|Indo-US Defence Agreement:
Partnership or Entrapment?
India and the US have recently entered into a 10-year Indo-US Framework Agreement on Defence Co-operation. The Agreement was signed by the respective Defence Ministers in Washington on July 7, just a few weeks before a summit involving President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh produced a more wide-ranging Joint Statement “to transform the relationship between their countries and establish a global partnership” and covering a range of strategic issues. The timing itself suggests that the defence deal is an integral part of a broader strategic understanding arrived at between the two governments.
Some commentators have described this understanding as pathbreaking, many others have seen the Agreements as mere words of intent whose importance has been exaggerated by both sides to suit their respective domestic compulsions, whereas yet others have viewed the deals as a significant surrender of sovereignty by India signaling its acceptance of Pax Americana.
The mixed reception in India to both the Joint Statement and the Defence Agreement reveals differences in ideology, perception and strategic understanding in the Indian polity, strategic community and media.
A considerable body of opinion has extended an unreserved welcome to the agreements, viewing them as a long overdue bonding between the US and India from which India will gain in economic and strategic terms, enabling it to achieve its deserved status as a major power. There can be little doubt that this perception resonates with the aspirations of an upwardly mobile and increasingly globalized middle-class and also represents the ideological preferences of a section of Indian elites among the bureaucracy, media and strategic experts.
On the other hand, a quite vocal section in the strategic community has strongly criticized the entire package of Indo-US agreements for being heavily weighted in favour of the US and damaging to India’s vital security interests which have been cheaply bartered away in exchange for tit-bits.1 This section has long favoured an aggressively nationalist projection of India’s interests and power, resents the US for its double standards and tilt towards Pakistan despite the latter’s support for cross-border terrorism in India, and feels Indian security and sovereignty have been compromised, not only through the present agreement under the UPA government but also by the entire US-centric security strategy adopted by the BJP-led government.
The BJP itself, specifically the architects of its strategic especially nuclear policy Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra with L.K.Advani thrown in for good measure, and its proxy voice, NDA Convenor George Fernandes, have been vituperative in their criticism of the nuclear deal. These luminaries have accused PM Manmohan Singh and the UPA government of having agreed to terms, such as separation of civilian from military facilities and acceptance of IAEA inspections regimes, that will amount to putting a cap on India’s nuclear arsenal and thus having surrendered India’s sovereignty. In the BJP perception, as an article of faith, India’s security hinges crucially on its nuclear capability, a position rejected by many, not only in the Left and the wider peace movement, but also among security experts and former senior bureaucrats and military officers.
Yet the BJP and its surrogates have remained strangely silent on the Defence Agreement and on other strategic aspects of the Joint Statement emanating from the Indo-US Summit, suggesting that they find these quite acceptable. This BJP stance owes much to the history of the 8 years of NDA government which, as we shall see in the course of this article, witnessed a major shift in India’s security strategy and the architecture of Indo-US defence relations, which in turn have definitively influenced the recent Indo-US defence deal and the broader strategic agreement.
The Left and other progressive opinion, while being sharply critical of the nature and direction of Indo-US strategic relations as manifested in the recent agreement, have struck quite a different note.2 But most media commentators and strategic experts have, deliberately or otherwise, ignored these or placed them on the same footing as those emanating from the BJP or other voices emanating from the right of the political spectrum such as the “security sovereignty” school. The Statement issued by the CPI(M) in particular,3 was noteworthy for not making a fetish of the nuclear issue and, while rejecting the notion of Indian security being nuclear-dependent called upon the government to remain vigilant as to Indian sovereignty and to ensure measures taken are in strict reciprocity to steps taken by the US as assured in the Joint Statement. On the other hand, the CPI(M) took a view of the Defence Agreement and of other strategic aspects of the Summit Joint Statement as being a dangerous compromise with imperialism. The distinctiveness of the CPI(M) position was completely missed by commentators who lazily put out a “BJP flays PM, CPM criticizes Govt” line.
For their part, Government spokespersons including the Defence Minister and later the Prime Minister himself in their statements before Parliament, on the one hand claimed a major breakthrough in international relations resulting from the nuclear deal but quite contrarily played down the significance of the Defence Agreement. They claimed that the Agreement entered into by the two countries in respect of multilateral military operations, proliferation prevention or promotion of democracy, all of which implied Indian acceptance of current US perspectives and represented deviations from accepted Indian policy, actually put no obligation on India for practical action but merely conveyed a common sentiment of the two governments and agreement on broad principles. Yet everyone knows that in diplomacy even the most significant developments are usually masked by innocuous phrases and that actions speak far louder than words.
Given all the above, and the interplay of different perspectives and interpretations, it is necessary to analyse in depth, and bring out the real import of, the Defence Agreement which has unfortunately escaped detailed scrutiny having been pushed to the background by the debates over the Summit Joint Statement and the nuclear deal.
Reproduced below is the full text of the Agreement.
NEW FRAMEWORK FOR THE U.S-INDIA DEFENSE RELATIONSHIP
1. The United States and India have entered a new era, We are transforming our relationship to reflect our common principles and shared national interests. As the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India agree on the vital importance of political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law, security, and opportunity around the world. The leaders of our two countries are building a U.S.-India strategic partnership in pursuit of these principles and interests.
2. Ten years ago, in January 1995, the Agreed Minute on Defense Relations Between the United States and India was signed. Since then, changes in the international security environment have challenged our countries in ways unforeseen ten years ago. The U.S.-India defense relationship has advanced in a short time to unprecedented levels of cooperation unimaginable in 1995. Today, we agree on a new Framework that builds on past successes, seizes new opportunities, and charts a course for the U.S.-India defense relationship for the next ten years. This defense relationship will support, and will be an element of, the broader U.S.-India strategic partnership.
3. The U.S.-India defense relationship derives from a common belief in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, and seeks to advance shared security interests. These interests include;
— 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.
4. In pursuit of this shared vision of an expanded and deeper U.S.-India strategic relationship, our defense establishments shall:
A. conduct joint and combined exercises and exchanges;
B. collaborate in multinational operations when it is in their common interest;
C. strengthen the capabilities of our militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism;
D. expand interaction with other nations in ways that promote regional and global peace and stability;
E. enhance capabilities to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
F. in the context of our strategic relationship, expand two-way defense trade between our countries. The United States and India will work to conclude defense transactions, not solely as ends in and of themselves, but as a means to strengthen our countries’ security, reinforce our strategic partnership, achieve greater interaction between our armed forces, and build greater understanding between our defense establishments;
G. in the context of defense trade and a framework of technology security safeguards, increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development;
H. expand collaboration relating to missile defense;
I. strengthen the abilities of our militaries to respond quickly to disaster situations, including in combined operations;
J. 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;
K. conduct exchanges on defense strategy and defense transformation;
L. increase exchanges of intelligence; and
M. continue strategic-level discussions by senior leadership from the U.S. Department of Defense 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.
5. The Defense Policy Group shall continue to serve as the primary mechanism to guide the U.S,-India strategic defense relationship. The Defense Policy Group will make appropriate adjustments to the structure and frequency of its meetings and of its subgroups, when agreed to by the Defense Policy Group co-chairs, to ensure that it remains an effective mechanism to advance U.S.-India defense cooperation.
6. In recognition of the growing breadth and depth of the U.S.-India strategic defense relationship, we hereby establish the Defense Procurement and Production Group and institute a Joint Working Group for mid-year review of work overseen by the Defense Policy Group,
— The Defense Procurement and Production Group will oversee defense trade, as well as prospects for co-production and technology collaboration, broadening the scope of its predecessor subgroup the Security Cooperation Group.
— The Defense Joint Working Group will be subordinate to the Defense Policy Group and will meet at least once per year to perform a midyear review of work overseen by the Defense Policy Group and its subgroups (the Defense 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 Defense Policy Group.
7. The Defense Policy Group and its subgroups will rely upon this Framework for guidance on the principles and objectives of the U.S.-India strategic relationship, and will strive to achieve those objectives.
This complex Agreement is replete with implicit suggestions, hidden agendas and meanings embedded more in practice than in textual statements. In order to properly understand it, therefore, our discussions must be located within a framework of the major defining parameters viz.: contemporary geo-politics chiefly US imperialism now and as it is likely to play out in the near and medium-term; US strategic policy; history of past Indo-US defence relations; and recent trends in Indian strategic and defence policy.
