order. Given China’s continuing assertiveness and rising concerns about the arc of instability stretching from Pakistan to Yemen, the strategic logic of the relationship is being propelled forward.

However, the strategic elements of the relationship are not always on the same plane as bilateral relations. There are four big challenges that confront the relationship today. These topped the agenda during both Pompeo’s and Trump’s meeting with Modi.

July 12, 2019

Five Myths about India and the Indo-Pacific




The following article appeared as China-India Brief #141 on 12 July 2019, published by the Centre for Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
India is among a growing number of countries–including JapanAustralia, the United StatesFranceIndonesia, and now (collectively) the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)–to have officially embraced the terminology of the Indo-Pacific. Essentially, the term recognises the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a single strategic space, emphasises the importance of the maritime domain for commerce and security, and elevates the profile of the Indian Ocean. It reflects a reality in which China is active in and around both bodies of water and where a number of other powers now operate and have strong interests in a wider region. While Chinese officials and analysts have approached the Indo-Pacific concept with a mixture of disdain and concern, India has made an effort to describe it in positive terms: “the Indo-Pacific is for something–not against somebody–and that something is peace, security, stability, prosperity and rules”. Nevertheless, India’s approach to the Indo-Pacific has been subject to a considerable degree of confusion, not just around the world but also in India itself. It is important to address several common misperceptions.
First, for India, the Indo-Pacific is not a strategy. “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. However, the Indo-Pacific does inform India’s regional strategy, known as the ‘Act East’ policy. Its precursor, the ‘Look East’ policy arose in the early 1990s, with a focus on improving economic links–including investment, trade, and institutional cooperation–with Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. But with the rise of China, weaker regional institutions, growing security imperatives, and deeper interconnectedness in the broader region, Look East has evolved naturally into Act East. This evolution represents the geographical broadening of India’s engagement, the widening of its agenda to encompass security (among other issues), and a greater priority and focus on delivery. Essentially, a “free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific” pithily describes the objectives and scope of India’s Act East Policy.
Second, India did not adopt an Indo-Pacific framework at the behest of the United States or any other country, but rather because it reflected Indian interests. If nothing else, the chronology bears this out. Indian scholars and analysts such as C. Raja MohanShyam Saran, and Gurpreet Khurana deliberated and wrote about the Indo-Pacific at considerable length between 2007 and 2012. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopted the terminology in a speech in Tokyo in 2013 (around the same time as it was incorporated into Japanese and Australian official parlance). Modi built upon this, including in a major foreign policy address in January 2017. In fact, among the first uses of the term by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was in a bilateral joint statement with India in June 2017, during which the two countries described themselves as “democratic stalwarts” and “responsible stewards” in the Indo-Pacific. It was only later that year that the Trump administration elaborated upon the concept of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ in a speech by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, an address by Trump in Vietnam, and the National Security Strategy. Rather than an American concept being foisted upon India, the Indo-Pacific is very much a ‘Made in India’ product.
Third, the Indo-Pacific construct is not empty rhetoric on India’s part, but rather has had real policy implications. One is the creation of a new Indo-Pacific division in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which is meant to encompass and coordinate multilateral policy related to the Indian OceanASEANEast Asia, and the South Pacific. The more consequential changes have been in terms of defence cooperation, particularly since 2017. New developments include year-round military patrols in the Indian Ocean, improved maritime domain awareness in collaboration with partner countries, increased Indian military training and technical support for Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mauritius, the Maldives, and others, a proliferation of bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral strategic and defence dialogues, breakthrough military exercises with Japan and Australia, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as far afield as Mozambique, the Philippines, and Fiji. Indian financing for infrastructure projects has also increased considerably in places like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. However, other dimensions of engagement have lagged, including trade policy and air connectivity.
Fourth, the Indo-Pacific does not necessarily cede the continental space, as many have literally interpreted it, just as a continental appellation such as Asia does not exclude the maritime domain. North-south connectivity is just as important for India as east-west. New Delhi’s outreach to Russia (including on Indo-Pacific affairs), its membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, its inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan in a regional institution to promote Bay of Bengal cooperation, and its development of commercial ports at Chabahar in Iran and Sittwe in Myanmar for improved north-south connectivity are all closely intertwined with Indo-Pacific outreach efforts.
Fifth and finally, India sees the basis of a “free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific” as very much consistent with ASEAN centrality and unity, rather than a divisive construct. Indeed, in 2018, Modi made efforts to reassure Southeast Asian states on that account. Additionally, while the emphasis on inclusivity was meant for Southeast Asia, India does not see a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific as excluding China. After all, China is a major power in the Pacific, it has a permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean following the establishment of a support base in Djibouti, and its regional economic profile is increasing rapidly as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (about which India does harbour concerns). China is among the largest economic and trade partners of almost all countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and India too has invested in deepening its economic and social engagement with China. While the Indo-Pacific concept has been driven in large part by the manner of China’s rise and behaviour, its widespread adoption–including by India–is not about containing China. It is about ensuring transparency, the peaceful resolution of disputes, market-driven trade and connectivity, and strong norms and rules, in an effort to minimise security competition and encourage shared prosperity in an increasingly contested region. Should China embrace similar objectives, it would only bode well for the future of the Indo-Pacific.