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Time to Put the Old Dog Down? Debating the Future of NATO

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrated its 70th anniversary and after the long passage of time, it is almost as if the alliance has become a fixture of Europe’s security architecture. Founded at the start of the Cold War as a collective response to the threat of Soviet expansion into Western Europe, the alliance has since outlasted the conflict by close to three decades. This longevity should not be taken for granted. Similar organisations like the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) failed to even last the full stretch of the Cold War, and in order to remain relevant, the alliance has had to reinvent itself politically following the end of the Cold War, a process that again became necessary in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, it is the ability of Western Europe’s old guard dog to learn new tricks that has helped extend its lifespan beyond the completion of its original mandate.

Nonetheless, age has not been kind to the alliance. “No Action Talk Only” – a tongue-in-cheek play on the abbreviated version of alliance’s name –is a less than flattering description of its effectiveness but one that is perhaps becoming increasingly justified as criticisms against it mount. Ironically, it is the resurgence of Russia that has precipitated the latest round of soul-searching, with the annexation of Crimea and NATO’s relatively muted response highlighting concerns over its continued ability to live up to its raison d’être of being a collective bulwark against external encroachment. The findings of a recent study showing that NATO lacks the capacity to effectively defend its Baltic members against Russian adventurism does little to alleviate these concerns, nor do U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest allegations which suggest that the alliance has outlived its usefulness. NATO certainly has its flaws, but these imperfections aside, how valid is this latest wave of criticism? Is it perhaps time to put the old dog down?      

The U.S. and NATO: First among Equals

To address the question of whether the alliance still has a future, it is important to examine what allowed it to succeed in the past. Essentially, the question that should be asked is why has NATO managed to survive as long as it did where many of its peers have not. There is one important reason for this – the tangible commitment of U.S. military forces to the defence of Europe. Despite the U.S.’ own initial misgivings over the benefits and costs of maintaining a permanent military presence in Europe,[1]the fact of America’s eventual contribution provided the foundation upon which a lasting security arrangement could be based. The importance of this cannot be understated. Under the Cold War’s bipolar framework and with most of Western Europe’s post-war economies in tatters, American commitment was crucial to constructing a collective framework that was credible and effective enough to deter Soviet expansion.

Equally important was the idea that NATO was from the very onset more than just a military pact. It was also an alliance of shared values, underpinned by America’s commitment to rebuilding Western Europe’s shattered economies and fostering long-term economic growth and prosperity.[2]As encapsulated in the preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty, America’s involvement in NATO was not just a marriage of convenience – it is also an acknowledgement of the shared belief in “the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”. NATO’s existence was therefore as much a product of ideology as it was of practicality. This does not however mean that the U.S. was purely altruistic in its outlook toward European security, but there were certainly more commonalities that could be leveraged and built upon than not. Resulting from this, NATO’s framework of collective security was a more deliberate and holistic undertaking than similar projects initiated in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where partnerships were often more opportunistic in nature. U.S. involvement in Vietnam for example was more focused on finding military solutions at the expense of other possible diplomatic and political options, a decision that ultimately doomed the enterprise to failure.

A subtler but no less important contribution which the American involvement in Europe provided was to serve as a moderating force between its European allies, helping to allay pre-existing tensions and mistrust. It should not be assumed that a Europe unified is the natural state of affairs, particularly given the continent’s fractious history. It is worth pointing out that in the half-century prior to NATO’s formation, the greatest threat to stability in Europe was Germany, not the Soviet Union, a fact that was painfully demonstrated by the two World Wars. Even in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Western Europe was more concerned with a potential threat of a revived Germany than that from the Soviet Union.[3]The U.S. may therefore be unequally yoked in terms of its contributions to Europe’s collective defence as compared to that of the other NATO member states, but its status in the alliance as a first among equals places it in a unique position to foster greater unity than would otherwise have been possible.

It is perhaps then this tacit acceptance of America’s unofficial leadership that has helped the alliance survive its initial birth pangs and even thrive thereafter. At the same time, it is this very dependence on American support that has made President Trump’s recent comments about the potential withdrawal of the U.S. from NATO so problematic. While Western Europe has come a long way since the bleak post-war years – the European Union’s (EU) total value of all goods and services produced (GDP) surpassed the U.S. in 2017 – future predictions for a NATO shorn of U.S. assistance are understandably pessimistic even if, to paraphrase the famous American author Mark Twain, the rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, the historical record proves that NATO will be better off with the continued involvement of the U.S. than without.

The Case for NATO

Should NATO then be allowed to continue to exist? There are numerous angles with which to address this question but this paper shall focus on three conceptual perspectives. First, before deciding whether to put down the guard dog, it is important to consider why it was placed there in the first place. NATO’s primary mission has always been the defence of Western Europe, specifically from Soviet encroachment,[4] and while the end of the Cold War provided a brief respite from a state of constant vigilance, the recent tensions with a revanchist Russia suggest that the threat has merely been dormant. The issue then is less whether the guard dog still has a purpose but how the new parameters of its assigned domain should be defined.

Indeed, NATO’s post-Cold War eastward extension has been a significant contributing factor toward escalating tensions with Russia,[5]particularly with Russia’s interests predominantly focused in the post-Soviet region where it seeks to reinstate and maintain its position as the dominant regional actor, by military force if necessary.[6] Where NATO draws the line is important then because while Russia does not necessarily seek to recreate the Soviet Union,[7] it cannot tolerate Western encroachment into what it perceives as its own backyard. Part of NATO’s earlier success rested on the simplicity of its mission as well as the clear dualistic nature of the Cold War’s bipolar framework. NATO’s eastward expansion has however arguably corrupted its mission and added unnecessary complexity.[8]Despite the gains that have been made thus far by NATO, particularly in the Baltic region, further modification to the existing status quo must be tempered by prudence. 

Second, it has already been argued that NATO is more than just a military pact, but the extent to which the ties that bind its member states have evolved bears further examination. In his study on the security dynamics of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Dr. Ralf Emmers explored the concept of security communities. According to the constructivist approach, a security community is the final evolution of a defence network, which when fully integrated is characterised by shared identities, values and meanings; multiple and immediate relations among its members; and numerous instances of reciprocity based on long-term interest.[9]In this state, the use of force within the community becomes unthinkable, resulting in a lasting peace. After decades of cooperation, NATO’s member states have arguably become, or approached a state close to, what a security community is. While Western Europe enjoyed a long peace during the Cold War in terms of its successful avoidance of open war with the Soviet Union, the long peace was also embodied by the lack of hostilities between the member states of NATO, a feat that Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), a former Supreme Allied Commander, has described as the alliance’s greatest accomplishment. The value of maintaining this community therefore extends beyond the alliance’s military objectives, and its successful political and military integration of Germany is perhaps the most prominent testament to the alliance’s enduring ability to positively shape and influence the region’s security architecture.[10]

Furthermore, NATO’s existence serves to enshrine a regional form of strategic culture, one that directs the bellicose energies of Western Europe outwards against an external threat as embodied by the Eastern “Other”. Dr. Yitshak Klein defined strategic culture as “the set of attitudes and beliefs held within a military establishment concerning the political objective of war and the most effective strategy and operational method of achieving it”, and in the case of NATO, the most obvious means of countering the potential encroachment of a more powerful Eastern foe was through collective defence.[11]The nature of the foe is more subjective, but while the role of penultimate villain has most recently been filled by the Soviet-Russian menace, similar parallels can be drawn to historical precedents such as the Mongols and Ottomans. Neither is the notion of a collective response new, and the German historian Hubertus Prince zu Löwenstein and diplomat Dr. Volkmar von Zühlsdorff, observing the alliance in action during its formative years,even described it as but another manifestation in a long tradition of Western collective defence, one that included the likes of the Hellenic League and Roman Empire.[12] NATO of course formalises these mechanism more concretely, and with the western reaches of the European continent bounded by the sea, ensures the internal peace of Western Europe as long as sufficient buy-in exists in the centrality of the alliance to regional security.

Finally, the reality is that there is no real viable alternative to NATO. Even the United Nations (UN) is inadequate, hampered by its inability to take decisive action in the event of a crisis by the potential abuse of the veto powers afforded to the permanent members of the Security Council. This problem is exacerbated when such actions run counter to the national interests of that member, such as when the Soviet Union vetoed the 1947 decision to restore order in Greece following an earlier local communist uprising.[13]Ultimately, in spite of all its flaws and imperfections, NATO remains the most viable means of enhancing regional security, and while that speaks more to the lack of alternatives than to NATO’s own capabilities, it should not detract from the benefits the alliance brings as described above.

Final Musings

In closing, it is fair to say that NATO still has something to contribute in terms of enhancing stability in Europe, and by extension the world. Pressing issues will still need to be resolved, not least the repairing of NATO’s fractured relationship with the U.S., but the sense is that the continued presence of NATO is on the whole a positive rather than a negative. Like an old guard dog, NATO can at times be underappreciated, receiving less love than its contributions otherwise deserve. This is because the value of guard dog is measured in what does not happen. It is only in its absence that the guard dog’s true worth becomes evident although by then it might already be too late. At age 70, NATO is the venerable guard dog of Western Europe, and old it might be, it still has some teeth to bare.


[1] Douglas, Frank R. “American Focus on a Credible Defense of Western Europe.” Chap. 1 in The United States, NATO, and a New Multilateral Relationship. Connecticut & London: Praeger Security International, 2008. 7-27.

[2]Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO: The Alliance Moves East.” Chap. 7 in NATO Enters the 21st Century. London & Oregon: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001. 129-153.

[5]Ibid.

[6] Renz, Bettina and Hanna Smith. “PART 3: What does Russia want? The importance of understanding Russian goals and intentions.” In Russia and Hybrid Warfare – Going Beyond the Label, Aleksanteri Papers 1/2016. Helsinki: Kikimora Publications, 2016. 14-24.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO.”

[9] Emmers, Ralf. “Enduring Mistrust and Conflict Management in Southeast Asia: An Assessment of ASEAN as a Security Community.” TRaNS: Trans –Regional and –National Studies of Southeast Asia 5, no. 1 (2017): 75-97.

[10]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO.”

[11]Klein, Yitzhak. “A Theory of Strategic Culture.” Comparative Strategy 10, no. 1 (1991): 3-23.

[12] Prince zu Löwenstein, Hubertus and Volkmar von Zühlsdorff. “The Right to Self-Defense.” Chap. 1 in NATO and the Defense of the West. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., Publisher, 1962. 3-16.

[13] Prince zu Löwenstein, Hubertus and Volkmar von Zühlsdorff. “When the West Disarmed.” Chap. 4 in NATO and the Defense of the West. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., Publisher, 1962. 40-50.

Ian Li is a Research Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore.

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Defense

War to End or War to Follow?

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“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline”. These were the recent words of US president Joe Biden in his address to the impending US withdrawal of Afghanistan. Whilst his opinion paints a ghastly picture for the forthcoming months, the negotiations run rampant to strike the common ground. However, with continued attacks being launched by the Taliban followed by incessant threats to the US regime to withdraw its troops by the agreed deadline, a hard stance seems legitimate both from the US front and the NATO: both facing a quandary that could either end the decades’ long warfare or fuel insurgency for decades to come.

The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11th Attacks in 2001. Although the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed a similar suit, the stint lasted only 26 days in a massive scale drive to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction; allegedly in tandem with the looming threat posed to the United States by the World Trade Centre debacle. However, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be one of the costliest wars; both in terms of artillery and military men.

Cited as one of the rarest areas of agreement between President Biden and his predecessor, Mr. Donald Trump, both favoured the ‘Bring an end to the endless war’ slogan. Before leaving the office, Mr. Trump signed a waiver to ordain the Pentagon to level down the US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 troops, bypassing the reservations of the congress to retain the level at 4000 troops. President Biden, despite being prudent of the hasty withdrawal, rejoiced the idea to bring the soldiers back. In line with his narrative, the US recently proclaimed to withdraw the remaining combat forces from Iraq whilst retaining only the training forces in the country. The 3rd round of talks between Washington and Iraq culminated with the joint statement: “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF [Iraq Security Forces], the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks”.

It is evident that the US wants to enact the plan to bring back the troops, however, Afghanistan poses a paradox in comparison to Iraq. While alleged Iran-backed militants continue to lock horns with both the ISF and the US troops, the US has consolidated a stronger hold evidenced by the recent rebuttal via airstrikes against the Iran-backed militants in Syria. The US holds the premise that Iran seeks economic relief and thereby has no incentive to disrupt the peace but to maintain it. Similarly, the US wants to make a compromise with Iran via renegotiating the JCPOA accord, with a possibility of stretching the ambit to include Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and the regional proxy wars purportedly financed by Iran, before a hard-line administration takes over the Iranian parliament later this year. So, with a fledgling Iraqi military and expanding prospects of negotiation with Iran, the US could safely pull out the troops whilst still maintaining pressure and presence in the guise of militaristic training in Iraq.

Afghanistan paints a graver reality in contrast. Despite rounds and rounds of negotiations over months, the continued violations of the agreement by the Taliban are making it riskier to draw out the troops. While the US wants to maintain its presence in the country, the wavering Ghani-administration adds oil to fire. A war that has claimed more than 2500 US soldiers and millions of civilians could face an impasse as the 3-week timeslot narrows over the decision-makers. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly claimed that the Taliban have not fully lived up to the commitments they made in the February 2020 agreement: “Violence levels are too high for a durable political settlement to be made”.

The Biden administration, CIA, and NATO face a dilemma to decide the mechanism of withdrawal before the clock ticks through. As the terror groups propagate in the neighbouring Middle East, an unplanned withdrawal could drive the entire region into jeopardy. This might be the primal concern of president Biden and the Pentagon. The flailing ISIS could find haven in the political fiasco the unravels after the US completely withdraws from the country, leaving the Afghani government at the whims of the insurgents. However, expecting a complete withdrawal is just naivety. The US is known to covertly operate hundreds of secret bases in cahoots with NATO throughout the infringed nations. While it’s supposedly claimed that the Taliban are privy to the location of the bases in Afghanistan, nothing definitive could be added in edgewise to the argument.

