Interview with Major General Asthana: „India itself is technologically growing and does not feel threatened by Chinese technical developments“
Global Review had the honour and the great pleasure to have an interview with Indian Major General Sashi Asthana about Indian foreign policy , military technology, multipolarity and a new world order. General Asthana gives the Western reader a wellinformed insight about India and its role in the modern world. Major General Asthana is a veteran and gives his own opinion which is not that of any organization. However he is member of the United Services Institute (USI). USI, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.
About the author: Indian Major General Asthana (veteran)
An Infantry General with 40 years of Defense experience at national and international fields. Held various key appointments in Army and UN during military carrier. Retired as Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army. Awarded twice by President of India, and twice by UN, and CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana.
- Retired from active Army Service in 2014, presently the Chief Instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India.
- Prolific strategic & military writer/analyst on international affairs. Has been interviewed by various National and International media channels in various appointments in India and abroad, including frequent discussions/opinions on WION, Rajyasabha TV, NewsX, Doordarshan, Samay TV, APN TV and interviews by Sputnik, CCTV, SCMP (Five Times), Global Review (Germany), Financial Express, Financial Chronicle, Diplomacy and Beyond, and Washington Post. Written for Washington Post, The Guardian, Modern Diplomacy (EU and Africa), Global Review (Germany), FDI(Australia), Economic Times, South China Morning Post, Global Times (China), Asia Times (Australia), WION News, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Journal, Business Standard, Indian Defence Review, GIAP Journal, USI Journal, Indian Military Review,Synergy Journal, ANI, Borderless Newsonline, National Defence, Salute, Newsmobile and Newsroom 24X7 etc in different forms, besides own publications.
- Currently on Board of Advisors in International Organisation of Educational Development (IOED), Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE), and Security Council of United Nations Association of India (UNAI), United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA), International Council on Global Conflict Resolution (ICGCR) and International Police Commission (IPC). Life member of various Think Tanks like Institute of Defence & Strategic Analysis, USI of India, Center for Land Warfare Studies and Future Directions Initiative (Australia).
- Researches on International issues mainly China, has authored over 51 publications/articles and over 75 blogs, mostly on international issues. Delivering talks regularly on strategic, military and motivational subjects in various universities/organisations, UN subjects in Centers of UN peacekeeping (globally), and regular speaker in CUNPK, New Delhi. External examiner for M Phil, with Panjab University, in Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi.
- Doctoral researcher with JNU, holds two M Phil degrees with outstanding grade, PGDHRM and various management degrees, UN Courses, prestigious Defence Courses, Advanced Professional Program in Public Administration at Indian Institute of Public Administration, and National Development Course in Taiwan.
Reachable at face book, linkedin, Twitter and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, and writing on own site https://asthanawrites.org/ email firstname.lastname@example.org
Global Review: General Asthana, China and Russia are speaking of a multi-polar world and a “new type of great power relations”. Are these the goals of the two great powers or are we already living in a multi-polar world and the USA does not accept that we are living in a multi-polar world? What are the deeper meanings of these terms and how are they perceived in India?
Maj Gen S B Asthana : Every country you mentioned has derived its own interpretation of ‘Multi-polar World’. Before Soviet Union disintegration into other countries, we use to talk of ‘Bipolar world’ with USA and USSR being two strong power centers/poles and a large number of countries aligned to them. Even at that time there were countries like India which were not into any alliance with either and were referred to as the ‘Third World Countries’ After USSR breaking up into several countries, USA was referred as sole ‘Super Power’ in the world for quite some time, as Russia did not have the economic muscles to contest it economically, and Chinese economic and military power was still growing.
China has been talking of multi-polar world, before President Xi Jinping came to power, but having set its aim to become ‘Global Power’ by 2049, or rhetoric of ‘Making China Great’ and incorporating BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) in its constitution, it has left little doubt that it wants to become another superpower, challenging US. China in few occasions has clearly mentioned that USA should treat them as equal (Visit of Xi Jinping to USA on taking over Presidency). With BRI, China has made it clear that it is looking at China centric globe.
BRICS including Russia, in my opinion, will perceive multi-polarity as having own political/strategic/economic freedom in international relations without aligning to any so called ‘Global Powers’. In my perception we are living in a multi-polar world, where EU countries, BRICS, and many other countries are exercising their own choices, which in many occasion are not in sync with USA/China or any other country. In my opinion, India always had independent foreign policy and it will continue to exercise its own strategic choices. The fact that India has good relations with many countries, who do not have such relations with each other like USA and Russia, justifies the point.
