By Rakesh Krishnan Simha
On April 7, the US Navy guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones entered India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) without requesting India’s prior consent and conducted manoeuvres approximately 130 nautical miles (240 km) west of the Lakshadweep Islands. According to a statement released by the US 7th Fleet, “India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.”
At the outset three things need to be made clear. Firstly, an EEZ is a band of water extending 370 km from the shore. Within this band, a coastal country assumes jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of marine resources including fish, oil, gas and minerals. India is proposing to double its EEZ by extending it to 350 nautical miles (648 km).
Secondly, the EEZ is not India’s Territorial Waters, which extends to a band of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from the shore. No foreign vessel can enter Territorial Waters without prior permission. The fact that the US Navy destroyer was unchallenged by the Indian Navy indicates the non-hostile nature of the American intrusion.
Thirdly, while the US Navy (like any other navy) has the complete freedom to sail in India’s EEZ, but actually doing it without informing India and then rubbing it in through a press release, is a petulant thing to do. This is not really the style of the US Navy which has a close and active operational relationship with the Indian Navy. This seems like the work of a cabal of hyperactive India baiters who have been yanking India’s chain ever since Joe Biden became the US President.
Even in the 1971 War (when the US was an adversary and was trying to protect its defeated client Pakistan) the US Navy was extremely reluctant and unhappy when US President Richard Nixon ordered the 7th Fleet to sail up the Bay of Bengal to threaten and pressure India. The commander of the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier which led the fleet in the direction of Kolkata, was on record that the 7th Fleet was brass had no heart in the mission and certainly did not agree with Nixon’s decision to strike India.
India’s armed forces were hammering Pakistan 24/7 for nearly two weeks when Nixon and his crony Henry Kissinger decided to send in the 7th Fleet to strike the Indian Army which was slicing into Pakistan. Much of the Pakistan Air Force was blown out of the skies by the IAF and the PAK withdrew its remaining aircraft to bases far from the Indian order and simply refused to challenge Indian air supremacy. On the seas, the Indian Navy had made a bonfire of Karachi with two missile boat strikes. It was in that backdrop the US tried to apply military pressure on India and rescue its client from total decimation.
Today, India and the US are close allies. The Indian armed forces, especially the Navy, use secure US data links to communicate and share intelligence. India’s US supplied Poseidon – naval reconnaissance – aircraft along with US Navy and Japanese Navy Poseidons and satellites monitor Chinese ships and submarine activity 24/7.
India and the US have also signed the COMCASA agreement which allows live datalink between Indian and the US defence forces. This has huge implications for joint ties because it shows that the armed forces of both sides implicitly trust each. Both sides have operationalised the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Helicopter Operations from Ships other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) programme. The India Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier 1 status enables free flow of advanced technology from the US. Clearly, there is no other military with which India has such wide-ranging engagement.
And that’s not all. The US and India conduct mock combat exercises several times a year. The US-India-Japan-Australia Quad is threatening to assume a military role that is applying immense pressure on China and will prove to be huge military threat to the Dragon in the years to come.
Splitting India from the US
In this backdrop, who has the most incentive to disturb this close relationship?
Only China gains from this. It is highly likely that some China friendly – plus pro-Pakistani jehadi – elements in the White House are behind this. The US Navy exercise off Lakshadweep seems to be a gift from Joe Biden and his vice president sidekick Kamala Harris, who incidentally is known to harbour a toxic hatred for India and has openly declared that she would hold India to task for cancelling Kashmir’s statehood. These are not the signs of a friendly administration.
The US Navy’s “freedom of navigational operation” seems like a move that was intended to create outrage in India and wreck the Quad. However, because of the heat of the ongoing state elections and the raging pandemic, the incident didn’t get much traction in the Indian media.
Also, one must never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Joe and Kamala didn’t get the job through merit. Biden belongs to an inbred political family. Kamala, when she was just 29, had an affair with the then 60-year old San Francisco mayor Willie Brown who not only admitted to the affair but also helped her career by appointing her to two lucrative commissions. “I certainly helped with her first race for district attorney in San Francisco…,” he added. More importantly, Biden and Kamala were elected through mass rigging and are way over their heads in events they can barely begin to understand.
Kamala is frustrated that she can no longer attack India freely now that she is the VP. Canadian author and journalist Tarek Fatah had suggested that she may now be using her niece’s handle to attack India and Narendra Modi. But that nepotistic little birdbrain – whose clothing line sales were linked to the rise of her aunt – has limited influence outside social media. A seething desire to snub India would therefore be burning in Kamala.
Flying the flag
The US Navy has always sailed into foreign – and often contested – waters to assert America’s self-appointed role as the guarantor of the freedom of navigation. During the Cold War it would regularly sail into the heavily guarded Sea of Okhotsk which the Russians considered almost their private lake because it is ringed by the Russian mainland and islands. Back then the Sea of Okhotsk was part of the Soviet Union’s “bastion defence”. As part of this strategy, the Soviets began to confine their SSBN (nuclear missile carrying submarines) deployments to ‘bastions’ in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk that were actively defended by the Soviet Navy and land-based aircraft.
Even as the Soviet Union – and its powerful fleet – sailed off into history, the US Navy continues to make frequent forays into the Barents Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, Black Sea and South China Sea to prevent the Russians and Chinese from creating an illegal cordon sanitaire around these water bodies. In comparison with these hostile waters – that are potential flashpoints for WW III – the foray by a single destroyer into the tropical Lakshadweep Sea was a tame and low-key affair.
Before WW II, the US had plans to invade Britain. Yes, that’s right. In 1930, fearing an attack by Britain (via Canada which was a British dominion back then), the US drew up War Plan Red — a plan to invade Canada and defeat Britain on dominion soil. The plan involved a three-prong strike by land and sea, including a land attack to take Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The troop movements were devised with the help of US aviation hero, and later Nazi sympathiser, Charles Lindbergh, who recommended the use of chemical weapons. It led to the largest war games in US history, involving 36,000 American soldiers, barely 50 km from the Canadian border.
So let’s not get outraged or feel snubbed by the entry of a lone warship. The bigger picture is that together India and the US must hasten the inevitable collapse of first China and then Pakistan. At the same time, India must invest more to enlarge its blue water capable forces and increase its long-range detection and strike elements. For, today it’s the US Navy, tomorrow it might well be a PLA Navy flotilla fishing for trouble.
–The writer is a globally cited defence analyst. His work has been published by leading think tanks, and quoted extensively in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare and economic development. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda