For much of the Cold War, India remained “non-aligned” in theory and pro-Soviet in practice. That is now slowly beginning to change.
The latest evidence is last week’s defence ministry contract with Chicago-based Boeing Co. to provide eight state-of-the-art aircraft for maritime reconnaissance. Estimated at $2.1 billion, this is India’s largest deal with an American military vendor.
Most of India’s military arsenal still comprises ageing Russian machinery. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India continued to purchase Russian weapons such as Sukhoi fighter jets, failing to diversify its arsenal. In this case, New Delhi seems to have acknowledged that it cannot use 25-year-old Soviet Ilyushin aircraft to patrol its seas. And instead of relying on its Russian patrons, the government has decided to enter the global market. November’s terror attacks in Mumbai further demonstrate the need to secure our borders with modern technology.
If New Delhi is interested in procuring more frontline military hardware, it can start with relaxing the “offset” requirement that forces foreign vendors to invest 30-50% of their contract earnings into local technology advancement.
The Boeing contract comes on the heels of a $170 million deal in September with the US for anti-ship Harpoon missiles. Since 2002, arms trade between India and the US has included Hercules transport aircraft, radar units and a landing port dock.
India is buying from the US because Boeing and Lockheed Martin offer the best bang for the buck. But beyond commercial incentives, such trade has geostrategic implications. After last year’s nuclear deal, New Delhi’s relations with Washington are at their zenith. These arms deals add to bilateral collaboration that would benefit both nations, even contributing to regional stability.
This collaboration was absent a decade ago when Washington imposed sanctions after the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests. Now, military cooperation between the two liberal democracies has not just returned to the status quo ante, it has grown. Unlike the Cold War era of non-alignment, this partnership can help India rise both economically and geopolitically.
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