Listen Text

On 1st of February, 2024 pentagon released a statement disclosing details of an upcoming military deal (MQ-9B deal) between U.S. and India. The statement not only publically announces the confirmation of the deal but also gives away intricate details about it. Shortly afterwards, the Indian Chief of Army Staff went for a visit to the U.S. (13th – 16th February, 2024). The development is in line with the ongoing military cooperation between U.S. and India, however, the public release of the details of the MQ-9B deal can possibly have serious repercussions for regional peace and stability.

India Eager to Procure MQ-9B:

The MQ-9B deal was a part of the plan placed in order during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to the U.S. in June 2023. On January 31st 2024, a digital media platform announced that based upon Pannun assassination conspiracy, U.S has not only put the MQ-9B deal to a halt, but it has also restricted other procurements like six Boeing P-81 long-range missiles. The pentagon released the statement the very next day, declaring that supporting the foreign policy and national security objectives of the U.S., the Defense-Security Cooperation Agency has delivered the required certification notifying the congress of the possible sale of $3.99 billion. The statement not only declared the approval of drone sale, but it also gave out the details that the government of India had requested to purchase MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones, along with the sonobuoys, missile and other equipment.

This development has raised two-fold concerns about the prospect Indian behavior. Firstly, the manner in which the U.S. government has brushed the issue of assassination by India beyond its borders, under the carpet, by resuming the defense ties with India, is likely to serve as a sufficient reason for Indian government to get-away with such operations in the future as well. The move is in stark contradiction to the “Humanitarian Principles”, one of the four key drivers guiding the foreign policy of the U.S.

Secondly, and perhaps more critically, the request of procurement of MQ-9B along with the supporting equipment from the Indian side, and the confirmation of the deal from the U.S. side is likely to raise concerns for the regional actors. MQ-9B Sky-Guardian/ Sea-Guardian drone belongs to the next generation of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). It can supplement Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations including; Airborne early warnings, electronic warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, airborne mine counter measures, long-range strategic ISR and Over-the-Horizon targeting. U.S claims China to be the only target of this militarization of the region, neglecting the fact that China is not the only actor residing in the region.

Who else cares, other than China?

The asymmetric defense provisions in the region, can significantly disturb the regional stability. It will not only fan Indian urge to conduct air-strikes like Pulwama (2019), but is also likely to stimulate the resumption of the arms race in the region. Even though U.S., claims to warn China by supporting India militarily, however, India does not have a history of confrontation with China as much as it has the one with Pakistan. Considering the history of ties between the two Nuclear states of South Asia, the intelligence gathering capabilities that the MQ-9B drone will provide, can lead to misinterpretations and escalation of tension between the Pakistan and India.

In June 2024, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his remarkable visit to the U.S. signed a number of deals spanning over the domains of space, quantum computing, cyber space, Artificial Intelligence and technology sharing. Following the same trend, the MQ-9B deal hints an excessive tilt of the U.S towards India, which can incentivize other great powers to balance the influence out by militarizing other regional states. China did not take official or unofficial notice of the development. However, Russian news agency “RT” reported the issue under the highlight of “Predator drone deal: How US keeps snubbing India, the country it’s trying to court.” Russian discomfort towards engagement between India and the U.S is explicit, as it determined the MQ-9B drones to be the “most lethal combat drones” and signified that they were deployed in Afghanistan to fight ISIS and Al-Qaeda.  Therefore, China is not the only state that can feel targeted due to excessive militarization of India.

Finally, the deal is likely to reduce the space for diplomatic engagement between the regional actor, as militarization of one state in the region increases the distrust in the air. Public disclosure of statement from the pentagon declared the willingness on behalf of India to purchase the drones. There are two possible scenarios that can prospectively shape the future of the region, in the wake of the militarization of India. Firstly, in a hypothetical realm, where India would only be certified to use the weapons against China, it would still be a severe breach to the regional peace and security. India and China are not the only two nuclear-states in South-Asia, the strategic triangle includes Pakistan as the third pole. Therefore, escalation between any of the two is likely to have a cascade effect. In the contemporary realm, even a nip of instability between the nuclear-armed states, can have serious implications for a world already dealing with two wars, in Ukraine and Gaza. Secondly, and more realistically, weapons do not know their enemy by name, therefore India can potentially use these weapons against any state in the region and its intent to procure them is enough to stir concerns among the regional actors. This development, therefore, will further sensitize the already conflict prune environment of the South Asian region, minimizing any room for dialogue and diplomatic resolve.

Publication  Link : https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2024/03/23/balancing-interests-can-the-us-reconcile-drone-sales-with-regional-stability-in-south-asia/

Author of this article: