Op-eds and Articles

Op-eds and Articles

Japan Bets Big on India


The following article originally appeared in The Times of India on December 15, 2015. 
In the early 1990s, just a few years after the Tiananmen Square crackdown drew international opprobrium, China began raking in foreign investment. Between 1990 and 1996 some $435 billion was committed to China, helping to fuel that country’s transformative economic modernisation. Japanese pledges during that period accounted for a significant proportion, including almost 11% of total investment into Shanghai. At the same time, Tokyo was committing similar amounts to the Asian Tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan) and to the emerging economies of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia).

If there is one takeaway from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s just concluded visit to India, it is that Japan is willing to make the same big bet on India that it once did on China and Southeast Asia. During Abe’s visit, Japan and India signed a spate of agreements – 16 in all. But there were four developments of major significance.

The first was the much-anticipated agreement to introduce high-speed railway technology between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, with financial and technical assistance from Japan. If seen through to its full conclusion, this agreement has the potential to create a valuable demonstration effect for Indian infrastructure, much as Hyderabad showed that India could have world-class airports or Delhi demonstrated the possibility of efficient and safe metro rail systems.

Neither was considered possible in India until they happened, and their successful implementation saw demand increase around the country for similar ventures. Today, 15 metro transit systems are in operation or under construction in India. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad highspeed railroad could, consequently, be the start of something much bigger for India.

The low-interest loan to develop an Indian ‘bullet train’ may have stolen the headlines, but Japan’s commitment to create a $12.4 billion financing facility to “help materialise Make-in-India” is no less significant. This is in addition to almost $1billion in overseas development assistance to projects in Bengaluru, northeast India and Jharkhand, following on a similar $1billion commitment to metro rail projects in Chennai and Ahmedabad. Taken together, this is beginning to emulate the scale of investment that allowed the Chinese and Southeast Asian economies to take off in the 1980s and 1990s.

Three, the long-awaited agreement for cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy has implications far beyond the bilateral relationship. Japan’s civil nuclear industry, still hurting from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, is deeply integrated with the industries of other countries, notably the United States. For India to truly access global nuclear markets, a Japanese decision to allow the sale or transfer of civilian nuclear technology, material and fuel was necessary.

Beyond that, Japan’s faith in India’s stewardship of nuclear technology is an emotional issue, it being the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. That was the reason that India’s 1998 nuclear weapons tests were a major setback for bilateral relations, so much so that just 15 years ago even the visit of a Japanese prime minister to India was considered ground-breaking. It represents a complete turnaround in relations that Japan is today willing to entrust India with the sale of nuclear material, as a responsible nuclear power outside the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT).

If there was one issue that went unfulfilled during Abe’s visit, it was the inability to seal an agreement on the sale or joint production of US-2 aircraft, although the intention to work towards such an agreement in the future was mentioned specifically in the bilateral joint statement. Such an arrangement has been on the cards for two years.

But even that was offset by two important security agreements, one to share defence equipment and technology and the other to facilitate the sharing of classified military information. Additionally, India and Japan agreed to begin talks between the two countries’ air force staffs, thus institutionalising formal contacts between all three branches of the military.

Japan got something quite significant in return: India “welcomed and supported” Japan’s recent legislation to expand the scope of its use of force overseas. This is an important aspect of India’s facilitating Japan’s evolution into a ‘normal’ military power, unencumbered by its constitutional limitations on the use of force.

The latest raft of agreements sealing a closer economic and security partnership between India and Japan builds upon 15 years of work by several governments in both countries. Just as Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Yoshiro Mori helped normalise relations after the Pokhran tests, and Junichiro Koizumi and Manmohan Singh foresaw the strategic potential of the relationship, Abe and Modi have the political capital, economic agendas, and strategic impetus to realise the relationship’s full potential.

Still, much work needs to be done, particularly on the Indian side. Japan has made a strong pledge to help build up India’s economy through technological and financial assistance, in a manner in which few of India’s partners – not even the United States – are currently capable of committing. It is up to India now to leverage that.

If India is to fulfil its economic potential – much as China and Southeast Asia did before it – Japan will be an indispensable partner.

Op-eds and Articles

Britain and the Spectre of Geopolitical Irrelevance

The following article originally appeared as a Transatlantic Take published by the German Marshall Fund on November 10, 2015. 

LONDON—It is difficult to underestimate the impact of a new James Bond movie on the British psyche. The films, released now at three- or four-year intervals, give the fleeting sense that Britain still matters on the world stage. Yet Bond has long reflected something of a geopolitical fantasy; his enduring appeal based in part on his inverse relationship with British power. In 1962 — the year that saw the release of Dr. No, the first movie in the Bond franchise — former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Great Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role. Double O Seven’s derring-do in the 1960s and 1970s deflected from Britain’s intelligence embarrassments, including revelations about the Cambridge Five spy ring, which passed Western intelligence onto the Soviet Union. But the fiction became more untenable with time. The idea that a post-Cold War Britain, with its dwindling diplomatic, military, and broadcast budgets, could avert war on the Korean peninsula (as in Die Another Day) or prevent a water crisis in Bolivia (as in Quantum of Solace) was patently absurd.

By contrast, the latest instalment of the film franchise — Spectre — reflects the shrinking scope of British foreign policy, despite its lavish production. The existential crisis facing the realm in Bond’s 26th cinematic outing is essentially home-grown: government surveillance run amok under the baleful watch of an anti-democratic establishment (specifically “C”, a “Whitehall mandarin” who “went to school with the Home Secretary.”) The Five Eyes — the informal name given to Britain’s intelligence sharing arrangement with the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — has inexplicably evolved in Spectre into the Nine Eyes and now includes China and South Africa. The United States exists only peripherally, witness protection apparently being the only thing for which it is needed.

Spectre’s focus on domestic preoccupations, the confusion about the changing international order, and the diminishing value of the U.S. partnership all ring jarringly true. The next few years will see important debates concerning Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s future within the European Union. Despite its creditable handling of the economy, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has abdicated space in Europe — including on the euro, Ukraine, and refugee crises — but opted to place a premium on short-term commercial engagement with China and India. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States has been seriously undermined; although, Washington has certainly not helped matters by criticizing Britain for joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Nor is Cameron’s political opposition helping: the election of Jeremy Corbyn means that the Labour Party is led by a man who is famously sceptical of U.S. global power and, at best, lukewarm about Europe. 

Euroscepticism in Britain has many causes, both ideological and cultural. But it was also traditionally rooted in the pragmatic belief that British power is enhanced by its privileged partnership with the United States. London’s growing distance from both Brussels and Washington has put it at a severe disadvantage, decreasing its international leverage and global bargaining power. Cameron’s hosting of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s visit to China’s restive Xinjiang region were roundly criticized, including for overlooking Beijing’s human rights record. This week, Cameron is rolling out the red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose visit carries commercial and political significance for both leaders but lacks strategic substance. The fact is that Germany (with its manufacturing base) and France (with its space, defense, and nuclear industries) are now of greater relevance for India than Britain. That’s a sorry state of affairs for a country that should logically be India’s closest partner in Europe, but is instead perceived primarily as a place for wealthy Indians to invest, buy real estate, and watch cricket. China and India are often said to be in competition in Nepal and Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Africa. It would no longer be inconceivable for Britain to be added to that list.

There are few better agents than James Bond (assuming he is not a Scottish Nationalist) to ensure that Britain is stirred, and not simply shaken, by these disconcerting trends. If he is really to put Britain back on the map, perhaps 007’s next outing could see him swooping into Washington to rescue the Special Relationship. Or he could use every gadget at his disposal to forestall a Brexit. Better yet, perhaps he could pull off the implausible — and do both. - See more at: http://www.gmfus.org/blog/2015/11/10/britain-and-spectre-geopolitical-irrelevance#sthash.CQxFiu1i.dpuf

Op-eds and Articles

Britain and the Spectre of Geopolitical Irrelevance

The following article originally appeared as a Transatlantic Take published by the German Marshall Fund on November 10, 2015. 

LONDON—It is difficult to underestimate the impact of a new James Bond movie on the British psyche. The films, released now at three- or four-year intervals, give the fleeting sense that Britain still matters on the world stage. Yet Bond has long reflected something of a geopolitical fantasy; his enduring appeal based in part on his inverse relationship with British power. In 1962 — the year that saw the release of Dr. No, the first movie in the Bond franchise — former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Great Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role. Double O Seven’s derring-do in the 1960s and 1970s deflected from Britain’s intelligence embarrassments, including revelations about the Cambridge Five spy ring, which passed Western intelligence onto the Soviet Union. But the fiction became more untenable with time. The idea that a post-Cold War Britain, with its dwindling diplomatic, military, and broadcast budgets, could avert war on the Korean peninsula (as in Die Another Day) or prevent a water crisis in Bolivia (as in Quantum of Solace) was patently absurd.

By contrast, the latest instalment of the film franchise — Spectre — reflects the shrinking scope of British foreign policy, despite its lavish production. The existential crisis facing the realm in Bond’s 26th cinematic outing is essentially home-grown: government surveillance run amok under the baleful watch of an anti-democratic establishment (specifically “C”, a “Whitehall mandarin” who “went to school with the Home Secretary.”) The Five Eyes — the informal name given to Britain’s intelligence sharing arrangement with the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — has inexplicably evolved in Spectre into the Nine Eyes and now includes China and South Africa. The United States exists only peripherally, witness protection apparently being the only thing for which it is needed.

Spectre’s focus on domestic preoccupations, the confusion about the changing international order, and the diminishing value of the U.S. partnership all ring jarringly true. The next few years will see important debates concerning Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s future within the European Union. Despite its creditable handling of the economy, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has abdicated space in Europe — including on the euro, Ukraine, and refugee crises — but opted to place a premium on short-term commercial engagement with China and India. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States has been seriously undermined; although, Washington has certainly not helped matters by criticizing Britain for joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Nor is Cameron’s political opposition helping: the election of Jeremy Corbyn means that the Labour Party is led by a man who is famously sceptical of U.S. global power and, at best, lukewarm about Europe. 

Euroscepticism in Britain has many causes, both ideological and cultural. But it was also traditionally rooted in the pragmatic belief that British power is enhanced by its privileged partnership with the United States. London’s growing distance from both Brussels and Washington has put it at a severe disadvantage, decreasing its international leverage and global bargaining power. Cameron’s hosting of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s visit to China’s restive Xinjiang region were roundly criticized, including for overlooking Beijing’s human rights record. This week, Cameron is rolling out the red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose visit carries commercial and political significance for both leaders but lacks strategic substance. The fact is that Germany (with its manufacturing base) and France (with its space, defense, and nuclear industries) are now of greater relevance for India than Britain. That’s a sorry state of affairs for a country that should logically be India’s closest partner in Europe, but is instead perceived primarily as a place for wealthy Indians to invest, buy real estate, and watch cricket. China and India are often said to be in competition in Nepal and Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Africa. It would no longer be inconceivable for Britain to be added to that list.

There are few better agents than James Bond (assuming he is not a Scottish Nationalist) to ensure that Britain is stirred, and not simply shaken, by these disconcerting trends. If he is really to put Britain back on the map, perhaps 007’s next outing could see him swooping into Washington to rescue the Special Relationship. Or he could use every gadget at his disposal to forestall a Brexit. Better yet, perhaps he could pull off the implausible — and do both. - See more at: http://www.gmfus.org/blog/2015/11/10/britain-and-spectre-geopolitical-irrelevance#sthash.CQxFiu1i.dpuf

Op-eds and Articles

The Definition of Insanity Is U.S. AfPak Strategy


The following article originally appeared online at Foreign Policy on October 1, 2015. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here.

The central problem confronting the United States in the region is no longer al Qaeda or the Taliban. It’s the Pakistan Army, which has always pursued its own objectives over those of the country it is meant to defend. The Army has a 40-year history of supporting terrorists against Afghanistan, India, and (more recently) Americans. Even in the absence of a smoking gun, there is little doubt that the Army and its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, sheltered Osama bin Laden and protected Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This policy of supporting terrorism has been driven by a warped ideology, political imperatives, and corporate interests. The Army has long used Islamism and imagined foreign threats to consolidate its political primacy and shore up its commercial interests, which range from cement to telecommunications.

Op-eds and Articles

The Definition of Insanity Is U.S. AfPak Strategy

The following article originally appeared online at Foreign Policy on October 1, 2015. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here.

The central problem confronting the United States in the region is no longer al Qaeda or the Taliban. It’s the Pakistan Army, which has always pursued its own objectives over those of the country it is meant to defend. The Army has a 40-year history of supporting terrorists against Afghanistan, India, and (more recently) Americans. Even in the absence of a smoking gun, there is little doubt that the Army and its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, sheltered Osama bin Laden and protected Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This policy of supporting terrorism has been driven by a warped ideology, political imperatives, and corporate interests. The Army has long used Islamism and imagined foreign threats to consolidate its political primacy and shore up its commercial interests, which range from cement to telecommunications.

Op-eds and Articles

Digital India vs Net Neutrality

The following article appeared in The Indian Express on September 30, 2015. The full text is below.

Today, when you start up your computer or iPhone and open a web browser such as Chrome or Safari, you can access over 100 million domain names with a few clicks. Your data costs do not change depending on whether you go to Rediff or Flipkart, or whether you download an app to order pizza or post on Twitter or watch a YouTube video. Your data provider — be it Airtel or Reliance or BSNL — does not discriminate between different kinds of content, only how much data you use. This is the benefit of a neutral net, a system that has worked to the advantage of both internet users (who have enjoyed greater choice of content) and numerous start-ups (which have enjoyed unparalleled market access).

But a shift is underway. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited California to drum up support for his Digital India initiative, he effectively endorsed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of expanded access to a pared down internet. Expanded access is, after all, one of the three pillars of Digital India (the other two being e-governance and electronics manufacturing). Why not shift costs to content providers (such as babajobs.com), who enter into exclusive contracts with data providers (such as Reliance), all enabled by Facebook’s Free Basics app? Such an arrangement could expand internet use rapidly in a country where some 80 per cent of the population does not have access, benefiting crores of people. It would also, naturally, benefit Facebook.

Advocates of net neutrality — a vocal minority linked to NGOs and internet start-ups — are unhappy with such an arrangement, which they feel will disadvantage consumers by limiting choice. It could also discriminate against smaller content providers struggling to compete with established internet companies. Net neutrality advocates have argued that there are other ways to expand access and lower costs, such as subsidising data plans or through advertising.

But this line of argument, too, has its critics. Some believe implicitly that net neutrality is an elitist concern, echoing Zuckerberg’s view that “It’s not an equal internet if the majority of people can’t participate.” Others contend that net neutrality requires unnecessary government intervention, a forcible levelling of the playing field. Why should the government prevent Facebook, Reliance and certain websites from entering into exclusive arrangements, particularly if it helps to expand access and deflect costs from consumers? The arguments against net neutrality, rather bizarrely, offer one area in which populists and free-market enthusiasts might find common cause.

Both sides of this debate bring certain compelling arguments to the table. In the United States, the government eventually came out decisively in favour of net neutrality. This made sense in an economy where the vast majority can afford access to the internet, and where monopolistic data providers were effectively price gouging. Consumer choice advocates and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were overwhelmingly pleased.

India’s circumstances are, however, radically different. Broadband infrastructure is weak. Spectrum is expensive. Power is still in short supply. Digital access is now linked to the basics: Subsidies and rations, identification, financial inclusion and political participation. Expanding access today is therefore a top priority, which is why most of the big announcements during Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley were in this domain — not just Facebook, but also public commitments made by Microsoft and Google to connect villages and railway stations.

The prime minister has made it clear that access is his top priority, but net neutrality advocates need not completely despair. The relentless drive to expand digital access in India may be necessary in the short term, but may make less sense once the Indian internet market becomes more saturated. That is another way of saying that the access vs neutrality dilemma could resolve itself organically. As incomes rise, consumers may gradually opt for data plans that give them greater access, foregoing more restrictive but free data services. Facebook’s Free Basics would, in that event, simply be a stepping stone that contributes in time to its own irrelevance.

Op-eds and Articles

Digital India vs Net Neutrality

The following article appeared in The Indian Express on September 30, 2015. The full text is below.

Today, when you start up your computer or iPhone and open a web browser such as Chrome or Safari, you can access over 100 million domain names with a few clicks. Your data costs do not change depending on whether you go to Rediff or Flipkart, or whether you download an app to order pizza or post on Twitter or watch a YouTube video. Your data provider — be it Airtel or Reliance or BSNL — does not discriminate between different kinds of content, only how much data you use. This is the benefit of a neutral net, a system that has worked to the advantage of both internet users (who have enjoyed greater choice of content) and numerous start-ups (which have enjoyed unparalleled market access).

But a shift is underway. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited California to drum up support for his Digital India initiative, he effectively endorsed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of expanded access to a pared down internet. Expanded access is, after all, one of the three pillars of Digital India (the other two being e-governance and electronics manufacturing). Why not shift costs to content providers (such as babajobs.com), who enter into exclusive contracts with data providers (such as Reliance), all enabled by Facebook’s Free Basics app? Such an arrangement could expand internet use rapidly in a country where some 80 per cent of the population does not have access, benefiting crores of people. It would also, naturally, benefit Facebook.

Advocates of net neutrality — a vocal minority linked to NGOs and internet start-ups — are unhappy with such an arrangement, which they feel will disadvantage consumers by limiting choice. It could also discriminate against smaller content providers struggling to compete with established internet companies. Net neutrality advocates have argued that there are other ways to expand access and lower costs, such as subsidising data plans or through advertising.

But this line of argument, too, has its critics. Some believe implicitly that net neutrality is an elitist concern, echoing Zuckerberg’s view that “It’s not an equal internet if the majority of people can’t participate.” Others contend that net neutrality requires unnecessary government intervention, a forcible levelling of the playing field. Why should the government prevent Facebook, Reliance and certain websites from entering into exclusive arrangements, particularly if it helps to expand access and deflect costs from consumers? The arguments against net neutrality, rather bizarrely, offer one area in which populists and free-market enthusiasts might find common cause.

