German-Indian Relations: Interview with Major General S B Asthana (Veteran)


Major General S B Asthana is a strategic and security analyst and a veteran Infantry General with 40 years of experience in national & international fields and the UN. He is a globally acknowledged strategic & military writer and analyst, who authored over 350 publications. He is regularly interviewed by various national and international news and media outlets. He is currently Chief Instructor, USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India. He is on the Board of Advisors/Security Council CEE, IOED, IPC, ITVMNN and other UN Organisations. He is also on the Advisory Board of SWEDINT, member EPON and in the Expert Group Challenges Forum, Former Additional DG Infantry. He was awarded twice by President of India, United Nations, former Prime Minister Maldova and Governor of Haryana. He can be reached at shashiasthana29@gmail.com.


India | May 15, 2020

Interview by Robin El Kady (The German Diplomat)

The views expressed by Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) are his personal views and do not reflect the views of any organization.

The German Diplomat | What do you think are the ways in which Germany and India are connected?

Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) | I think Germany and India are connected in a number of ways: Firstly, Germany is the largest trading partner for India within the European Union. Notably, after World War II, India was one of the first countries to recognize the Federal Republic of Germany, as the European Union developed. Interestingly, the age of India’s and Germany’s democracy is almost the same.

Germany and India developed a strategic partnership in 2001. Both countries pursue similar ideas in the global system with regards to the international trading system, climate change issues, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iranian Nuclear Deal), and digitalization. Looking at investments, the digital environment in India is developing: the U.S., the U.K. and a lot of other economies are outsourcing their digital work to India.

India learns from Germany a lot about renewable energy sources. Very recently, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding on Zero Budget Natural Farming. I appreciate that Germany has started phasing out its nuclear power plants, which is a very great indication that Germany is conscious of the safety issues involving around nuclear power plants.

Both Germany and India have to look at multilateralism. I think cyber security is another area where I think we should be working together. Germany is regarded as a very useful partner in the technological capacity building in India. Our automobile centers are working very closely together. These are some of the things that bring Germany and India close together.

However, there is a little bit of difference with regards to the perception of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Germany seems to be inclined towards the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); however, India perceives it differently. I think that the Belt and Road Initiative is infringing upon India’s sovereignty, especially the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. India, therefore, has a very strong reason not to be part of BRI. China clearly has very strong strategic ambitions attached to the BRI, and its aggressiveness is not only through infrastructure diplomacy, but also through encroachment in the financial system and financial investments. I would advise Germany to be very careful with regards to China’s BRI.

The German Diplomat | What do you think are other differences between Germany and India when it comes to global politics?

Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) | When it comes to global politics, I don’t think there are currently that many differences. There used to be differences in the past, but I think we have gone past them.

The German Diplomat | What were the differences in the past?

Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) | For instance, Germany was not in favor of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, which led to liberation of Bangladesh. India had no other option to resolve the refugee influx into the country, besides atrocities being caused in Indian neighborhoods. However, it was not only Germany, but some other countries also had some reservations. When India conducted its first nuclear devise test, Germany was not in favor of that like many other countries in the world. But India had its compulsions: It has unsettled borders with China, which was a nuclear state. Certainly, India could not have progressed without a nuclear capability to be safe. India, therefore, had its compulsions and I think every country has gotten over it to an extent that India is now a part of MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) and has gathered support of many western countries for its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

I think we have come a long way. The differences between India and Germany are history. Presently, I think there are just positive connections between Germany and India. It is an era of cooperation that continues. I am looking forward to a strong Germany and to a strong cooperation between India and Germany.

The German Diplomat | Since you mentioned Germany’s external perception, what do you think is the perception of Germany within India?

Major General Asthana | In my opinion, the Indian people look at Germany as a very strong industrial power and as the supplier of good quality technological goods, especially in terms of automobile. People perceive Mercedes as a symbol of a quality product. India also learned a lot from Germany in terms of how it built itself up, especially after its reunification. I also respect Germany’s leadership.

I think that India also recognizes Germany’s increasing role and responsibility within the European Union (EU). Germany’s responsibility in the EU has further increased after Brexit. Now, we look at Germany as one of the pillars of the EU.

The German Diplomat | Since you mentioned lessons learned from the German reunification, what are other things that India learned from Germany?

Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) | I think we have learned the most from Germany in terms of its social welfare system, especially with regards to Germany’s high budgeting for health, which helped it to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

As far as the Indian military is concerned, the most important thing we learned from Germany was its selection process for military officers. India has obviously modified it, but the basis was inspired by the German model. You will see that today Indian military officers are much more operationally experienced and have never let the military down. Furthermore, a lot of German campaigns that were successful are being studied in the Indian military.

Clean energy is something that India needs to learn from Germany, because India is energy dependent on fossil fuels. A collaboration with Germany in that regard would be of significant help. 

The German Diplomat | To switch the perspective: What do you think are some things that Germany learned from India?

Major General S B Asthana (Veteran) | India has been able to do strategic balancing between various powers and power centers in a very efficient way. India has good relations with different countries, who may not all have good relations with each other, like Russia, China, and the U.S, or Iran, Israel and Palestine – all at the same time. What I see now is that Germany is also trying to do a little bit of strategic balancing.

For instance, Germany does not mind welcoming guests from Russia and at the same time being part of G-7. Similarly, Germany is simultaneously looking at the U.S. and China. I think both Germany and India have a fair amount of respect for each other and look at multipolar world.


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