December 5, 2022

The Ukraine’s Conflict is a reminder why India’s ‘AtmaNirbhar Defence’ is the need of the hour?

By Arpan A Chakravarty

Thucydides is on a roll these days; this ancient Greek historian lived to document in the times of the Peloponnesian War, on one of the occasions when he was recording the war between the Spartans and Athenians; he dramatised the Athenian envoy’s famously alluding that the strong does what their power renders possible, while the weak suffer what their weakness entails. He further expands saying, “the ideals of justice only apply to equals” and in those days, there was no international law to govern conflicts.

Fast forward to 2022, with the ‘development’ in Ukraine; the United States sponsored a motion in the United Nations Security Council against Russia’s ‘aggression’ while ‘deploring it in the strongest terms’, eleven countries voted on the motion. With no surprises, India, China and UAE abstained from voting and New Delhi laid down five points of contention with each word carefully crafted explaining its stance on abstaining to vote, before Russia used their veto powers rendering it useless.

With the wave of wide-ranging sanctions against Russia from various countries, New Delhi’s stance has remained tight on ‘principles’ and ‘interest’ as balancing the national interest of the country trumps everything else. This can be clearly reflected through the decision of abstaining from the vote at the UNSC. So, what does it mean in terms of foreign policy and its practices? To begin with, it would mean – advancing national interest and exploiting opportunities when a global contradiction is created. Does that mean non-alignment? Or being multi-aligned with making choices which favours India? The answer would be latter. Will India impose sanctions on Russia? Overwhelmingly NO.

One cannot forget that India’s foreign policy carried major burdens from the past, with seventy-five years of Independence, New Delhi walks the tightrope of friendship between its old friend (Russia) and new friend (US and EU) during the times of conflict. India-Russia ties have been distinct due to the nature of relations; whether it is military supplies or transfer of technologies or taking initiative to negotiate between India and China in the aftermath of Galwan incident or vetoing against Kashmir issue in the UN Security Council or thwarting America’s attempt to influence 1971 Indo-Pak war outcome; Russian friendship has stood alongside when majorly all Western powers supported Pakistan. It is clear that even with immense pressure from American and European sides, India has opted to go for non-partisan position stating ‘both sides of the conflict should return to negotiating table to find a middle ground with an aim to foster dialogue and diplomacy’ which looks highly unlikely as the Russian forces are standing on the door-steps of the capital city of Kyiv.

While speaking at the Munich Security Conference, weeks ago; Indian EAM Jaishankar made it clear that ‘one does not have to burn old bridges, to forge new ones’ which was a direct hint towards the growing bon-homie towards the United States and European Union. The idea of QUAD hasn’t been particularly liked by Russia, leading to diplomatic quandary with India’s decade old strategic ties with Russia and its extensive reliance on military hardware of Russian origin.

If we take a look at Ukraine’s current predicament then it becomes clear as a day light that outsourcing a country’s national security to others and relying on imported weapons won’t do much when the real push comes to shove. On the other hand, India is not new to the concept of sanctions. After all, Americans and others had put sanctions against India in the aftermath of the Pokhran Nuclear Tests in 1998. While in the last few years India has consciously started to diversify its weapons portfolio by spreading its import of high-tech weapons from several countries, still it will have to rely on Russia for the supply of high-tech advanced weapons and defence systems in the near future. Even though Russia’s share in India’s arms imports reduced from 69.6% between 2011 and 2015 to 49.4% between 2016 and 2020, according to SIPRI, Russian made weapons continue to dominate India’s arsenal. This is where the problem lies when it comes to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. India’s procurement of the S-400 Missile defence system from Russia still faces an uncertain future because of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) imposed by the US on Russia in 2017. Imposition of newer sanctions on Russia by the US and its western allies could potentially jeopardise India’s existing as well as future defence deals with that country.

While we look into the preliminary India-Russia ties, New Delhi has been reducing its dependency on Russian defence equipment over the years. It was noted for the first time in India’s Defence Industry history, there was a 228% decrease in imports of arms, as Indigenous Defence Manufacturing was encouraged by the government. A total increase of 700% in exports was recorded in 2019-20. While it has been easy to procure equipment, Russia is the only nation which would lease nuclear submarines to India with basically no strings attached, unlike the majority of nations which do not agree to ‘Make in India’ or do technology transfers which are critical considering the region.

2014-2021- A Journey towards being ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ – Defending Bharat.

If one looks into India’s defence industry, a country that spends more than 12% of the world’s arms exports by value only exported just 0.20% of it.

(Source: SIPRI)

A culmination of Diplomacy + Capability + Platform = Resiliency.

1. India increased exports by a culmination of diplomacy, capability to manufacture and understanding of geopolitical situations. Instance: Until 2014, India did not have an exports policy for the Defence Industry. After obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the MoD, it was carried out under the Foreign Trade Policy. It was decided that India will set up an Export Promotion Body with public and private industry participation to advise the government, coordinate all export facilitation schemes of the government, and promote exports through specific marketing in target countries.

2. Technology gives India an edge, forging a long-term partnership with upcoming defence hubs. For instance, Brahmos Missiles, a collaboration between India and Russia, sold to the Philippines for $375 Million.

3. Increase in presence through the number of Military/Defence Attaché’s in countries, ergo increasing Indian footprint in the region.

4. India focused on technical objects which can be converted into export opportunities. It developed market intelligence long term strategies for defence exports while leading through example. Example of Tejas Aircraft generating interest from various countries across the globe.

5. Focusing on resupplying components and subsystems related to the weapons already exported. For instance, Dhruv, India’s indigenous built helicopter, has difficulty in finding the right countries to buy, but now, countries like Nepal and Mauritius have these helicopters.

6. India created a collaboration framework for the stakeholder suppliers, trade associations, procurement policies, and funding start-ups. For the first time, India is reducing its dependency and prioritising India’s defence eco-system through identifying the right opportunities while building foundational infrastructure for a value chain strategy for growth across India.

7. India is learning from case studies of Israel, South Korea and the United States – thus, striking the right balance between maintaining the superiority of its armed forces and the commercial benefits.

8. The entire procedure for granting NOCs for exports was overhauled and streamlined to make it time-bound and user friendly. This strategy has paid rich dividends with a 700% jump in defence exports. The actual exports could be much higher because, since 2014, many products have been removed from the defence products list. Interestingly, the private industry has a 60% share in the total exports.

9. Moreover, FICCI, SIDM, and NDIA facilitate the “Make in India” initiative, which clearly has been the guiding principles for Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) changes. Introduction of new procurement category “Buy (IDDM) – Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured” is getting priority over Buy (Global) as the government in the year 2021-22, spent 64% of its funds on India-made equipment. In one of the recent reports of Defence Ministry FY2021-22, it was seen that the Army spent 72% of its fund on Indigenous Purchases. The Navy spent 25.9% while Airforce at the lowest due to payment underway for Rafale fighters and ancillary equipment such as S400 Air Defence System.

Potential impact of newly imposed sanctions on Russia by the US and its western allies won’t be much when it comes to trade between India and Russia. However, these sanctions on Russia will certainly hamper India’s future defence procurement strategy. Therefore, it is on us to understand how the ongoing war in Ukraine makes the case for India to become self-reliant and push for more Atma-Nirbharta!

[The article was originally published in ‘THE PULSE’ with link:]

Arpan A Chakravarty serves as an Assistant Director – Strategy at Alexis Group. He is passionate about law, defence and foreign affairs. He is multi-lingual and has worked with the Ministry of External Affairs, India; Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), Indian Army Think Tank; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) among others. Views expressed in this opinion are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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