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India-US Defence Pact - II: Commitments may fetter judgment

B. S. Raghavan

The US-India Defence pact is an agreement between two unequal partners, one having all the trumps and the other in danger of being irresistibly forced to follow suit at moments of crisis. India seems to have boxed itself in the interlocking mechanisms, which could become embarrassing millstones round its neck, fettering free exercise of its judgment, says B. S. Raghavan.

EVEN a quick once-over of the New Framework For The US-India Defence Relationship signed on June 28 will make clear that it goes far beyond the Agreed Minutes of 1995. Otherwise, it is pointless to call it new.

Indeed, the text of the accord itself says that in the context of the US-India Defence relationship having "advanced in a short time to unprecedented levels of cooperation unimaginable in 1995", and changes in the international security environment posing challenges to both countries "in ways unforeseen ten years ago", the new "framework", while building on past successes is designed to seize new opportunities by way of supporting the broader US-India strategic partnership as an "element" of it. In tune with its unprecedented nature, it will be in force for an exceptionally long period of 10 years.

The blunt truth is that this is an agreement between two unequal partners, one having all the trumps and the other in danger of being irresistibly forced to follow suit at moments of crisis. Also, be it noted that India has got very little from the US for undertaking these obligations which are bound to be a strain on its resources and freedom of action. The US has been tight-lipped on India's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, supply of dual use nuclear and space technologies and pressuring Pakistan to close down sanctuaries for terrorists operating against India. Well might the US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, rejoice: "The military-to-military relationship between our two countries is excellent. It has been developed over a period of four-and-a-half years in ways that today are multi-faceted. We have advanced continuously in the relationship in terms of meetings and exercises and various aspects of it. And I feel very good about it and very positive about it."

"Shared interests"

There are several features that distinguish the new `framework' from the Agreed Minutes of 1995. For the first time in a formal agreement, called by whatever name, on Defence cooperation, it sets out the "shared interests" of the US and India in specific terms as including: Maintaining security and stability; defeating terrorism and violent religious extremism; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated materials, data, and technologies; and protecting the free flow of commerce via land, air and sea lanes.

In the light of these wide-ranging goals, the two Governments bind themselves and their Defence establishments to a comprehensive charter of 13 (unlucky number!) different types of obligations (see box) many of which may constrain India to become a "client State" of the US.

Take, as examples, the obligations to collaborate "in multinational operations when it is in their common interest" and expand collaboration in missile defence. Conceivably, the Defence Policy Group set up pursuant to the Agreed Minutes of 1995 will decide what is in the common interest of both countries, but what happens when they cannot agree?

Further, there is no mention that such operations will be under United Nations' auspices. Which means that India has pre-committed itself to participating in them even if its troops were to be brought under the US military command.

As regards missile Defence, the earlier part of the article has already drawn attention to media reports (uncontradicted so far) on talks going on for the induction of Patriot Advance Capability-3 missile Defence system into India. Collaboration in missile Defence can easily result in India being drawn into the global missile defence shield being forged by the US as part of its own hegemonistic strategy. Would India want this to happen? Or, take the commitment to "assist in building worldwide capacity to conduct successful peacekeeping operations, with a focus on enabling other countries to field trained, capable forces for these operations".

Peace-keeping cannot take place in vacuo or without regard to who are the aggressors and the aggressed. There will be situations in which it would be prudent for India not to get involved. But the obligation imposed by the charter is unqualified and may prove a source of contention.

Too many cooks

On top of it all, India seems to have boxed itself in the interlocking mechanisms envisaged under the "framework" and they can also become embarrassing millstones round India's neck in the future fettering free exercise of its judgment.

In addition to the existing Defence Policy Group and its various sub-groups that came into being after the signing of the Agreed Minutes, the pact "in recognition of the growing breadth and depth of the US-India strategic defence relationship" establishes a Defence Procurement and Production Group (DPPG) and a Joint Working Group for mid-year review of work.

The DPPG will oversee Defence trade, as well as prospects for co-production and technology collaboration, broadening the scope of its predecessor subgroup the Security Cooperation Group.

The Defence Joint Working Group will be subordinate to the Defence Policy Group and will meet at least once per year to perform a mid-year review of work overseen by the Defence Policy Group and its sub-groups (the Defence Procurement and Production Group, the Joint Technical Group, the Military Cooperation Group, and the Senior Technology Security Group), and to prepare issues for the annual meeting of the Defence Policy Group.

With so many cooks in the kitchen stirring the broth (and the hornets' nests as well!), it is problematic whether India's Defence establishment will have the time to look after its primary duty of safeguarding India's own Defence! In short, the whole purport of the "framework" and the charter of commitments seem to be to enhance "inter-operability" of which one of the concomitants would be integration of the structures of the two armed forces. Is India game for such a merger of identities?

(There are many foreign policy implications of the framework impinging on India's relations with China and South-Asian countries, which have not been touched on in this article.)

Charter of commitments under the `framework'

  • Conduct joint and combined exercises and exchanges;

  • Collaborate in multinational operations when it is in their common interest;

  • Strengthen the capabilities of our militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism;

  • Expand interaction with other nations in ways that promote regional and global peace and stability;

  • Enhance capabilities to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;

  • Expand two-way defence trade, not viewing defence transactions, as ends in and of themselves, but as a means to strengthen security, reinforce strategic partnership, achieve greater interaction between armed forces, and build greater understanding between Defence establishments;

  • In the context of Defence trade and a framework of technology security safeguards, increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development;

  • Expand collaboration relating to missile Defence;

  • Strengthen the abilities of our militaries to respond quickly to disaster situations, including in combined operations;

  • Assist in building worldwide capacity to conduct successful peacekeeping operations, with a focus on enabling other countries to field trained, capable forces for these operations;

  • Conduct exchanges on Defence strategy and Defence transformation;

  • Increase exchanges of intelligence; and

  • Continue strategic-level discussions by senior leadership from the US Department of Defence and India's Ministry of Defence, in which the two sides exchange perspectives on international security issues of common interest, with the aim of increasing mutual understanding, promoting shared objectives, and developing common approaches.

    (Concluded)

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