US Security Strategy
The dominance of the US in the contemporary geo-strategic scenario, certainly in military terms in the near to medium term future, is self-evident. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc has left the US as the world’s sole superpower with a global military capability unmatched by any rival forces. It is no surprise that the US should have shaped its security doctrines in the light of this new position and role in world affairs.
Normally, security policy in the US is broadly bi-partisan, fashioned through a broad consensus formed across the political spectrum, spanning Democrats and Republicans, moderates and conservatives. There are differences of course in the articulation of strategic and foreign policies by the two major parties, and by different Presidents and their Administrations, but there is usually a common thread of “vital national interests” running through the policy frame representing the core interests of US corporates, financiers and the military-industrial complex. We shall see both the commonalities and the differences play out in the rest of this article, but there can be little doubt that the Bush Presidency has seen a significant shift away from any established consensus and has set new benchmarks for US security policy.
The neo-conservative or neo-con doctrine is markedly different even from the traditional conservatism of the mostly Republican American Right. Conservatism in the US has mostly championed isolationalism internationally and small government, states’ rights and balanced fiscal policies domestically. In contrast, the neo-con position, drawn up over the years by ideologues such as Vice-President Dick Cheney, former Administration official and now World Bank Director, Paul Wolfowitz, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others, is stridently interventionist in foreign policy, favours activist domestic policies formulated centrally through the federal legislature and the Supreme Court, and a profligately deficit economy.
The US under President George W. Bush adopted in 2002, partly in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US but incorporating neo-con ideas pre-dating it by several years, a National Security Strategy that specifically recognizes its “unparalleled military strength and great economic and political strength” and lays out goals and strategies for maintaining a hegemonic role for the US.4 The various sections of the Strategy Document reveal clearly the determination of the US to assertively leverage its dominance to impose its own agenda on other countries, on global agreements and on multilateral institutions particularly the UN.
Since President bush first assumed office in 2001, the US has abrogated the Anti-Missile Treaty with Russia enabling the US to pursue its missile defence system with impunity and theoretically negating nuclear deterrence by any other party; refused to sign on to the Chemicals and Biological Weapons Treaty since it would also involve inspections of US facilities; not o placed the nuclear CTBT before Congress for ratification thus all but burying the Treaty; refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Courts; walked out of and actively opposed the Climate Change Treaty or Kyoto Protocol. The US has sought to actively undermine the authority and role of the UN, most notably by initiating military actions unilaterally or through “coalitions of the willing”, either ignoring the UN or interpreting its mandate in a self-serving manner.
Bilateral assistance and foreign aid are to be used to “ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade… [and] expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy”. The Document elaborates the need and intention to pressurize other nations to accept American definitions of what constitutes democracy, human rights, free trade and good governance which are taken to be simultaneously universal values and cornerstones of US foreign policy. This blatant imperialist agenda, a new version of the colonialist white man’s burden, is termed a “distinctly American internationalism”, a phrase coined by George W. Bush himself even before he became President!5
The projection of military power too is an integral part of the Strategy towards the goal of achieving an uncontested Pax Americana. Recognizing that “all major institutions of American national security… were designed in a different era to meet different requirements,” the Document asserts “the essential role of American military strength [to] build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge and the need for a security policy that will “dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.”
The Strategy also spells out a new US doctrine of pre-emptive action anywhere in the world against state or non-state actors, and against actual or presumed threats to the US and to “global peace and security”.
In pursuit of this Strategy, the US has adopted a far more aggressive military posture throughout the world especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which saw the US launch its infamous “war on terror” beginning with the war on Afghanistan which was termed Operation Enduring Freedom, signifying the unhesitating use of US military force to project hegemonist policies using the cover of defending democracy. The Iraq War saw this idea being further fleshed out, the US asserting its right to bring about “regime change” in any country through military force. In both cases, the apparent “reason” for the US military actions, namely revenge for the 9/11 attacks and the need to eliminate Afghanistan as a base for Al Qa’ida and its Taliban allies in the case of Afghanistan and the imaginary threat from weapons of mass destruction in the case of Iraq, could barely hide the larger strategic objectives of the US.
