US National Defence Authorisation Act 2021’s implications on Indo-pacific & Indian military- Part 1

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (H.R. 6395) was passed on 01 January 2021 in spite of the veto by President Donald Trump. This is a United States federal law which specifies the budget, expenditures and policies of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Analogous NDAAs have been passed annually.

This is the 60th authorisation Act for the fiscal year 2021 sanctioning $740 billion for the defence budget. 2021 happens to be one of the most challenging times for America and the world. The new belligerence by China amidst the pandemic is threatening world peace and a stable global order. Akin to the previous two Acts, this has also specifically mentioned about the Indo-Pacific Region and actions needed to contain China in this region. In this context, it has specifically mentioned about China’s unfair claims across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas. It has directed China to refrain from such claims and de-escalate along the LAC in consultation with India.

Geopolitical Priorities: Concentrate, One at a Time

 In fact, let us not overlook the fact that the initial available indicators have pointed towards China for unleashing the so called Wuhan Virus. This suspicion has become stronger since the Chinese have not allowed the International investigation teams to enter the Wuhan laboratory. At this juncture of a global Coronavirus Pandemic there appears to be an evolving big power rivalry, which is manifesting into a geo-political conflict.

Communist China is projecting a power shift with China declaring claims all across from the South China Sea to the Himalayas and its new Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong policies. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the USA to lay down its geopolitical priorities rather than to get engaged all over the world. Has the USA to focus on China or Russia or Iran? Does it need to get involved with North Korea and Saudi Arabia? Or does it tackle all of them simultaneously, as it has almost done under the Trump Presidency? Simple logic should lead one to the correct answer with following reiterations. Firstly, the new threat, which needs no analyses, is the rise of a communist China as against a free world.

Therefore, the focus of the US national security effort has to be now on China, China and…… again China! Because, Russia is too weak economically (however, militarily it is still Number 2 power in the world) and is dependent on China for its minimum economic health. Thus, it cannot get into an open military conflict either with the USA or even China. China is thus leveraging Russian military prowess against America and the NATO alliance. Therefore, geopolitically, if Russia is weaned away or may be economically benefited by the West by removing sanctions, then it is likely to become lesser dependent on China. \

Consequently, the matrix of America+NATO versus China+Russia gets dented ipso facto. This would then automatically tilt the balance in favour of America. Thereafter, the Americans can get more breathing space and time to counter all the Chinese moves with an upper hand. America should not fritter away its energy in getting engaged with North Korea or Saudi-Arabia or the Middle East. It is a very weird proposition if America gets distracted in engaging with non-entities.

It is like missing the wood for the trees. Concentrate one at a time! For next few years, America should concentrate around the perimeter of China and the South China Sea so as to influence these nations in the periphery before they get gravitated towards the Communist China. It is a simple strategy of ‘One by One and Not All together’. Call it Phase 1 of the first geopolitical step that the USA should take, to counter China more near its home. The Phase two could be economic steps to counter the debt diplomacy unleashed by China on small states along the ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) routes. The third step could then address the balance of the weak geographical states/entities globally being exploited by China. The American grand strategy should be to maintain a checkmate on China throughout these Phases coupled with more economic integration and alliances like the erstwhile Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for at least a decade, so as to reconsolidate. Central to the above initiative has to be the formulation of a global democratic alliance. President Biden has a plan for the first democratic conference in February 2021.Similarly, the UN needs restructuring to wean away the Chinese influence, which has penetrated in all elements of the UN. Countering all such types of Chinese Influence operations have to be ensured. Probably, India’s occupation of a permanent Member of the Security Council can add a number to the tally of democratic nations at the high table as against two communist nations (China and Russia).

Now focussing on Phase 1 of this manoeuvre, India’s role in the Himalayas and the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ (QUAD) becomes paramount. India is doing the bulworker’s job for the rest of the world by confronting PLA’S 20-25 divisions equivalent. This automatically blunts the PLA offensive on other fronts including Taiwan. The QUAD in any case is geo-strategically deployed at an advantageous position at the maritime choke points in the Indo-Pacific theatre. In addition the US bases in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea coupled with ‘acquisition and cross-servicing agreements’ (ACSAs) and strategic bombers give an overwhelming superiority over the PLA Navy (PLAAN). Coming back to the Himalayas, it is clear that morally the rest of the Free world should put their shoulders behind India so that the Indian economy is not taxed during the present on-going standoff. India should not be burdened with expenditures for buying military weapons and equipment, all on its own. The NATO type budgeting of coalition partners and leasing of state of the art weapons and their training be ensured under ACSA arrangements and the FMS procedures, which were adopted for Israel and other nations be invoked through the various provisions enshrined under this Act. In addition, the cutting edge technologies are made available to India’s manufacturing units like DRDO etc. Let us recollect few previous transactions which America has done with countries needing support for global good.

US Military Transactions and Grants

To date, the United States has provided Israel $146 billion in military aid and Foreign Military Financing grants plus aircraft, considered to be the most technologically advanced fighter jet ever made. It has been given Foreign Military Financing, which refers to congressionally appropriated grants given to foreign governments to finance the purchase of American-made weapons, services and training. Since 1950, the US government has provided over $91 billion in FMF to militaries around the world. Similarly, there are funds which provide voluntary support for international peacekeeping activities (as opposed to the U.S. share of UN-assessed peacekeeping operations, which is financed elsewhere). Peace Keeping funds promote increased involvement of regional organizations in conflict resolution and help leverage support for multinational efforts where no formal cost sharing mechanism is available.

This is yet another route which can be taken to arm India to face the PLA with a coalition support. In fact other countries on the periphery like Nepal or Sri Lanka also can be explored. Yet another notable provision as given in section 1601 of the NDAA 2021 is space-related, which amends existing authorities to establish a subordinate unified command under the auspices of U.S. Strategic Command. This command is responsible for coordinating and directing military activities in relation to outer space across the different military services, in the same manner as the geographic commands or NATO. This could be expanded to include partners (like India), so that a skeleton US space command could be affiliated aside India, who is in any case geographically at the actual point of action or at the geo-political fulcrum for contesting the PLA in the Himalayas. Application of ‘BECA’ under guidance of such a ‘Space Command Detachment’ would enable India getting the edge over the PLA as regards the ‘Informationalisation’ domain in the high mountains. This kind of arrangement is now feasible under this NDAA 2021.India should explore such kind of many innovative organisations and arrangements under the law.

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