India–US Strategic Partnership –– Aiming To Sideline China?

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 22 July 2005

Addressing the US Congress in Washington DC, PM Manmohan Singh outlined plans and bonds his government wish to forge with USA to enable a strategic partnership, and even before the sun had set there were misgivings in the Congress, in UDA, BJP and the left in India –– especially on the separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities. 

‘India America Bhai Bhai’ appears to be an appropriate slogan to describe the goings on. Nehru had similarly pledged his ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ vision, which turned sour but this is the age of Cold Peace, and India can take full advantage of the circumstances and succeed. The US is unlikely to attack India like the Chinese did. India is for the first time since Independence talking with confidence and America is reciprocating, both nations forgetting the testy times of the past. 

Hence the question engaging thinking minds in India is 'what is one to make of the India–US strategic partnership in a nutshell'? Why is USA suddenly so co-operative? Indians must know that America always had a strategic vision for itself. That’s how it built up Japan after the war. So the answer to many minds today is that USA wishes to see a Japan–India­–America–Russia partnership, which will automatically keep China out, and possibly in check. 

Japan dearly wants this too and is spending millions on Indian delegations in the Track Two mode to pass the word –– as they cannot say so openly till Japan amends its Article 9 of the Constitution to become more responsible for its own defence. America is doing its best to see that the Russia–China–India partnership never comes about. Former Indian Ambassadors to China and Russia were funded to speak out for China–Russia–India axis and had made good headway, but this puts paid to their efforts. In that vein Prakash Karat of CPI (M) was in China. Recently the Chinese Ambassador speaking in Punjab pushed for closer India–China strategic ties. India can play along in trade as one day our interests are bound to clash in the Indian Ocean.

We are convinced that with the new moves India will gain in economy and technology and employment jointly with USA and this thrust is a good gamble the UPA Government has taken boldly, which BJP is now smarting it did not do. Manmohan and Sonia must now make it work. India needs technology and funds to catch up with China. Russia our other strategic partner of standing can be kept appeased and informed, so that one day when we are strong enough we can review the arrangements and may even pull the rug! There are no permanent friends or enemies in the matrix of world politics –– only self interests, and for the time being our interests lie with USA despite all the problems Bush has landed the world in, with his war on Iraq. The recent bombings in London are harbingers for the future and one wonders if the Chunnel Train had been targeted –– French–UK economy and tourism would be in trouble.

For the time being, China is consolidating and will not show any fangs till it feels its interests are threatened. India can become powerful by then to see that by that day we are ready to face any music.
Indians were proud to see TV scenes of our modest PM Manmohan Singh and his wife at the White House, setting about to enter in to a phase shift in India's foreign policy with confidence. India is now a strategic partner of USA and if the letter and spirit of the wording of the Defence Framework are followed, it is evident we are bound to support America in its actions and adventures also. Analysts are asking whether we should discuss how Indian Defence can assist in Iraq so that US prospers and we gain too. Also thinking ahead India has to be clear what happens if USA decides to tame Iran's nuclear posture by force. Will India object or like a poodle remain silent. These may be far-fetched scenarios at this stage, but (as military men now retired at IDC) contingency planning is the name of the game today.

We had analysed the Defence Framework on this site and shown how Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has already retracted on the Missile Agreement clause in the defence framework as we have our own BMD programme. The DRDO plan is based on the imported Green Pine and Rajendra radars and the Arrow and the Aster seem to be in contention as the missiles –– the Arrow will need USA’s approval. This should please the Americans and we can cooperate on missile warning with American equipment and let their Aegis ships with Standard missiles be stationed in the Indian Ocean. Our security will be ensured and the US Ships can refit at Indian yards. However the progress will be slow as bureaucrats will have interests. Media had reported that the Green Pine radar was being tested at a site near Mysore and the trials must have some ISRO connection, which is good.

No news is coming out officially but we hear of a change in the Strategic Forces Command, which will be interesting at this stage as it is the Navy’s turn to head it.

