May 11, 2001


 Search the Internet
E-Mail this report to a friend
Print this page

Armitage woos the Indian establishment

Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi

American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage spent the day assiduously wooing the Indian establishment during his visit to New Delhi on Friday.

"We have come to speak with India's leadership about a whole host of issues, including our view of the strategic framework of which missile defence is a part," Armitage told journalists on arriving in the capital.

After a meeting with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who is holding additional charge of defence, at 1245 IST, Armitage took a break for lunch before meeting the prime minister's Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra. This was followed by a visit to Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's residence. Later, he called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

After his meetings, Armitage made three significant statements. First, he explained that the National Missile Defence plan was a misnomer, since the United States was looking at a new "global security framework". Missile defence was part of this, not a standalone item.

The second referred to the start of a "new relationship" between New Delhi and Washington, part of which involved President George W Bush accepting Vajpayee's invitation to visit India. The date for the visit will be decided later.

The third statement involved "questions" about India's bete noir, Pakistan. Armitage said, "We have questions about Pakistan. It is well known and even better known to you. These we refer to as hard cases." He was talking in the context of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles, where he virtually grouped Islamabad with 'rogue' states like Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

New Delhi, on its part, responded that while it had no problems with the new security framework being promoted, it did have reservations about the unilateral abrogation of international treaties. In other words, get the Russians on board before scrapping the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty forged at the height of the Cold War.

"I was... honoured to present thinking on a new strategic framework, which includes our willingness to unilaterally reduce our nuclear arsenal below the levels of START 2 [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II]. This is the beginning of many, many consultations... This beginning of a new relationship between the US and India is something we highly appreciate and will work rigorously to pursue," Armitage said.

But Prof Aswini Ray of the Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for Political Studies pointed out that the terms of the Indo-US relationship have always been unequal. Besides, he said, after the end of the Cold War, the US has been in search of an adversary and "it appears to be targeting China. However, in a realpolitik way, this suits us bloody well, so why not?

"The strategy of the present government seems to be to team up with the US and Russia against China. This seems quite logical, considering our limited leverage. Why shouldn't we optimize whatever benefits we can get from this new order?"

Ray also pointed out that a recession was setting in the US, and this could be tackled if the defence establishments put out major orders, something the NMD will lead to. So a bit of sabre-rattling which leads to further defence spending may not be such a bad thing.

Incidentally, The Washington Post quoted US officials as saying that China was preparing for a nuclear test soon. The officials said the test, which could take place before the end of May, may be a "sub-critical" one -- a small explosion designed to simulate a nuclear blast. Other officials suspect the Chinese will carry out a small nuclear test despite their pledge to have stopped all nuclear testing in 1996.

As for the NMD, "I see two angles to this," says Dean Mathew, a security analyst and former fellow of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "One is the business angle. The other is the American 'Star Wars' psychology.

"After the Gulf war, the Americans have not had much opportunity for spending on defence, and the country's military-industrial complex has been looking for some avenues of revenue. This is a god-sent opportunity. It will take at least 20 years of spending to perfect the NMD, even at an American pace.

"The second, of course, is the typical insecurity of the rich. Even if no one is interested, the rich man always feels that someone or the other is coveting his wealth, and does whatever he can to protect it."

Mathew, while not surprised at the US decision to go ahead with the NMD, finds the Indian alacrity to get on board a bit surprising. "We seem too excited about this fresh hand of friendship extended to us," he remarked. Particularly since the US's own staunch allies like Norway, Britain and Australia are still hesitant about the scheme. These are three nations, incidentally, where the first early warning radar of the new scheme are to be based.

In fact, Russia, an ardent opponent of the NMD, which it fears will lead to a strategic imbalance and the unilateral scrapping of the 1972 ABM Treaty, has been selling Europe the notion that the countries with the early warning radar, meant to protect not their own country but the US, would be targeted by whoever wants to take out the system first.

According to Mathew, the Americans could either be playing a game, that is, Bush could be playing hardball with China, seen as the other potential superpower in the currently unipolar world, or it could be really planning to dump China. The latter is a bit unlikely since both countries need the other's market.

Thus, Armitage's visit raises more questions than answers. Will India get the technology for the new world order being planned? Do we get the protection of this 'shield'? What do we stand to gain from this? And finally, will America ditch China or India in the long run?

Meanwhile, the interaction between Indian and American officials is set to grow. While Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer leaves for Washington next week for official-level talks, General Henry H Shelton, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, arrives in New Delhi for a visit later this month.

Back to top

Tell us what you think of this report