May 10, 2001
Colonel Anil Athale (retd)
The American proposal
We live in an age where sequels are the order of the day. Witness the
success of the sequel to Gone With the Wind, other movies like Home
Alone etc, etc. It is tempting to class the latest American
resurrection of the Star War concept of the 1980s in a similar category. It
will be a mistake to dismiss President Bush's announcement as a
gimmick. Far too many ignoramuses of the Indian media are already at it.
The move is significant, coming as it is from a traditionally
isolationist party like the Republicans. In the long run it shows that
not only is the US prepared to act as a global cop, but a global
marshal, American style. Securing the US against potential 'baddies' is
the aim. Naturally, the enforced peace is basically meant to secure the
peace and prosperity of the Americans and its allies and friends.
Echoing the words of Ronald Reagan, President Bush made the point
that the US needed new concepts of deterrence that rely on both
offensive and defensive forces. Deterrence can no longer be based
solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation. Defences can strengthen
deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation.
He made it clear that the US would not take a unilateral decision and
would consult allies and friends. Three top functionaries of the US are
visiting various countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada. In
Asia the US envoy is scheduled to visit India, South Korea and Japan.
Reagan's Star Wars and BMD: Differences and similarities
There is a temptation to link the present American proposal for BMD to
Star Wars of the Reagan era. On March 23, 1983, Reagan made a similar plea
to move away from solely retaliation based strategy to defence against
ballistic missiles. At that time the measure was solely aimed at
countering the threat of Russian land based missiles. It was understood
that the systems being then thought were not effective against either
low flying cruise missiles or submarine launched ballistic missiles.
There was a mention of theatre missile defence in Europe only as a sop
to the disquiet felt by the European allies. As expected the Russians
opposed it tooth and nail and the Americans promised to only carry on
research and did not deploy these systems. In 1983, many sceptics
doubted the efficacy of the technologies then available. There was a
major worry of some that while the US developed and deployed these
defences, a threatened Soviet Union may well decide to pre-empt it.
The proposal of the Bush administration is different in its emphasis and
content. The BMD program's objective is to:
- First, develop and deploy increasingly capable Theater Missile
Defences, TMD to meet the existing missile threat to the deployed US and
- Second, as a hedge against the emergence of long-range ballistic
missile threats, develop options to deploy a National Missile Defence, NMD for the United States;
- Third, continue to support research on more advanced ballistic
missile defence technologies to keep pace with the threat and improve the
performance of theater and NMD systems.
The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization is established by the Department
of Defense Directive 5134.9.
From this it is obvious that the emphasis is on protecting the land
and naval forces of the US as priority number one. While the main criticism
against Ronald Reagan's Star Wars proposal was that it did not
cater to the threat of short range missiles and thus left Europe and
The main concern then was to deal with the threat of
Soviet land based missiles (over 2,000) by developing technologies to
destroy these in the boost phase, cruise phase and terminal phase. With the
shorter time of flight of tactical missiles, TMD was a more difficult
proposition. It appears that the research that has been going on in the
US for the last 17 years has managed to overcome these problems.
Like the 1983 proposal that had a specific target country, the Soviet
this time around it seems that China and its threat to Taiwan is the
specific contingency for which the TMD is designed. In addition, with a
sea based version of TMD, the US capacity to intervene in a regional
crisis worldwide will be enhanced.
The other factor that has been at the
back of this consideration is the fact that today many countries have
managed to obtain or build short range missiles (Iraq, Iran, Pakistan
and possibly Libya). While very few countries are able to develop and
deploy Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles, ICBMs that can reach the
mainland of US (Russia, China at present and N Korea and India after
Like in 1983, European countries are not enthusiastic about the BMD.
There are two reasons for this, first and foremost is the fact that
this American ability will devalue Europe's importance to the US as the
Americans will be able to act unilaterally.
The unspoken European
apprehension is that that the Americans will offer the system to Europe
but at a price. For the last nearly 50 years the Europeans have got
accustomed to a 'free ride' and are loath to pay for their defence. The
Europeans also fear that through the device of BMD, the technology gap
between the US and Europe will increase further in the fields of
avionics and space. But after some hard bargaining and getting a share of
the technology development budget, European countries will come round
to supporting it.
The Russians are uneasy for reasons very similar to the fears expressed
by the Europeans. The BMD is as yet not effective against the submarine
launched ballistic missiles and to that extent the Russian 'deterrence'
is safe and un-affected. But since the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union and end
of US-Russia rivalry, the Russian 'deterrence' was being maintained
not for any security reasons but for the sake of prestige and increasingly
challenged position of Russia as a super power.
However, with the never
ending conflict with Islamist separatists in Chechnya, the Russians
well see merit in collaborating with the Americans. It should be
remembered that the two, US and Russia are already partners in the
international space station project. Many of the technologies in
peaceful application are of relevance to the BMD as well. There would
be some advantage, specially if the US were to be prepared to 'buy'
to the Russian technologies for BMD, for a cash strapped Russia.
China is the country that will be most affected by the BMD. With
missile defence, it can well bid good bye to using force against
Its puny 'deterrence' based on less than 50 odd ICBMs, will be made
redundant. More than its actual military value, this put paid to the
Chinese ambition of becoming a super power as it will have no means to
counter the American pressures in the economic and political arena should a
push come to shove. This will force China to divert her resources to
building a bigger nuclear arsenal, at an economic cost that may well
slow down her economic growth.
India is irrelevant in this 'big league' and our support or opposition
is of no consequence to the US. But out of all the countries, it is
India that faces a direct and immediate threat of a 'rogue' state on its
borders. BMD and theatre missile defence is needed by India if she is
to survive a 'nuclear' Kargil!
Part I: The Burkina-Faso syndrome
The Bush Advantage