Both sides of this debate bring certain compelling arguments to the table. In the United States, the government eventually came out decisively in favour of net neutrality. This made sense in an economy where the vast majority can afford access to the internet, and where monopolistic data providers were effectively price gouging. Consumer choice advocates and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were overwhelmingly pleased.

India’s circumstances are, however, radically different. Broadband infrastructure is weak. Spectrum is expensive. Power is still in short supply. Digital access is now linked to the basics: Subsidies and rations, identification, financial inclusion and political participation. Expanding access today is therefore a top priority, which is why most of the big announcements during Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley were in this domain — not just Facebook, but also public commitments made by Microsoft and Google to connect villages and railway stations.

The prime minister has made it clear that access is his top priority, but net neutrality advocates need not completely despair. The relentless drive to expand digital access in India may be necessary in the short term, but may make less sense once the Indian internet market becomes more saturated. That is another way of saying that the access vs neutrality dilemma could resolve itself organically. As incomes rise, consumers may gradually opt for data plans that give them greater access, foregoing more restrictive but free data services. Facebook’s Free Basics would, in that event, simply be a stepping stone that contributes in time to its own irrelevance.

Op-eds and Articles

An App Won’t Solve India’s Bloated Bureaucracy Problem


The following article appeared on Foreign Policy on September 26, 2015. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here

Technology offers considerable hope in overcoming many of India’s challenges, given the rapid rate of change. At about 19 percent, India has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates among major economies. That said, some 30 million users, or roughly 2.5 percent of India’s population, are coming online annually, and that figure is set to accelerate. Facebook wants to tap into that market, in part with its Free Basics app, which allows users access to pared-down Internet services at no cost. But for India’s poor, the difficulties in getting online — including language barriers, illiteracy, and poor infrastructure — are more complicated than just affording the price of a phone or computer.

The implications of expanded Internet access for media dissemination, education, and entertainment are self-evident. It’s not just about enabling Indians to watch more cat videos. Digital access is critical to integrating India’s citizens — particularly the poor — into the economy. For example, efforts underway toward financial inclusion, biometric identification, and digital access have the potential to overhaul India’s massive and wasteful subsidy regime. Better identification, more bank accounts, and expanded online access can cut out middlemen and corruption and can ensure that the poor receive what they are owed by the state. There has been significant progress: So far, some 900 million people, or roughly 72 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people, have signed up for a national biometric identification scheme begun under Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh. And Jan-Dhan Yojana, Modi’s signature effort to enable access to banking, credit lines, and insurance, has resulted in the creation of more than 180 million bank accounts (though critics have noted that many are left unused). While basic mobile services are widespread and cheap in India, enabling access to cost-effective broadband will be necessary to tap the full potential of these efforts. [Read the full article.]

Op-eds and Articles

An App Won’t Solve India’s Bloated Bureaucracy Problem

The following article appeared on Foreign Policy on September 26, 2015. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here

Technology offers considerable hope in overcoming many of India’s challenges, given the rapid rate of change. At about 19 percent, India has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates among major economies. That said, some 30 million users, or roughly 2.5 percent of India’s population, are coming online annually, and that figure is set to accelerate. Facebook wants to tap into that market, in part with its Free Basics app, which allows users access to pared-down Internet services at no cost. But for India’s poor, the difficulties in getting online — including language barriers, illiteracy, and poor infrastructure — are more complicated than just affording the price of a phone or computer.

The implications of expanded Internet access for media dissemination, education, and entertainment are self-evident. It’s not just about enabling Indians to watch more cat videos. Digital access is critical to integrating India’s citizens — particularly the poor — into the economy. For example, efforts underway toward financial inclusion, biometric identification, and digital access have the potential to overhaul India’s massive and wasteful subsidy regime. Better identification, more bank accounts, and expanded online access can cut out middlemen and corruption and can ensure that the poor receive what they are owed by the state. There has been significant progress: So far, some 900 million people, or roughly 72 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people, have signed up for a national biometric identification scheme begun under Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh. And Jan-Dhan Yojana, Modi’s signature effort to enable access to banking, credit lines, and insurance, has resulted in the creation of more than 180 million bank accounts (though critics have noted that many are left unused). While basic mobile services are widespread and cheap in India, enabling access to cost-effective broadband will be necessary to tap the full potential of these efforts. [Read the full article.]

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