The Shadow of National Missile Defence on the Sub-Continent

The Shadow of National Missile Defence on the Sub-Continent

Why would the defence plans of a solitary nation affect the security climate of a region or for that matter that of the entire world at large? If the country is the United States of America, the sole surviving Super power, the answer is obvious- the implications of strategic strongholds having the prospect of rekindling an alliance of the sort with acquiescence of like minded nations can hardly be lost sight of. But then is it natural for New Delhi to be in an apparent haste to endorse the plan? (New Delhi hailed the package of proposals for drastic cuts in nuclear arsenals as well as in building missile defences, as “significant and far- reaching” and as an effort to move defence policies away from the “adversarial legacy of the Cold War.”) This has been the question upper most in the minds of academia and policy analysts when India with astonishing alacrity made its support just after President Bush announced the plans, public. “Was it a political blunder? Or a stroke of diplomatic genius?” asked C. Rajamohan, one of leading strategic analysts in the sub continent “Dangerously premature” said Natwar Singh, the foreign policy advisor of the main opposition party in India “We should have waited for at least another three to four months to take into account the reactions and arrangements which America could make with Russia and China” was the opinion of former foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit. Muchkund Dubey another former foreign secretary said, “I agree there should be a transition from the outdated MAD (mutually assured destruction) but the transition should be to a nuclear free world and not to the world of new weapons systems that actually increases the uncertainties.” India’s swift and effusive welcome to American proposals on national missile defence (NMD) was quite uncharacteristic given the traditional lethargy for reaction to international developments and the tendency to frown upon intellectual exuberance of any kind. On the face of it and in the context of changing pattern of alignments in South Asia, India might have hoped to be a part of Washington’s search for a new security doctrine. But the fact that NMD contains the potential to project China as Global Enemy No 1 has serious security implications for the region.

NMD marks a significant shift in Washington’s Chinese policy -from appeasement to competition and containment. The rationale for old strategic relationship with China becoming a non-factor, a change was but on expected lines. What is important however is the implication that the relations are not going to get better. Stephan P. Cohen, Brookings Institute. “The change is going to be rough since Beijing still has friends in Washington. They will un-lease campaign against President Bush.” William Triplett II, former Republican counsel to the senate foreign relations committee and China expert.

But what is behind the Washington’s Chinese paranoia? Asia is going through a dangerous phase in which the growing Chinese military capability has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in factional fights within the Communist Party. .. “we have military capability and a likely scenario of political instability after President Jiang Zemin..”

China has its own reasons to be worried about NMD in itself and more so when India comes to be a part of the security umbrella that the plan contemplates. Beijing’s plan for reunification of Taiwan is at stake, besides making China’s most of the nuclear arsenal redundant. China will then be open to American interventionism. A negative fall out will be inevitable massive built up of its missile forces that is most likely to trigger an accelerated missile program by India with Pakistan following close behind. Thus the Washington initiative could set off a dangerous new missile race with destabilizing consequences for the region. “Although China’s modernization will be primarily US-focused, it would invariably have India exploit this development to use it as a convenient cover to expand its own nuclear and missile forces. This in turn will trigger Pakistan’s insecurities… South Asia, already one of the most dangerous nuclear flashpoints on earth will witness another arms race and heightened tensions.” ( Prof. Li Kangamen, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing)

There is emerging a point of view that New Delhi’s new found strategic alignment will enable it to counter China in far more realistic manner. This has been what is disconcerting for Beijing. “India should desist from playing the US card and maintain its role of promoting sustained peace and harmony in the Asia-Pacific region. If India candidly supports the NMD initiative, the developing Sino-Indian ties, which have got impetus in the past two years will be affected.” (Prof. Wang Suhai, People University, Beijing.) This is another way of telling that China’s defence co-operation with Pakistan will be more intense than ever, put Indo-China border talks on hold, possibly support secessionist groups in the North-east, may eventually bloc India’s efforts at getting the permanent seat in the Security Council. “Chinese concern is mainly from the Taiwan issues and does not have much military insecurity with India.” (Zhao Gancheng, Shangai Institute for International studies) NMD is perceived to upset this balance. India on the other hand has a lot of reasons to be concerned about the growth of Chinese capabilities. More sober of the lot would advise New Delhi to oppose militarization of any kind with a sort of independence, “whether it is by the US, China or Russia.” (Prof. M. Mohanty, Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi)

The theoretical possibilities of NMD are enormous. The technology makes nuclear deterrence almost obsolete as it confers the possessor the first as well as a second strike capability enabling it to threaten any other country without the fear of retaliation. Naturally therefore Islamabad is sure to read insecurity in India’s move.