Global Review: A multi-polar world would also mean a reform of the UNO and its associated organizations as the IMF and the World Bank. In the 90s Germany, India, Brazil and Japan wanted such a reform, but weren´t successful as the 5 permanent UN Security Council members didn´t like the idea and the USA refused to give green light. Therefore after the G-7/8 the G-20 was formed and China set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the EU wants to set up an European Monetary Fund instead of the IMF and the World Bank. Is it too late for a new world order within the UNO or would we need an international political organization based on the G-20 or other forms of an international organization? Has India a concept for a multi polar world on its own?
Maj Gen S B Asthana : The first half of your question is a narration of events. Demand for reforms in UNO, IMF, World Bank will keep getting stronger, in accordance with the new economic and strategic realities and clout of various countries, which is not the same as it was at the time when these organizations were formed. If the reforms do not take place, it is natural that the global realities will find alternatives and old global organizations you mentioned above will slowly start degenerating. The growth of organizations like G-7/8,G-20, AIIB (due to non reformation of ADB and IMF, EU wanting to set up an European Monetary Fund instead of the IMF and the World Bank are indicators of the same.
ASEAN, SAARC, SCO, BIMSTEC, and recently talked about QUAD are some other examples of this change. Regarding UNO, most of the major interventions like the one in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen by Saudi Arabia have taken place without UN sanction, indicating as to how powerful countries treat UNO. Notwithstanding its limitations, I still feel that UNO still has maximum global acceptance and continues to do an extremely important service in underdeveloped parts of the globe. It also gives a platform for stronger countries to resolve their differences, hence is an inescapable necessity for the world. It cannot be replaced by any other organization, but it requires drastic reforms, some of them may not be to the liking of P5, like expansion of UNSC, doing away with veto power (which has been of no use except blocking proposals).
Regarding India, as I indicated earlier, in my opinion, it will continue to follow its independent foreign policy to pursue its own strategic interest, and no other country irrespective of its clout can force India to follow its dictate. India has no ambition to become any pole in the world political arena and looks to have friendly relations with all. The fact that it buys weapons from Israel and votes against it on Jerusalem Issue, it maintains friendly relations with US as well as Iran are some of the examples of independence in Indian policies. India also gives similar space to its neighbours.
Global Review: Trotzki said that the main contradiction of the capitalist system was that the economy is globalized while the globalization of the capitalist world economy happens in the narrow framework of nation states—thus causing uneven development, therefore political and economic frictions, contradictions, trade wars, economic and political crisis and in the long run wars and world wars. Some experts also think that economic globalization needs political globalization, a new political world order, even a world state or a world federation. Do you think that the existing nation states are a sufficient framework for international cooperation or do we need a new world order?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: As a strategic analyst I can only comment that the existing nation system, with political as well as economic sovereignty of nations is a good model and the idea of world state or world federation may be economic dream of some economist, but its neither practical nor feasible. A respect for every nations sovereignty is required by stronger nations and not a world order to force economically deprived countries getting further exploited. The unpopular examples of some of the economically stronger countries posing to aiding poorer countries with infrastructure developments, which later turned out to be exploitative in terms of loosing mineral resources, part of real estate and pushing them into debt trap are on the increase. In fact, in recent times examples of some strong resistance put up by economically poor countries to stronger powers are on the rise in this context.
Global Review: Except the nation states we have regional organizations as SAARC or ASEAN in Asia including ASEAN summit and ASEAN plus 1/3 summits. While ASEAN generated some important intra-trade, SAARC hasn´t realized a real regional economic cooperation. What interests have India and Pakistan in SAARC and which roles do they play? Do you think that SAARC will ever be successful if it is existing in the framework of the Indian-Pakistani-rivalry? Will ASEAN and SAARC ever become some form of South Asian/South East Asian EU and can they effectively play a counterpart towards China´s rise in Asia or does China play a divide and rule game between the members of these regional organizations?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: While ASEAN is a reasonably successful economic model, SAARC has not been able to exploit its economic potential. The major difference lies in their composition itself. SAARC has been a regional cooperation of countries which are all developing countries. Other than India most of them suffered from poor economy, instability, history of coups and some with unstable governments and insurgency. The biggest spoiler to success of SAARC has been Pakistan due to exporting terrorism in some of these countries. SAARC never had any anti-Chinese bias. Now China also attends SAARC and is the largest trading partner of almost all SAARC countries, I do not expect it to be thinking of anything to counter China.
