US Pacific Command chief caught in MoD protocol for appointments - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 25 June 2013

US Pacific Command chief caught in MoD protocol for appointments

Admiral Locklear meets Air Chief Marshal Browne, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. His request to meet all three service chiefs together was not granted

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Jun 13

Admiral Sam Locklear heads the US Pacific Command (PACOM), making him the most powerful military commander on earth. With 60 per cent of the US Navy under him, PACOM oversees 52 per cent of the planet. Locklear is America’s military pointsman for 36 countries, including India and China.

But for India’s protocol-driven ministry of defence (MoD), the admiral is just a military commander. During Locklear’s ongoing visit to India, Defence Minister AK Antony has turned down a request for a meeting, directing Locklear instead to Defence Secretary RK Mathur. Also turned down was Locklear’s request for a meeting with India’s three service chiefs. Instead, he was only invited to meet the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, who heads the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

MoD officials admit that these meetings were “substantive, not just ceremonial.” PACOM provides the military muscle for the US “rebalance to Asia.” And with the Indian Navy --- concerned about China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean --- rapidly developing Asia-Pacific partnerships with countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore, PACOM is a crucial interlocutor.

Furthermore, Locklear is a crucial arbiter of what weaponry and defence technologies the US supplies to India. Every proposed sale must have the PACOM chief’s backing, based on his determination that providing that capability to India would be in the strategic interests of the US.

PACOM, headquartered in Hawaii, is by far the biggest of America’s six “geographic commands”, each headed by a four-star general or admiral who reports to the US President through the Secretary of Defence. These six operational commanders are far more powerful, and relevant to regional partner countries like India, than the Washington-based chiefs of the US air force, army, navy or marine corps. While the service chiefs merely man, equip and recruit for their services, the geographic heads are battlefield commanders who command the US military in combat.

The US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were run from Central Command (CENTCOM), headquartered in Tampa, Florida. And the PACOM chief would be the top US commander in a hypothetical war against China.

For years, India’s ministry of defence (MoD) has been unenthusiastic about the burgeoning US-India relationship, which insiders frankly say is due to Defence Minister AK Antony’s left-of-centre political inclinations. Though the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are more bullish on the relationship, Antony’s seniority and clout allow him to have his way.

While the MoD is authorized a joint secretary from the MEA for coordinating foreign policy, the MEA has failed to provide one. As a result, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Smita Nagaraj, fills that post. MoD insiders say that her foreign policy inexperience lets Antony have his way.

Consequently, Antony has resolutely blocked multilateral naval exercises with the US since 2007, when the participation of 25 warships from India, the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore in Exercise Malabar aroused protests from the Left Front and the apparent ire of China.

Now the MoD is stonewalling India’s participation in next year’s RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Maritime Exercise), the world’s largest multilateral maritime exercise, which PACOM hosts in Hawaii. In the last edition of RIMPAC, 22 navies and 40 warships participated, including the Russian Navy. In the next edition in 2014, the Chinese navy is expected to participate. But the MoD worries that India’s participation might offend someone.

In contrast, bilateral exercises with the US have progressed apace; 62 joint exercises have taken place so far. The US says it does more joint training with India than with any other country. Indian Navy officers say US-India exercises have reached a level of sophistication where they provide excellent training.

“They especially help in developing operational doctrines for new platforms like the P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Both countries are just inducting it into service and there are lessons that we can share,” says an Indian Navy planner.

Trying to bridge these gaps between the MoD and the Pentagon is the Defence Technology Initiative (DTI), jointly headed by US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, and National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon. Even though its primary purpose is to find ways of moving beyond a buyer-seller relationship into the realm of co-development and co-production, the DTI also hopes to soothe some of the irritants between the two defence bureaucracies.

Although the MoD has refused to comment, officials say that the US army chief, General Ray Odierno, who will visit India shortly, will be meeting Antony.


  1. Shikhar Parjan25 June 2013 at 23:49

    How one wishes for true professionals to be running Defence, Home, External Affairs - in fact every wing of Governance, right down to Surface Transport and waterways... instead of the usual neta-log..

  2. '...MOD worried abt India's participation might offend someone'.the truth is MOD does not itself know who!!What reciprocity do we expect then?
    Talkg of US Ind exercises, recently during Yudh Abhyas 2013 Indian Army contingent consisting mainly of a det fm the elite 2/5 GR (FF)provided a fine example of soldiering incl a 100 pct hit record on the enhanced Jaguar A/Tk Missile.Something our army critically needs.

  3. India lost a golden opportunity to bully China.

  4. great to see india doing this. You guys have some self respect! be proud!

  5. I don't agree with this assessment. Protocol matters. This is not a case of Empire where a lower level member of the royal family can "represent" the monarch. If the US wants to have such high level interactions with a fellow democratic republic, then the US govt should send somebody appropriately empowered, not assume that any functionary can cavalierly barge in to any level of the Indian government and be treated as an equal. I would like to see an Indian Army Commander visiting the US and demanding to see people at the highest echelons, and see what the diplomatic cold shoulder would look like. No, I take that back. Would not like any Indian Army Commander to undergo that.

  6. Rather unfortunate that we have a Defence Minister who's short-sightedness or his left-of-centre political inclinations, go against the interests of the Nation, Defence Forces in particular. The Nation needs to know this. Just as the US of A has Congressional Committee hearings, we too need such a forum in India to protect National interests.

  7. "...MoD worries that India’s participation might offend someone."

    Join me in suggesting re-christening MoD to MoW = Ministry of Worries, headed by a worrisome man void of any strategic vision.

  8. AK Antony is a wise man. He knows who the enemies and friends are.

  9. Awsome, why should AK Anthony meet an military commander. If US wants to interact with him, they need to send someone of his level. India should never become the American police in the Indian ocean region, we are a big country and we have protocol whats wrong in that.

    Our objective should be to stand tall on our own feet and not become another Pakistan, Australia or Japan who do the bidding for US. I am so glad that AK Anthony has done this.

    And if the commander needs to be engaged by breaking all protocols just for getting weapons from US, then its our short shortsightedness.

    I have been reading your blog for over 2 years, but increasingly it looks like you get paid by some American PR machinery to right articles biased to America. Nothing wrong in it, since you are a civilian now and can take up assignments that you wish. But I sincerely hope we do not end up become an American stooge. History is witness that America stands by none.

  10. @ Anon June 27 20:36,
    "...we are a big country and we have protocol whats wrong in that."


    Nothing wrong in having protocols or following them. However IMHO, national interest trumps everything. If making exceptions (in indeed exceptional situation) helps strengthen our ties, it's worth it.

    Generally speaking, may be, just may be, had we not been so bent on our procedural BS, we would not have learned about 7 billion $ leftover arms windfall to Pakistan today in Shukla ji's latest post.

  11. @Deshdaaz

    Isn't it in our national interest that we manage protocols when dealing with foreign nations? What is the exceptional situation here? Does US manage protocols when screen our ex-presidents? Did they manage protocols when denying Visa to Modi, who is a democratically elected CM of a State in India? If there was really an exceptional situation US should send the appropriate authority and this is exactly the message they should be given.

    How is Ajai's post related to protocols, are you saying MOD learnt about the US leftovers from this post? The possibility of US leaving a large chunk of equipment has been doing rounds since over a year. Ajai is defense correspondent and a fine one at it due to his knowledge of our defense space, but he is not in the secret service or MOEA to always have the first information.

    The point I really want to make is, we should not bend over for any nation, be it US or Russia or China. Lets have some spine and stand on our own feet and make ourselves count. We will gain respect of other nations and most importantly the nation will be respected among its very own citizen.

  12. Protocol? PACOM is a geographical command much like our own Army Command. So, going by that equation, CDRUSPACOM, given the size of his command, would warrant meeting the Central Army Commander? He should be thankful that he was met by the CJCS and not by the Central Army Cdr. Mighty presumptuous of Adm Locklear to expect to meet the DefMin. Get the Secy of Def to meet Anthony, not an Adm even if he commands 52% of US forces on the planet.

    Going by this analogy, will the Central Army Commander be allowed to meet Chuck Hagel on his own? My bloomin' a**e.

    Sir, please don't advocate following the raucous clamour for toeing the Yank line a la the Aussies, the Brits, Singy etc. We occupy a strategic part of the world and will "educate" the Americans to understand, acknowledge, appreciate and apply this fact.

    At such times, I like the Indian protocol. Puts upstarts in their place.

  13. Why would this author want to engage with US immediately and without any recicprocal attitude from the other side. Always India has been the giver and the US has been the taker. We have bent backwards several times and even now US wants pak to be on their side and to appease India on paper they want all these things to go doesnt the author see the nitty-gritty of this or does he want to prostrate before US whatever they desire for!!


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