Analysts say that India ideally should have waited to determine its own requirements in terms of weapons and extent of security before reacting to the Washington proposal. But in a scenario where China is expanding its nuclear capabilities as fast as possible, India stands to gain with an overt support to the US plan. An expectation of bilateral and eventually an international defence cooperation is built into the proposal along with proposal for substantial reductions in nuclear arsenal that has been New Delhi favorite bargain in disarmament negotiations. India hopes the reduced reliance on offensive nuclear forces as envisaged in the plan would eventually lead the world towards a “multilateral compact that results in an elimination of all nuclear weapons globally.” There is also an appreciation of the “strategic and technological inevitability” of a shift from the present mutual assured destruction (MAD) to “a cooperative, defensive transition” underpinned by smaller nuclear arsenals maintained in a reduced state of readiness(‘de-alert’). There has then been this hope that Washington will see some roguish elements in Pakistan- an argument that the US is currently using for furthering the NMD. “China is headed for a Soviet future in American strategy….On the other hand, Pakistan cannot afford an arms race as much as India can.” New Delhi perceives this as an advantage. ( Madhavan Palat, JNU, New Delhi). It’s response reflects an ambitious agenda that has opened up new possibilities in India- US relations one least being greater bilateral military interactions. Besides New Delhi is not oblivious to the fact that NMD stands the chance of being reined in by technology hurdles, costs and possibly Democrats in the Capitol Hill. ( Michael Krepon, Stimson Centre, Washington)

India’s calculations may have been entirely misdirected too. “The US has successfully and successively bailed out Pakistan from its economic crises” (Muchkund Dubey)… “Pakistan is certainly not about to become another Libya in America’s estimation.” (Madhavan Palat) .. “Unrestrained giddiness about ‘paradigm shifts’ or a strategic rapprochement between India and the US is premature. To the contrary, substantial differences over the nature and goals of Indo-American partnership are likely to complicate future relations. A short list of issues where Washington and New Delhi will find it difficult to collaborate would include Pakistan, China, Iran, and the future of the global non-proliferation regime.” Moreover, New Delhi must consider the the prospects of continuous adjustments in foreign as well as domestic policy to keep Washington continuously engaged. This shall inevitably be at the cost of independent judgement and action in foreign policy. This explains why analysts are startled at India’s remarkable turn around that unmasked a new realism after years of pursuing a vigorous disarmament agenda.

While New Delhi basks in the sudden international status as now being at par with the most important capitals in the world in the Washington’s list, its concerns vis-à-vis Russia come to be at stake. To the extent that Russia’s response has been conciliatory rather than reactive, should put New Delhi at ease. (Russia welcomed the proposal for a dialogue but indicated it wasn’t happy with any unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty that NMD contemplates). New Delhi took the right opportunity (the visit of Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Igor Ivanov) to dispel apprehensions that its support for the NMD may undermine its strategic equations with Russia, and that India remains empathetic to Moscow’s security concerns.. ‘‘Both sides reaffirmed their mutual interest in expanding military-technical cooperation, as well as other aspects of bilateral trade and economic ties” and minor differences on NMD will not affect the ‘‘solid and long-lasting’’ relations between the two countries.( Russian Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda [Red Star])

New Delhi also rejected the criticism that it had reacted in haste to the Bush’s new framework for security and stability, saying it was a “considered” view in keeping with “the larger global impact.” “New Delhi’s concerns were part of the dialogue process with Washington. India had welcomed the U.S. announcement of unilateral reduction of its nuclear forces and its decision to move away from the hair-trigger alerts associated with prevailing nuclear orthodoxy.” (statement of India’s Ministry External Affairs) Thus there is an appearance of an obvious convergence of interests between New Delhi and Washington on a variety of issues and this could, with imagination and initiative, position Indo-U.S. relations on firmer ground. That the other players having considerable stakes in the region are cagey about the same is but a different matter.

Stability in Asia- a region which President Clinton described as most dangerous, has now become one of Washington’s foreign policy priorities. There is an emerging perception that India can play a role in generating a balance in the continent. There has also been the growing fear that China, is emerging as a military and economic power of some standing, that can threaten American interests in Asia and beyond. China’s plans of rapidly modernizing its armed forces, its efforts at improving its nuclear arsenal, and its disregard of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, have all led to these apprehensions. In contrast to the Clinton administration, key members of the Bush team view China more as a strategic competitor rather than as a strategic partner. While China is a key element, it is not the only one. There is thus a growing recognition in Washington that partnership with a democratic, secular, militarily strong and economically prosperous India could be a force of stability and moderation in West and Central Asia as well. (Amitabh Mattoo, The Hindu 5 may 2001)

With NMD, a state of volatility has been introduced to the strategic environment in South Asia. With Islamabad rapidly loosing out to New Delhi as the most favored ally in the sub continent and Washington rushing on into diplomatic and strategic skirmishes of one kind or other with Beijing, the NMD plan could not have been better timed for India. But as it is an established fact of international power politics that relationships between nations are determined more on the basis of convenience and expediency than on convergence of ideology etc, New Delhi must weigh its options carefully before diving headlong into the sea of uncertainties.
Compiled from news sources


Arabinda Acharya