US-India Military links — ii

 sickle_s.gif (30476 bytes) People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist)


No. 09

March 03,2002

Military Links:

Heads They Win,
Tails We Lose – II


publication Defense Monitor reported an unnamed Pakistani defense ministry source as
saying, during General Musharraf’s US visit, that Pakistan wants “the kind of
relationship the United States has with Egypt in terms of weapons sales” perhaps
unwittingly capturing the emerging spirit of the relationships the US is cultivating with
the South Asian rivals. As a military supplier to both India and Pakistan, with both vying
for alliance with the US, it would be best placed to pursue its own long-term goals.


A few years ago,
the US would perhaps have been excited at the strategic prospects this opened up but,
after its immensely successful Afghan campaign, it is now much more comfortably placed.
The US has demonstrated, as much to itself as to the rest of the world, that its military
power today is unparalleled. The US virtually conducted the war in Afghanistan on its own
with only token participation by the UK and others, as it had earlier done in the former
Yugoslavia where it had forced a European military presence on the ground.

The US now has
bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan apart from a formidable naval presence in
the Arabian Sea apart from its now permanent naval flotilla in the Persian Gulf. When EU
leaders criticised the ill-treatment of al-Qa’ida and Taliban prisoners by the US in
Guantanamo Bay, or the USA’s threat to extend the “war on terror” to Iraq,
senior Bush administration officials virtually told the Europeans that the US would go
ahead and do what was necessary whether the Europeans came along or not.

In their
eagerness to join the US camp, the BJP-led security establishment has clearly missed the
point that, today more than ever before, the US does not need India as a strategic partner
but would welcome it if it wants but on US terms. The US’ new openness to arms
exports to India reflects this new US perception rather than the BJP-NDA’s
“strategic relationship”. During General Myers’ visit, a US Embassy
official in Delhi tellingly remarked that the renewed arms export relationship was part of
the wider warming of relations between the two countries “in return for Indian
assistance in the fight against terrorism”, a small reward from a benefactor rather
than a partnership.


In purely
military terms, the defence equipment being acquired from the US are either not very
significant or a mixed blessing at best. The US-made Weapons Locating Radars are no doubt
among the best in the world but can be acquired from other sources as well, apart from the
fact that the same radars are in service with Pakistan since the mid-’90s giving
India only a delayed parity, and that too of not great value in the mountainous terrain of
most of the LoC as the Kargil conflict showed. Ground sensors to detect infiltration along
the LoC are of a similar nature, and these too are being supplied to Pakistan supposedly
for use in the Pak-Afghan border.

While US
officials have been proclaiming loudly that “major weapons platforms” are being
considered for sale to India by the US, even prompting expressions of alarm by Pakistani
spokesmen, there are no indications of any force multipliers or significant
high-technology items, which is what India wants, having come up for discussion. The only
exception are GE’s F-404 engine for the LCA which, as argued by this writer in these
columns and elsewhere, are a double-edged weapon. By building the LCA around this power
plant, India is at one stroke abandoning its effort to develop a suitable indigenous
aero-engine and also putting its “self-reliance” at the mercy of the US, which
has over the years not only denied India access to numerous weapons systems from third
countries (including the British trainer aircraft Hawk which had to be refitted without US
components) because they contained US components but which is also known to have strong
political strings attached to its military equipment deals. At any point in the future,
the US could hold back vital parts or spares and imperil Indian defence preparedness as it
had done even to its then close ally Pakistan in the F-16 deal.

The main
technical advantage of acquiring the F-404 engine is that the LCA has, unfortunately, been
designed around it and will therefore expedite the LCA project. The strategic advantage of
acquiring the GE F-404 engine lies in the message it conveys about the nature of the
US-India military relationship and it is towards this end that the entire Indian posture
has unfortunately been constructed towards this engine. Indeed, this is also the story of
the US arms export deals entered into by India: the message is worth far more than the


As for the US,
its gains are obvious. Not only does it get India aboard the US bandwagon, it also opens
up the prospects of the US gaining entry into the large Indian arms market. The US,
Russia, and France have dominated the arms market in the developing world, with the US
ranking first by far, even without the lucrative Indian market. each of the last three
years in the value of arms transfer agreements. From 1997-2000, the US made 31.5 billion
dollars or 37 per cent of global arms transfer agreements with developing nations, with
Russia being a distant second with 16.8 billion dollars in arms transfer agreements or
about 20 per cent, and France about half that.

In terms of
actual deliveries, the US share increased even further to around 45 per cent of global
arms trade in developing countries markets. The total value of US arms transfer agreements
increased sharply in 2000 going up from 8.7 billion dollars in 1999 to 12.6 billion
dollars largely due to a mammoth order from Oman for F-16 fighters. If the Oman/UAE
anomaly is ignored, India ranks second among the largest armanents buyers with spending
amounting to around 7.6 billion dollars during 1997-2000 with Egypt and South Korea being
the next largest buyers. This is not peanuts even for a country like the US with close to
half the developing countries’ armaments orders in its pockets.

In these Indo-US
defence deals, India has no great advantages coming its own way. On the contrary, the way
the BJP-led government is abjectly trying to curry favour with the US by seeking a
military-strategic relationship, hands over all advantages to the US. The US on the other
hand gets one more military ally in the region, ropes in an important regional country
into a military relationship which will build dependence and a junior partner status while
at the same time open up a lucrative armaments market. An object lesson in
political-economy, a term whose significance comes starkly alive.


gohome.gif (364 bytes)