ASEAN consisted of some developed and developing economies with tremendous trade potential, hence generated some important intra-regional and inter-regional trade links. It has therefore become a major economic hub of the world. India with its ‘Act East Policy’ is trying to engage extensively with ASEAN countries, to the extent that all ASEAN head of states were Chief Guests of Indian Republic day Parade in 2018. India and China also attend ASEAN Summit. This grouping definitely has the potential of being a South East Asian EU like organisation. These countries are concerned about the aggressive posture and exploitative behavior of China, but they are unlikely to stand up against China openly, because China being the largest trading partner of most of them, the economic stakes are too high. Some of the ASEAN countries have conflicting claims with China in South China Sea, but China has the policy of dealing with each of these countries bilaterally, using its economic and military might which further deters them to unite against China. I do not see much change in near future, but things may change later.
Global Review: India is also part of the BRICS. What are the main goals of BRICS? Has BRICS its own budget with institutions or is it a loose organization of the most important emerging economies in Eurasia, Latin-American and Africa? In which direction do you think BRICS will develop? What interests do the BRICS members have in the organization, and what role will India play among the other members?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: The BRIC grouping of fast developing economies during their first summit in 2009, was focused on means of improving their economic situation, reforming financial institutions, and methodologies, how the four countries could better co-operate, and be more involved in global affairs in future. South Africa joined in 2010. Its main goal continues to be economical growth, trade promotion, and was seen as alternative to G8.
The main focus in the last Summit in China was on seeking trade partnership with emerging economies, cooperation in energy, sharing technology and Research and Development. It therefore is mainly economically oriented. It’s strategic/security orientation is not envisaged because of wide variation in strategic interests/perceptions, and system of governance of some of the countries. While BRICS may be on same page on issues like WTO to some extent, but China’s efforts to dominate BRICS and manipulate currency flow may not be comfortable to others. The main interest of members in the organization will remain economical and developmental.
It created two financial institutions: the New Development Bank (NDB) to finance infrastructure and “sustainable development” projects, with $50 billion in capital to start with, and the $100 billion Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), to tide over members in financial difficulties. It was created before AIIB, with main interest to find an additional source of funding in addition to US dominated IMF or Japan dominated ADB.
India is also one of the financial contributor to the organization like others, with Mr K.V.Kamath as NDB President. The main contribution of India in my opinion has been on convincing all members to condemn Terrorism in all forms and having it included it in declaration of last Summit, despite Chinese hesitation in naming some organizations propagating terrorism from Pakistan. This is important for a bigger cause of global fight against terrorism.
Global Review: India is well known for its Silicon Valley Bangalore and as software powerhouse. It was leading in IT technology before China in the last 3 decades which was mainly a hardware producer for microchips and computers. This is changing. Chinese are now leading in the sphere of supercomputers, develop quantum technology and quantum computers and have many IT companies and national champions while many expatriates and Chinese scientists are coming back to China and setting up new IT firms and start ups. The Congress of the CPC declared that China by 2025 should become a high-tech superpower. Silicon Valley published an open letter warning that China could overtake the USA in a sort of technological new Cold war? How do you see the development and how does India counter the Chinese technology and innovation offensive?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: China’s IT, other technological developments are well known to the world, but so are Indians. As of today India has largest technologically skilled, English speaking, young manpower resource in the world. The rate of digitization in India in last few years has been the fastest in the world. The Unique Identity (Aadhar) scheme to give digitized identity to over ten billion population is the largest exercise of its kind in the world. The number of Indians hired by US for IT jobs is largest. Chinese mobile phone and telecom companies have large stakes in India, using Indian manpower, and will be largely affected by Indian policy changes if any.
India itself is technologically growing and does not feel threatened by Chinese technical developments. In fact many Indians are working in Chinese software companies; hence it can also be viewed as one of the areas of cooperation between India and China. US and many other countries do not seem to be too happy about alleged reverse engineering of their equipment, innovations and alleged violation of IPR by China. The CPC’s gigantic declarations will have to be watched in light of their economic slowdown, and everything not moving exactly as they dream.
Global Review: The USA, Russia, China, Germany and other NATO states already set up their own cyber command in their militaries. Does India have a cyber command and is India prepared for a cyber war with China or Pakistan? How serious is the cyber threat by these countries for India.
Maj Gen S B Asthana: The cyber threat from China is a serious issue for the world including India. With strong China – Pakistan nexus, we can expect similar threat from them with Chinese proxy, because Pakistan has limited technological expertise. India has already announced the intention of having Cyber Command in the media and some organizations to initiate it have been announced to be raised.
