Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain, and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
“This is a wonderful school in my home state. If you come, I will introduce you. Hope you can do it.” – was scribbled at the bottom of an invite. The invite went from Westminster College in a tiny midwestern town of Fulton, MO went to Winston Churchill with a note from Harry Truman. Churchill had just lost UK General Elections, he traveled across the pond just as Europe was waking up amidst blood, gore, rubbles, and, the horrors of Holocaust. A great change of scenery, I am sure.
Churchill acknowledged the reality in his Westminster speech on March 6, 1945 – titled “The Sinews of Peace”, but better known as the “Iron Curtain Speech” – saying “From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”. To counter Iron Curtain, Churchill called for a special relationship between the US and UK. Further, he continued
“Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means… the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers …”
Thus was born the idea of continuation of an intimate relationship between the intelligence apparatus of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US – commonly referred to as “Five Eyes” or “FVEY”. Through multiple iterations, Five Eyes intelligence alliance still exists and is critical to maintaining global stability even as the Russian menace recedes to the background
Churchill was unapologetic about his conviction in Anglo-Saxon superiority, he considered history as driven by great white men, only. He spent part of his youth in India, where he took part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples” with a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”. His view of “natives” – non-whites of the British Empire – was simple, they should “willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown”. Otherwise, he reasoned “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.” No wonder that five eyes for a saner world did not include a sixth element – India, home to 194 million people who speak English, the second-most in the world. We are not here for a do-over of old battles, but, looking into the next fifty years a most sane thing to do will be to include India into the most exclusive international club.
This time the curtain falls east but the challenges are identical, in context.
Even with two decades spent in investments, I heard of the China Evergrande Group, a Chinese real estate behemoth, only last week. I should have paid closer attention. That Evergrande – with liabilities over 2% of Chinese GDP with untold amount off-the-books, vast amounts coming due – is causing tremors only indicates that the bubbling rot that lies beneath, even the Dragon Lid cannot gloss it over. Chinese response to Evergrande so far is typical of every challenge they have faced – from Uyghur concentration camps to calls for civil liberties in Hong Kong, from bullying IMF and WHO to erasing homegrown celebrities, from gloating over US misfortunes in Afghanistan to swatting pests of small neighboring countries – the Party would defy, deny, denounce and destroy. In a connected global economy, Evergrande saga wills have collateral damage for us to find out soon. World Financial system will not be the only roadkill Chinese fast and furious brings forth.
China is very friendly with Taliban, gaining control over trillion dollars of rare earth deposits soon enough, and possibly exiling Uyghurs in due course. “Xi’s vision of the Chinese Communist Party controlling the state and eventually influencing and even controlling the rest of the world is clear” – opines John Mauldin in a Forbes opinion piece, talking about China’s Hundred-Year Marathon to overtake US as the leader of the world by the 100th anniversary of coming to power. “The way to world conquest lies through Havana, Accra, and Calcutta” – said Mao once. It is not surprising that India has long been victim of Chinese aggression, openly in 1962 Sino-Indian war, also through “Salami-Slicing” expeditions thereafter. As the world’s largest sea trading nation, China is keen to rule the waves, investing heavily in a navy with blue water capabilities, has at least two aircraft carriers and twelve nuclear submarines; China added three new ships to its South China Fleet in a single day earlier this year. To solidify its presence in the South China Sea China has effectively commandeered civilian fishing vessels and built over 3200 acres of new land in the Spratly Islands area. One Belt One Road is already facing blowback but that did not deter anybody from operationalizing Gwadar Port in Pakistan under Chinese control to provide deep water access to Northern China.
Pakistani mendacity is old news. The only winning party in Afghanistan is Pakistan, or more specifically, ISI, the Intelligence apparatus of Pakistan, and Pakistani military. For decades, and through multiple administrations of all hues in both countries, the big lie was that Pakistan was a friend of the US, while in reality it provided safe harbor to Jihadis, even housed Osama bin Laden kilometers away from its West Point. As its early, and consistent, backer of the Taliban, Pakistan will collect is coins in the form of a red-carpet welcome for the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba and terrorist groups Pakistan unleashes on India. In a likely scenario Pakistani army and intelligence officers will train Jihadists of all hue son Afghan soil before they are given safe passage to the Kashmir border, or the dhows off Karachi port. Elements more intent on destroying the West, al Qaeda included, will find a refuge, and bide their time in planning the next 9/11. Safe custody of Pakistani nukes, all 130 of them, is no longer a given – both India and the US are likely targets.
Hard for me to say, but in my own lifetime, the US placed a nuclear aircraft carrier just off India’s shores with the specific intent of making India cower in fear. India did not back down, in due course liberating Bangladesh and capturing over ninety-thousand uniformed Pakistani soldiers and local allies. Things have most certainly changed.
Today US Vice President Kamala Harris, born of Indian parent, hosts Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi. Indian Americans run the biggest companies and most impactful organizations outside of the corporate world with over fifty appearing in the highest echelons of the US Government. Fortunes and interests of the two largest democracies of the world are more aligned today than it ever was.
India and the US has made significant strides in defense cooperation last few years. In 2016, India signed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) covering, among others, port calls, joint exercises, training, and areas of logistics. Consequently, India has signed (bespoke versions of) all three foundational agreements US signs with defense partners. It can be argued that India, specifically Modi administration, took short-term political risks in signing LEMOA weighing in favor of a longer-term defense relationship. Conceivably, US forces might be able to operate out of Indian soil, especially in the Northwest – a short flight away from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. US Navy can presumably access out of deep-water Indian ports, including in the Andaman Islands, well within the sight of Chinese flotilla. We can finally dream of an equivalent of Article 5 in future, protecting both in case of opportunistic foray by third parties.
That brings us back to FVEY, which must now include the only major English-peaking country British upper crust did not deign to include – India. India has invested considerable amounts for HUMINT in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, a creator of such buildup is currently National Security Adviser for India, it can be easily brought to bear as the US considers over-the-horizon strike capability deep inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. What US lost in ceding Afghanistan to Taliban can easily be made up by Indian operatives. India should be able to depend on SIGINT that the US picks up from nefarious actors from very part of the globe. As Taliban rules from a building while powered by a hydro plant – both built with Indian money by Indian engineers just a few years back – I hope they do not forget for efficient governance they need Indian presence, and guaranty them a security cover.
In all these, there is a factor each side has to account for – political risk. AUKUS fiasco tells me that US is firmly down the path of containing China as a worthy opponent and an eager hegemon in its own right, a reality that took long to hit home. Can I say the same for India? I contend that the fact that this question will be made moot by adventures of either neighbor. With India increasingly cozying up with the US, temptations to test the strength of that relationship will become too much for them, driving India firmly to the arms of the only camp India belongs to in a bipolar world.
The US needs India just as much as India needs the US, and that reality and it is now common knowledge that they need to cement defense cooperation further. As an Indian American that makes me very happy and I will raise a glass with the hope. Will you join me, please?