The Afghan war enabled the US to establish a permanent presence in Afghanistan, strategically located next to Iran and the farther West Asian region and in the “soft underbelly” of the former Soviet Union. The US also refurbished and fully activated its military base in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, set up new bases throughout Central Asia in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan, obtained transit facilities in Turkey and the Gulf States. The US also extracted base facilities from Pakistan in at least three Air Force Stations at Jacobabad, Dalbandin and Pasni, supposedly for “search and rescue” operations only. Presently, the US is reported to be readying itself for a presence in extensive cantonment areas being newly created in the restive Baluchistan province of Pakistan bordering Iran, and some reports suggest even that Special Forces operations are already underway in that country. With the onset of the Iraq War, the US has surrounded West Asia with massive carrier groups, the Seventh Fleet in the Arabian Sea-Persian Gulf area and the Fifth Fleet in the Mediterranean, besides of course its huge military presence within Iraq itself.
With this, the US has come closest to achieving what the European colonial powers were after in the “Great Game” of the 19th and early 20th century, namely an entrenched position in the Central Asian hinterland with a secure land route to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. Except that, in the 21st century, the US grip over the Caspian and Central Asian regions not only gives it access to vast oil reserves but also strategic control over transshipment routes over land to Europe, by sea across the Mediterranean or out towards the Asia-Pacific through the Arabian Sea.
Meanwhile, the notorious “colour revolutions” were being engineered in one Central Asian country after another, using lessons learnt during the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the so-called “velvet revolution” in Czechoslovakia towards the fag end of the cold war. Georgia and Lithuania became victims of “popular uprisings”, openly supported by the US through funding for “pro-democracy” and “human rights” NGOs and by wide publicity propaganda over international TV and other news media. The same model was replicated in Lebanon too but suffered a setback in Uzbekistan.
US actions in this entire region covering oil-rich West and Central Asia have thus been military, political and economic all put together. The “regime change” threat has been openly dangled over Syria, Iran and Libya which, for whatever reason, almost seemed to vindicate the US doctrine of enforcing “democracy” in the region by deciding to foreswear its nuclear option, hand over putative nuclear weapons and materials to the US (opening up the entire A.Q.Khan nuclear weapons racket) and pay out huge compensation to families of victims of the terrorist attack on a passenger plane over Lockerbie, thus buying peace with the US and its European allies.
All this has virtually followed a script written by neo-con ideologues and think tanks in Washington and enshrined in the Security Strategy: “The US will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of US forces”, says the Strategy Document which also stresses the need for the US to “strengthen [US] energy security… and expand the sources and types of global energy supplied especially in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Central Asia and the Caspian Region.”
As if to exemplify the enunciated strategy of not allowing itself to be dissuaded from its chosen course by disagreement with its allies, the US has also not shied away from asserting its unilateralist position and riding roughshod on close European allies such as France and Germany. The US has aggressively moved to isolate these powers by co-opting the countries of “new Europe” to the East, and cracked the whip even on more willing countries such as the UK and Italy, not conceding an inch of ground on any of its pet peeves such as the ICC, Kyoto or even prisoners from these countries held in its infamous Guantanamo Bay facility without charges, trial or recourse to legal defence. Human rights and democracy are fine, but can only be what the US defines them to be!
US & South Asia
It is through these broad strategic lenses that the US has viewed India, the South Asian region especially Pakistan, and the wider regional contexts within which these appear to fit as seen from the vantage of US strategic policy. The present Indo-US Defence Agreement has not emerged suddenly out of thin air but has a considerable background in both US and Indian perceptions, policies and actions over the past decade or more.
During the cold war, the US had decided that India was in the Soviet camp despite its leading role of the non-aligned movement which the US saw as inimical to its interests, inasmuch as NAM had a core anti-imperialist agenda and as a result of the famous US dictum of “if you’re not with us, you’re are against us”. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and consequently of the close ties that India along with a majority of developing countries had with it, the US started to revise its suspicious if not antagonistic posture towards India.
It is only in the past decade or so that South Asia, as a distinct regional entity, has found a place in the US security horizon, and more so after Afghanistan literally exploded on the US scene. Apart from the US security calculus which placed India in the Soviet camp, India’s geographic location was also a factor in its neglect by US policy-makers. India was seemingly tucked away under the Himalayan barrier, isolated from both the Central Asian land mass and from East and South-East Asia where the US had huge security interests, military bases and entrenched allies. Pakistan provided a geogra-phically and culturally more proximate window to West Asia. Even the Bangladesh war did not bring South Asia into focus since the US saw it as an issue confronting its ally, Pakistan, and threatening to involve the Soviet Union.