An alternative, and quite a plausible notion at present, could be an outright refusal to withdraw the troops before the Taliban strictly adhere to their side of the deal. The resulting warfare would subsume the past 2 decades of mayhem. The deal would most likely completely crumble and perish. The evidence is scattered over the last three months. In March, the attack on the Afghan security checkpoint in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz left 6 soldiers dead. An attack a few days ago in the province of Herat left 9 Afghan police personnel dead when the Taliban militants targeted two police checkpoints. The recent blow came when the Taliban attacked the NATO airbase in Kandahar: a base frequented by 100s of US troops. The brazen attitude and timing of the attacks could not send a clearer message of warning to follow the deadline.

President Biden faces a choice now. While the cards are clustered and the consequences are muddled, the foremost decision hangs: How to go about the negotiations? Whilst made abundantly clear that the troops might not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, he confidently patched his perspective by adding:“Can’t picture the US troops still being in Afghanistan next year”. So, while the agreement stands to make a safe withdrawal, the deadline of May 1st poses a challenge if the exceeding violence alludes to any clue. With mounting pressure from the republicans and a synonymous example of withdrawal in Iraq, President Biden should ideally emphasize on withdrawal of the troops, even if not entirely. This would allow the Biden administration to elongate the negotiations to quench violence instead of retreating without question. However, execution is the key. Deviating from the agreement forged by Mr. Donald Trump or taking an aggressive stance could easily incite the chaos further: making the Afghan war translate into Biden’s war for decades to follow.

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Dual Use Technology Imports Aiding Pakistan’s Covert Nuclear Programme

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Terrorism

A recent threat assessment report by the Norwegian security agencies reportedly highlighted the unhindered exploitation of dual use technology by Pakistan. Norwegian authorities have determined Pakistan to be among the countries posing greatest threat to them. With this report, Norway became the latest country to raise alarm about the ‘Pak’ practice of bypassing all international safeguards in gaining latest nuclear technology on the pretext of using it for education and health.

However, Norway is not the only country to realise the immense risk stemming from transferring critical technologies to Pakistan. Its assessment follows several other countries’ public acknowledgement of the nuclear threat posedby Pakistan. Czech Republic in its report titled “Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2019” also drew global attention towards Pakistan misleading the world in procuring internationally controlled items and technologies to aid its nuclear programme.

The evidence of Pakistan’s covert nuclear programmes go well beyond these reports. In 2019,the US Department of Justice indicted five persons associated with a Pakistan based front company for operating a network that exported US origin goods to Pakistan. The indictment identified 38 separate exports involving 29 different companies from around the country between September 2014 and October 2019. The network used to conceal the true destinations of the goods in Pakistan by showing front companies as the supposed purchasers and end users. However, US Justice Department statement disclosed that the goods were ultimately exported to Pakistan’s Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission without export licenses. Both AERO and PAEC are on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List, which imposes export license requirements for organizations whose activities are found to be contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests.

Similarly, German authorities disclosed in 2020 that Pakistan had sought technology for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) “in order to retain a serious deterrent potential against ‘arch enemy’ India”. The agency provided a detailed account of Pakistan’s efforts to steal information and material about nuclear weapons.

However, to fulfill its destructive agenda, Pakistan does not shy away from using the name of its poor public and students. Its government has repeatedly claimed that it seeks the dual use technologies for social and economic upliftment of the country by utilizing the technology in its health and education sectors.

But, these baseless arguments no longer seem to cut the ice with western countries. Meanwhile, on their part, Pak officials have complained against the latest Norwegian report on grounds that other countries may deny access to technology to Pak students for their advanced studies and Pakistani researchers would be refused admission to International institutes and universities. However, the Norwegian authorities have maintained their stance as based on independent assessment of the issue, including confidential inputs.

Several instances of Pakistan having gained access to dual technology in the garb of peaceful purposes have come to light in the recent years. And the risk continues considering Pakistan’s terror background and its history of stealing technologies from different parts of the world. It is the unsavory reputation of Pakistan as a troublemaker that has gone global and the country is viewed with suspicion even when humanitarian considerations come to fore.

Given the poor governance standards and history of failure of civil institutions in Pakistan, these observations provide a justification for apprehensions of the western countries. It remains to be seen whether these disclosures lead to sanctions or new export controls against Pakistan or the country again succeeds in misleading the world by playing victim’s card.

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Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases

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Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.

India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.

India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.

In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption

has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group  ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.

Shady background of Defsys

Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.

The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.

Rampant corruption in India

Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.

Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended

India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.

Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.

He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.

Tardy trial

The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.

According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.

Legal cover for middlemen

Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.

Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual

There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.

The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.

For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”

Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product

Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.

India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)

India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.

All-round corruption

In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”

According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.

Concluding remarks

Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more.  Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.

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