Why Washington is warming to Indiaby Dr Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
, May 31, 2003
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War brought dramatic changes to the political and security alliances of India. Many years ago, India signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union and received substantial arms from Moscow, but India can no longer rely on Russia for economic assistance, military and diplomatic support.
India made the decision in 1991 to begin the search for independence and new directions in its foreign policy - that is, a 'looking West' posture. Many Indians believe that its regional pre-eminence - in size, centrality, defence capability, substantial economic development, and political stability - is a positive factor that would help consolidate Indo-US relations. In fact, India became an ally of the US in the war on terrorism after September 11, 2001.Global approach
The US Ambassador to India, Robert D. Blackwill, recently said that 'President George W. Bush has a global approach to US-India relations, consistent with the rise of India as a world power. Washington wants to make New Delhi not just a regional ally, but a global partner.'
In other words, the message is that the Bush Administration has sought to engage India on the whole range of issues that currently confront the international community. No matter what the issue, whether it be counter-terrorism, national defence, international commerce or preventing HIV/AIDS, the President has looked to India as a partner.
The most topical area of this partnership is in military-to-military relations, and these offer an impressive illustration of the way in which Indo-US ties are moving from the discussion stage to active cooperation.
For example, near Agra, Indian paratroopers and American special operations forces recently participated in their largest-ever joint army and air exercises since India's independence.
The specific goal of the exercise was to conduct joint parachute training and mutual familiarisation with small arms. Even though this joint exercise is an important milestone, it is only the latest indicator of the impressive growth in military co-operation between India and the United States.
The US and Indian Navies have also conducted exercises and US Navy ships have made seven port visits in the past few months. These indicate that Indian and US military forces are now actively developing the capability to work together effectively. Such co-operative activity between military organisations is a normal aspect of relations between friendly countries.
The US Defence Policy Group was also revived in December 2002. It provides the framework for planning and coordination of American military relationships.
Within that framework, other bodies, such as the Executive Steering Groups for the Army, Navy and Air Force and functional working groups, have discussed technological, research and development co-operation, sales and licensing issues and peace-keeping operations.
The defence supply relationship between Indian and American authorities has been notable in that it involves the private sector as well as government.
Clearly, the events of September 11 changed the dynamics of US-India defence relations. This was reflected in an interview with The Hindu
on 3 May by the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, who once again emphasised the growing bilateral defence relationship, saying that India had 'been very helpful' in assisting with 'logistics and flights', and that what was significant was that this relationship was not 'astronomically different' from what it had been a year ago.
'We love the idea of being able to call on occasion on Indian ports, naval ships ... We hope it will be good for US-India relations', he further said. The US is also supplying India advanced military aircraft.US troops
On the other hand, allaying apprehensions from some sections of Indian politicians, Ambassador Blackwill has made it clear that the US has no intention of stationing US troops permanently in India.
Regarding Indian military acquisitions from Russia, the US attitude is that 'India was a free country and as such it was free to acquire defence systems from any country', Mr Blackwill continued.
India has maintained a pattern of dual supply: the bulk of the aircraft come from Russia, but the cutting-edge component is supplied from the West. Soviet equipment is still value-for-money in India.
India continues to develop its nuclear arms program with foreign assistance, mainly from Russia. It relies on foreign assistance for key missile technologies, where it still lacks engineering or production expertise. India also continues to modernise its armed forces through 'advanced conventional weapons', mostly from Russia. New Delhi received its first two MiG-21-93 fighter aircraft, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will now begin the licensed upgrading of 123 more aircraft.
Russia is the main supplier of technology and equipment. India concluded an $800 million contract with Russia for 310 T-905 main battle tanks, as well as a smaller contract for KA-31 helicopters.
New Delhi is also negotiating with Russia for nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier, having signed a $270 million contract with Israel for the Barak-1 missile defence systems.
In addition, Russia has proposed selling the long range S300V surface-to-air missile system to New Delhi. The offer was reportedly renewed during President Vladimir Putin's visit to India in December last.
This defensive shield is claimed to be capable of detecting and destroying aerial targets, including missiles from a long distance in all weather conditions, to protect vital installations.
Further, given the changed international situation, good relations between India and Russia were now in the interests of the US. This statement indeed is a measure of the changed quality of US-India relations.Independent policy
The US no longer appears to view its relationship with India primarily through the prism of its relations with other countries in the region. Given the improvement in US-Russia relations, the US now appears to have no objections to Russia being India's largest supplier of military hardware.
In other words, the US, finally, is acknowledging the legitimacy of India's pursuit of an independent foreign policy; while there will be close politico-strategic-military ties between India and the US, there will be no 'alliance' relationship.
India is now interested in buying the Arrow Weapon System from Israel, which is being developed jointly by Israel and the US to intercept short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles.
India considers itself an ideal candidate for the Arrow system, given the possibility of missile threats from both China and Pakistan.
A missile defence system could help prevent either country from blackmailing India on the nuclear issue.
Since Arrow is defensive in nature, Indian officials claim, it would be unlikely to change the strategic balance in the region.
One obvious function of the system would be to defend against Pakistan's Ghauri and Shaheen missiles, which can be fitted with nuclear warheads. Although the Arrow is primarily a defensive system, it is noted, it is also powerful enough to propel a 500-kilogram payload about 300 kilometres.
Many South Asia analysts believe a decision to sell the Arrow to New Delhi would prompt Pakistan to boost its offensive capability to counter India's defensive shield, or begin seeking ways to get its own version of missile defence.
India disputes the contention that the sale has anything to do with proliferation, repeating that the system is defensive, not offensive. For some in New Delhi, the decision on the Arrow sale is a test of the US commitment to better relations with India.
In India there have been massive demonstrations to condemn the Bush Administration's war against Iraq. After the first of the missiles and bombs rained on Baghdad, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a statement which echoed the sentiments of the global community.
The statement conveyed India's 'deepest anguish' about the developments, and went on to add that the military action against Iraq 'lacks justification'. Interestingly, New Delhi has still not explicitly named the United States as the guilty party here.
Influential sections in the ruling BJP party as well as the main opposition party, the Congress, have been reluctant to rub the Bush Administration the wrong way on the Iraq issue.
Robert Blackwill was emboldened to state publicly in the first week of March that there were no differences between his country and the Indian government on the Iraq issue. Blackwill said that senior Bush Administration offficials have been holding intense discussions with India.Tempered criticism
Former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) in the third week of February that India could not wait 'indefinitely' for Iraq to disarm, a viewpoint that would have pleased Blackwill.
Mr Surendra K. Arora, head of the BJP's foreign affairs committee, said:
'How will it serve our national interest if we antagonised the US on the question of Iraq? We have registered our disapproval of the war and that should be enough. Criticising the US from the roof-top will not help us' (Frontline
, April 11, 2003).
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee told Parliament in early March that India would pursue a 'middle path' on Iraq.
Indo-US relations will continue to grow. In India's view, its regional pre-eminence - in size, centrality, defence capability - is a positive factor that would help consolidate future Indo-US ties.
India, meanwhile, is aiming to be a major economic force and key global power. It needs US support, and its closer diplomatic relations with the US is going to serve the national security interests of both countries.
- Dr Sharif Shuja lectures at the University of Melbourne