Indian Air Force Can Gain

The IAF has pitched in writing to the Government for an Aerospace Command at the Southern Air Command at Trivandrum in a well articulated paper and that will please the USA. Their experience can help India in Aero Space Command immensely with technology for joint cooperation of warnings. In a very well researched article by Ravi Sharma who lives and breathes planes in Bangalore, writing in the latest Frontline, tells us that the 3 DRDO/ADA LCA Tejas fighters which had done only 400 simple flights so far –– at 1.4 MACH, 4G pressure, at 15000 meters and 20 degree angle of attack –– had a long way to go to be weaponised and in this regard the US can help with Avionics, weapon fits and APG 67 radars of the F-16 variety. He says the IAF is never going to be happy with the Indian Multi Mode radar, which was initiated 10 years ago and today Active electronic scanning ASEA is the name of the aerial combat game. Please see IDC story on the JSF 35 on our site.

The weaponisation programme, the most difficult part of a fighter programme for Tejas, is haphazard and hard points are yet to come though. Hormuz Mama on the other hand tells us that the LCA is on its way for weaponisation and is also wary. Hence leaning on USA for the LCA through F-16 is an answer and USA knows it, but lets see if Indian planners look at these options. DRDO controlling the funds has spent freely on this $1 billion plus project. World over except in Communist Russia or China has a development agency delivered a production fighter easily and DRDO is trying to that with HAL help. All HAL will do is to continue to milk the ADA and the IAF, and why not, as it knows DRDO can never become a BAe or Lockheed Martin but it has the money.

Nuclear Gains

Space and nuclear cooperation including supply of fissile material for Tarapur, seems to be on the cards in the agreement but separating Military Nuclear technology means taking the Bombs away from BARC, setting up other facilities and separate research etc. will be costly. Another DRDO development project is the ATV nuclear submarine and no one was allowed to talk of the costs or the progress but Rajat Pandit had written in TOI on 21 July, about the final testing of the reactor at Kalpakam, indicating the time to put it in the boat at SBS Vishakapatnam is approaching. A lot of data is on the net. Any nuclear submarine needs precision testing and an even higher level of technology than the LCA. It needs pipes of world class to avoid nuclear accidents like the USN Thresher and Scorpion. In UK and USA risk sharing is used to complete projects. Many claim more has been spent on the project than the LCA but it is outside the Defence budget. USA can help on this score too for safety of Navy’s nuclear submarine as it has promised nuclear help and there can be give and take. UK has said it will not help unless India signs the NPT.

The East is on the rise and so the numerous important controversies that have surrounded U.S. foreign policy over the past four years have obscured a strategic success with major implications for the future balance of power in Asia. This new initiative to transform relations between the United States and India will need commitment. Through a series of breakthroughs in bilateral diplomatic collaboration, military-to-military relations, counter terrorism, intelligence cooperation, and public diplomacy, the way is now paved for this major diplomatic achievement.

The Bush administration has unveiled a potentially far more radical initiative with respect to India –– the United States has pledged to “help India become a major world power in the twenty-first century,” investing the energy and resources necessary to secure its untroubled ascent to great-power status. In this new report, Ashley J. Tellis, a leading expert on US–South Asian relations, has provided an overview of this official, strong desire to transform relations with India, the Administration’s assessment of the geopolitical challenges likely to confront the United States in this century, and an action agenda for achieving these goals. (See

PM Manmohan Singh has taken a big step towards energy security, help in agriculture and full nuclear co-operation and space exploration between two countries that have frequently been at odds over nuclear issues since India conducted its first atomic weapons test in 1974 and then in 1998. The new leaf is a reflection of the proposed closer ties between the two, and economic interests are getting inter twined.

In return for the US pledges, India agreed that it was "ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology". That would imply and include voluntarily placing its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, agreeing to additional measures under the IAEA protocol and co-operating in schemes to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. The real meaning of all this will hit bureaucrats when they see their powers eroded and they will have to liberalise their thinking too.

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