Global Review: After the escalation there seem to be sign of de-escalation between the USA and North Korea. North Korea declared it would end its nuclear and missile tests, if the USA stopped their military drills (freeze-for-freeze). There will be a summit between the North Korean and South Korean head of state in April and North Korea even declared that it wants to denuclearize its nuclear programme, if the USA gives a security guarantee. Do you think North Korea is serious or is it just propaganda? What do you think should be the next steps on the Korean peninsula?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: I think North Korea is serious to avoid sanctions, may not be for denuclearization. This initiative of South Korea to get both on negotiation table, and North Korea moving ahead with it could be attributed to a mix of toughest sanctions imposed by US in February 2018, in addition to UN sanctions imposed earlier, international pressure including its allies like China, and fear of domestic turbulence shaking the dictator Kim. It could well be a ploy of Kim to reduce/escape sanctions temporarily.
In my opinion, despite President Trump’s acceptance, the talks may still not take place due to impractical/ unacceptable stance of US and/or North Korea. I see very little chance of Kim giving away his only strength (nuclear and missile capability) so easily, although he has announced his desire for ‘Nuclear free Korea’ during its first meeting with President Xi Jinping. As an analyst, I feel that it seems too good to be true. I feel there will be a very extensive diplomatic exercise by all concerned parties in next two months, but if both sides dig their heels, the situation will be as it is today. I feel continued strict sanctions by world community can break the will of people of North Korea and their dictator to stop nuclear blackmailing.
Global Review: India´s and Asia´s answer to China´s New Silk road seems to be India´s “Act East policy” and the “Asia-Africa Development Corridor”. Could you give the Western reader more detailed information about these projects and why is it that the AAEC ending in Africa and does not include Asia and Europe as China´s New Silk road does? Has India a co-operation with Japan for this Asia-Africa Development Corridor or who is leading and financing this project? Is there an organization for it?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and “Asia Africa Growth Corridor” have different aim and purposes and should not be considered as an answer to China’s Silk Road or BRI, because both are not related/linked. India’s Look East Policy was announced in 1991, when China’s BRI/ OBOR were nowhere in sight. India’s Look East Policy later progressed as ‘Act East Policy’. It aims at integrating India’s Northeast with South East Asian countries and ASEAN for inclusive growth, promoting economic initiatives, issues related to security and free flow of trade based on internationally recognized laws and agreements and conventions. This economic and strategic linkage was on display with presence of all 10 ASEAN leaders as chief guests for India’s Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, indicating that India’s Act East policy complements ASEAN’s Act West one. India would focus more and more on improving relation with ASEAN and other East Asian countries as well as Japan for benefit of all.
Asia-Africa Growth Corridor(AAGC) is a only a maritime connectivity initiative with a much broader ambit related to growth and development between Japan, ASEAN, India, Africa and many other related countries. It aims differently than China’s BRI/OBOR, which has a continental as well as maritime component, with an intention to increase the economic and strategic footprints of China globally. Asia-Africa Growth Corridor aims at inclusive development, cooperation projects, quality infrastructure, institutional connectivity, capacity and skill enhancement, and people-to-people partnerships.
Regarding inclusion of Europe, you will appreciate that India is so well located in maritime context that Europe stands well connected through Gulf and Suez Canal as the only choke point which is common to all maritime routes. India is connected with Europe through shortest maritime route. Sea transportation being the cheapest mode of transportation, a need for continental connectivity to Europe through Africa is not an economical option hence has not been added. India is cooperating with Japan and many other countries for this Corridor.
Regarding the organizations involved, it was conceived during the Africa Development Bank meeting. The vision document was prepared jointly by Indian and Japanese think tanks, i.e. Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS), Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), and Institute for Development Economics – Japan External Trade Organisation (IDE-JETRO), in consultation with other think tanks in Asia and Africa. It is still evolving and further details will become clearer as it progresses.
Global Review: China as other countries are preparing for the digitalization of warfare. Artificial intelligence and learning logarithms will be part of this digitalization process. How will they change modern warfare and strategies?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: USA and China have emerged as leaders in the field of digitalization of warfare and using Artificial intelligence (AI), or machine intelligence (MI) to their advantage, as comprehensive resources for their development in commercial as well as strategic domain including national security. There are a large number of other countries, who are also building this capability for its multifarious utility. Basically it amounts to using intellect displayed by computer system (or machine), in contrast with the natural intelligence displayed by human beings, in a manner that it is viable, controllable and cost effective.
Without going much into technical details,(As I am not technically qualified for it), as a strategic analyst, I can say that integration of AI will have a major impact on character of warfare, with a major shift from today’s “Informationalised warfare” to future “intelligentized” warfare, in which AI will be a force multiplier to military power. AI can be gainfully employed to enhance future capabilities of Intelligent and autonomous unmanned systems. The AI-enabled data analysis, information processing and intelligence analysis will be much faster and accurate. It can be used for strategic as well as operational war-gaming, simulation, and part of tactical training also. It will improve the speed and quality of decision-making by speedier Intelligence support to commanders.
Strategically its importance should not be overplayed because in modern warfare AI is only one of important tool amongst many, which need to be considered while making decisions. The side which is devoid of this capability will have some disadvantage, but could make up with other elements of power. It can also increase the covert capability of a country in terms of cyber warfare and other applications, besides adding to some deterrence potential, even in peacetime. Overtly the effectiveness of drone attacks by US and surveillance by them has been well demonstrated in Afghanistan and other battlefields, minimizing human casualties. Despite such capability US is struggling in Afghanistan due to Pakistan’s support to militants having no such capability.
Global Review: A disruptive key technology for digitalization and artificial intelligence will be the quantum technology and the quantum computer. Moore´s law says that the storage and processing capacity of microchips and their computers doubles all five years, but quantum technology and quantum computers will multiplicate this by hundred thousand or even millions times .The USA, China and Japan are investing intensively in quantum technology, while the EU is only spending 1 billion Euro in the next decade which is next to nothing. What about quantum technology research in India? Does India, Bangalore and its army perceive quantum technology as a driving technology for digitalization of the society, economy and military?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: As you highlighted, the Quantum computing is the way for the development of fifth generation of computers and no nation can afford to neglect it. It has tremendous advantage over existing computing methods by performing more efficient algorithms than traditional computing. India will also try not to lag behind in this race, correctly perceiving its importance.
As per the media reports and announcements so far, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is planning to fund a project to develop quantum computers in India. The theoretical aspects of quantum computing has been researched in the past by the Physics departments at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad, but this will be the next step towards quantum computing. I am hopeful that these researches will address all applications to include economic, military and social needs.
Global Review: In an analysis about Chinese quantum technology research and its impact on warfare strategies in the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation John Costella and Elsa Kania come to the following conclusion:
The Future of Warfare in the Quantum Age?
Looking forward, China aspires to lead the coming second quantum revolution and may possess the potential to leapfrog the U.S. in this critical technological domain (PLA Daily, August 18). According to An Weiping, as the information age is undergoing a “leap” toward the “quantum information age,” quantum is considered the “forward position” for a great power’s comprehensive national power, scientific level, and strategic contests of military power (PLA Daily, September 27). China’s concentrated pursuit of quantum technologies could have much more far-reaching impacts than the asymmetric approach to defense that has characterized China’s strategic posture thus far, with its focus on “assassin’s mace” (杀手锏) programs since the 1990s.
These quantum ambitions seemingly constitute an evolution of the PLA’s traditional asymmetric strategy to one that attempts to offset U.S. technological superiority. The employment of quantum communications, computing, and perhaps even radar may radically alter the rules of the game on the future battlefield. These technologies could neutralize the technological advantages associated with today’s information-centric ways of war, epitomized by the U.S. model, which has relied upon a sophisticated global intelligence apparatus, military satellite networks, and stealth capabilities. For China, the successful development of even one or two of these quantum technologies might ultimately enable an “offset” of its own, which could decisively change the future strategic balance. “
Do you think this a realistic assessment and what does it mean for India?
Maj Gen S B Asthana: In my opinion, this is what China is dreaming about and aiming for. The assessment is a Chinese vision of its own Comprehensive National Power (CNP), which includes technology, but it is too ambitious to be achieved. If USA’s Defence Budget is two and a half times more than China, it will take decades to reach that level of technology. China has moved ahead from ‘Active Defence Role’ and has laid down ‘Expeditionary Role’ for PLA, but it does not have resources to influence beyond South and East China Sea (definitely not for global deployments). The conclusions above are from Chinese publications, as to what it wants to tell the world. Although Chinese growing technological capability has to be recognized and given due consideration in strategic calculations, but not beyond realistic proportion as PLA Daily would like to suggest.
For India it means more capacity building to be able to dominate Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, and interoperability with Navies of other likeminded countries. India is working towards capacity building in all the facets of war fighting mentioned in the above question and has some positives which cannot be quantified. China has not won a conflict after 1962, and India has not lost any since then. The operational experience and boots on ground do matter in war fighting, because it is not the gun alone, but the man behind the gun also matters. If only technology could win war, Vietnam would not have been able to withstand US in last conflict.
(The views expressed are personal views of the author.Major General S B Asthana can be reached as Shashi Asthana on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ and on website http://www.asthanawrites.org)
Major General S B Asthana, SM,VSM, Chief Instructor, USI of India